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By Ather Fawaz
NASA and Boeing are targeting March 25 for Starliner's second unmanned orbital flight test
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA Blogs Boeing and NASA have set March 25, 2021, as the date for Starliner's second unmanned flight test. Dubbed Orbital Flight Test- 2 (OFT-2), this will be the second major flight test for the spacecraft and a key developmental milestone for Boeing in its bid for the NASA Commercial Crew program. Previously, the two were targeting March 29, but the date was brought up due to multiple factors including the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, an opening on the Eastern Range, steady progress on hardware and software, and a docking opportunity on the International Space Station.
This announcement comes after Boeing completed the formal requalification of the Starliner's flight software for the upcoming mission. This test included a full software review to verify that Starliner’s software meets design specifications. A complete, end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and software will be conducted prior to the test day as well.
Recently, Boeing also mated the Starliner's reusable crew module on its new service module inside. Engineers are now working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts. A series of parachute balloon drop tests were completed last year in December, as well, to gather supplemental performance data on the spacecraft’s parachutes and landing systems before a manned test is conducted sometime in the future.
Image via NASA Blogs Starliner's last orbital flight test took place as far back as December 2019. But on that voyage, the spacecraft experienced a mission timing anomaly that caused it to burn too much fuel to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Consequently, it was put into a lower, stable orbit where the Starliner demonstrated effective key systems and capabilities before returning to Earth. When it touched down on December 22, it became the first American orbital space capsule to land on American soil rather than in an ocean.
By Ather Fawaz
"Mars, here we come!!" exclaims Elon Musk despite explosive ending to Starship's test flight
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Trevor Mahlmann (YouTube) The Starship initiative by SpaceX is meant to make spaceflights to Mars a reality. After a scrubbed launch yesterday courtesy of an auto-abort procedure in the Starship's Raptor engines, once again, SpaceX geared up for a re-run of the test a few hours back. This time, Starship SN8 successfully took flight from its test site in Boca Chica, Texas. A trimmed version of the complete event is embedded below from Trevor Mahlmann's YouTube channel.
Compared to the scrubbed launch, things went better on this one, but not entirely. The gargantuan 160-feet tall rocket, propelled by three Raptor engines, took flight, and intended to rise to a height of 41,000 ft (12,500 m). SpaceX founder Elon Musk called the ascent a success, but it's not clear whether the rocket reached its intended altitude. Nevertheless, after reaching its highest point, the rocket began its journey back to its earthly test site.
Image via Trevor Mahlmann (YouTube) The SN8 prototype performed a spectacular mid-air flipping maneuver to set itself on course to land vertically back to the earth—a feat we've all grown accustomed to seeing with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. The SN8 executed the landing flip successfully, and SpaceX tweeted a closer look at the event as it happened. Impressively, SpaceX claimed that by doing so, the SN8 became the largest spacecraft to perform a landing maneuver of this sort.
But as the rocket prepared to touch down and its boosters tried to slow down its descent to cushion the landing, the rocket's fuel header tank pressure got low. This caused the "touchdown velocity to be high & RUD," during the landing burn, Musk tweeted. Unfortunately, this meant that upon touchdown, the Starship SN8 prototype exploded into flames.
Image via SpaceX Livestream Notwithstanding the fiery, unfortunate event right at the final few moments, SpaceX and Musk hailed the test as a success. For the company, "SN8 did great! Even reaching apogee would’ve been great, so controlling all way to putting the crater in the right spot was epic!!" Musk tweeted, "We got all the data we needed. Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!", he continued; before following up with another tweet exclaiming "Mars, here we come!!"
By Ather Fawaz
Intel shows promising progress and key advances in integrated photonics for data centers
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Intel Press Kit The effective management, control, and scaling of electrical input/output (I/O) are crucial in data centers today. Innovative ideas like Microsoft's Project Natick, which submerged a complete data center underwater, and optical computing and photonics, which aim to use light as a basic energy source in a device and for transferring information.
Building on this, at the Intel Labs Day 2020 conference today, Intel highlighted key advances in the fundamental technology building blocks that are a linchpin to the firm's integrated photonics research. These building blocks include light generation, amplification, detection, modulation, complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS), all of which are essential to achieve integrated photonics.
Among the first noteworthy updates, Intel showed off a prototype that featured tight coupling of photonics and CMOS technologies. This served as a proof-of-concept of future full integration of optical photonics with core compute silicon. Intel also highlighted micro-ring modulators that are 1000x smaller than contemporary components found in electronic devices today. This is particularly significant as the size and cost of conventional silicon modulators have been a substantial barrier to bringing optical technology onto server packages, which require the integration of hundreds of these devices.
The key developments can be summarized as follows:
These results point towards the extended use of silicon photonics beyond the upper layers of the network and onto future server packages. The firm also believes that it paves a path towards integrating photonics with low-cost, high-volume silicon, which can eventually power our data centers and networks with high-speed, low-latency links.
Image via Intel Press Kit “We are approaching an I/O power wall and an I/O bandwidth gap that will dramatically hinder performance scaling", said James Jaussi, who is the Senior Principal Engineer and Director of the PHY Lab at Intel Labs. He signaled that the firm's "research on tightly integrating photonics with CMOS silicon can systematically eliminate barriers across cost, power, and size constraints to bring the transformative power of optical interconnects to server packages.”
By Ather Fawaz
Intel Labs Day 2020: Robotics demonstrations and a next-gen neuromorphic chip on the horizon
by Ather Fawaz
Loihi, Intel’s neuromorphic research chip. Image via Intel Press Kit Neuromorphic computing, as the name implies, aims to emulate the human brain's neural structure for computation. It's a relatively recent idea and one of the radical takes on contemporary computer architectures today. Work on it has been gaining traction, and promising results have come up; as recently as June this year, a neuromorphic device was used to recreate a gray-scale image of Captain America’s shield.
Alongside other notable announcements at Intel Labs Day 2020, the firm also gave us an update on the progress with its Intel Neuromorphic Research Community (INRC). The aim of the INRC is to expand the applications of neuromorphic computing in business use cases. This consortium, which originally came together in 2018 and includes some Fortune 500 and government members, has now been expanded to over 100 companies and academics with new additions like Lenovo, Logitech, Mercedes-Benz, and Prophesee. Moreover, Intel also highlighted some research results coming out of the INRC computed on the company’s neuromorphic research test chip, Loihi, at the virtual conference.
Intel Nahuku board, each of which contains 8 to 32 Intel Loihi neuromorphic chips. Image via Intel Press Kit Researchers showcased two state-of-the-art neuromorphic robotics demonstrations. In the first demonstration by Intel and ETH Zurich, Loihi was seen adaptively controlling a horizon-tracking drone platform. It achieved closed-loop speeds up to 20kHz with 200µs of visual processing latency, a 1,000x gain in combined efficiency and speed compared to traditional solutions. In the second demonstration, the Italian Institute of Technology and Intel showed the operation of multiple cognitive functions like object recognition, spatial awareness, and real-time decision-making, all running together on Loihi in IIT’s iCub robot platform.
Other updates highlighted in the conference include:
Moving forward, Intel will be integrating the takeaways accrued from experiments over the last couple of years into the development of the second generation of its Loihi neuromorphic chip. While the technical details of the next-gen chip are still nebulous, Intel says that it is on the horizon and "will be coming soon".
By Ather Fawaz
China launches Chang'e-5 mission to extract and bring lunar rock samples to Earth
by Ather Fawaz
Image via National Geographic China successfully launched its Chang'e-5 mission on Monday whereby it is sending a spacecraft to the Moon to collect rock samples. If everything goes according to plan, the lander portion of the spacecraft will touch down on the lunar surface by the end of this week and will have approximately 14 days—or the length of a single day on the satellite—to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth.
The spacecraft took off from the Wenchang space site at Hainan Island in China on Monday. Unlike previous missions, China was open about live-streaming and consistently sharing information about the launch procedures. The entire event was live-streamed by Chinese state media without any delay, showing the growing confidence that the nation has in its space program.
The mission is being hailed as the most ambitious program in China's space history. Not only will it be the first attempt at collecting lunar rock samples in over forty years, but it also sets the nation on course to become only the third country to bring pieces of the moon back to Earth, joining the ranks of the U.S. and Soviet Russia who each completed this feat with the Apollo Missions and the Luna robotic landings, respectively.
China plans to land Chang'e-5 on the Mons Rümker, which is an isolated volcanic formation that is located in the northwest part of the Moon's near side. It's also much younger than the craters that the Apollo astronauts visited. Once there, the spacecraft is slated to retrieve more than four pounds of lunar samples. For contrast, the three successful Soviet Luna missions brought close to 0.625 pounds while NASA’s Apollo astronauts ferried 842 pounds of moon rock and soil back to the Earth.
From liftoff to touchdown back to Earth, the entire mission is scheduled to take less than a month. China hopes that the successful completion of Chang’e-5 will be a stepping stone towards establishing an international lunar research station before colonizing the moon by the next decade.
Source: The New York Times via Engadget