Los Angeles, Jan 12 (AP/UNB) — A SpaceX rocket delivered 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit on Friday, completing a two-year campaign by Iridium Communications Inc. to replace its original fleet with a new generation of mobile communication technology and added global aircraft tracking capability.
The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:31 a.m. and arced over the Pacific west of Los Angeles. The previously used first stage was recovered again with a bullseye landing on a "droneship" in the ocean while the upper stage continued on to orbit.
The eighth and final launch of the $3 billion Iridium NEXT project completed delivery of 75 new satellites to orbit for the McLean, Virginia, company. Sixty-six will be operational and nine will serve as in-orbit spares. Six other satellites remain on the ground as spares.
All 10 newly launched satellites communicated with Iridium's network operations center and were being readied for testing, the company said.
Iridium has been moving its new satellites into positions that were held by the old ones, which are lowered until they burn up in the atmosphere. So far, 60 new satellites are in operation.
The first Iridium satellites were launched in the 1990s to offer voice, data, fax and paging services to customers with Iridium handheld telephones and pagers.
Among new capabilities enabled by the fleet upgrade is Iridium Certus, described as a broadband solution for purposes ranging from life-safety services to command-and-control of unmanned aircraft systems and tracking.
The Iridium NEXT satellites also carry a system by Aireon LLC for space-based air traffic surveillance over 100 percent of the globe.
The Aireon system collects what is known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast data automatically and in real time, even from remote areas over the world's oceans.
"Today we passed a major milestone on our journey to revolutionize air traffic surveillance and are just weeks away from a fully operational system," Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon, said in a statement. "Now that the launches are complete, final integration and testing of the recently launched payloads can commence, after which the world's first, real-time, truly global view of air traffic will be a reality."
Aireon said it is already processing more than 13 billion ADS-B messages per month.
Another difference with the new satellites is of note to skywatchers: no "Iridium flares." The new satellites do not reflect sunlight the way the old ones did.
Las Vegas, Jan 8 (AP/UNB) — The CES 2019 gadget show is revving up in Las Vegas. Here are the latest findings and observations from Associated Press reporters on the ground as technology's biggest trade event gets underway.
In this age of smartphone streaming, big television sets are no longer the centerpiece of many living rooms. Now South Korean electronics company LG is doing its part to make TVs disappear altogether.
LG has unveiled a "rollable" TV — a 65-inch screen that can roll down and disappear into its base with the press of a button. The set can still play music when the screen is rolled down completely, or display a clock when it's just partially rolled down. LG says the TV will be available later this year. It didn't say how much it will cost.
Meanwhile, LG, Samsung and others unveiled "8K" sets, with four times the resolution of today's high-definition sets and twice that of 4K sets such as LG's rollable one. 8K represents the next generation of television viewing, but one that most people won't see for themselves for some time.
So far, 8K has only been deployed for the occasional experimental broadcast, such as during the Olympics. Even 4K shows and movies are just starting to catch on.
"As always with TVs, innovations come with display hardware first and adoption of things like content and delivery always follow later," said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with IHS Markit.
But unlike past developments that never caught on, such as 3D TVs, analysts believe 8K will become more popular eventually — just not ubiquitous.
Samsung announced its first 8K TV last year, an 85-inch model costing nearly $15,000. The company unveiled four additional sizes Monday, sans prices. Also Monday, TCL announced plans for 8K sets with Roku's streaming technology built-in. LG has two 8K sets coming.
Enough about self-driving cars
Many people at CES would rather hear about better video games. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang got a big round of applause when he told a crowd that he'd spend more time talking gaming than autonomous driving.
The Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker's computer graphics technology is used in both industries. But it was Huang's unveiling of a new gaming-oriented graphics processor that elicited the biggest cheers Sunday night. He also detailed how his company's advances in artificial intelligence and a graphics technology called "ray tracing" are helping to generate ever-more-realistic scenery in popular games.
This year's CES is less focused on autonomous cars compared with last year, though there's ongoing buzz about self-driving innovations. Ride-hailing service Lyft says that after launching a self-driving Las Vegas taxi service at last year's CES, it's now had almost 30,000 paid rides. Daimler on Monday unveiled a new self-driving truck and Bosch and May Mobility separately unveiled their concepts for a driverless shuttle bus.
Meanwhile, executives from Audi, Toyota, Cruise Automation, chipmaker Nvidia, Google spinoff Waymo and several startups are gearing up to convince the public that autonomous vehicles are safe.
They say the coalition is not a lobbying effort but a united front to invest in countering what they describe as public confusion, fears and unrealistic expectations about self-driving technology. The industry push follows a year of news about self-driving crashes, including an autonomous Uber that fatally struck a pedestrian in March. Neither Uber nor Tesla, which has also had crashes, is part of the group.
A century-old CES first-timer
You wouldn't expect to find the maker of Pampers and Bounty paper towels at the world's largest technology conference.
But here's consumer goods company Procter & Gamble at CES 2019, showing off heated razors and a toothbrush that uses artificial intelligence. (Sorry if you were expecting self-changing diapers.)
Procter & Gamble, which was founded more than 180 years ago, said it's the first time it has been an exhibitor at CES. The company said it needs to infuse technology into everyday products to keep up with what customers want.
Among the goods on display: a waterproof Gillette razor that heats up to 122 degrees; an Oral-B toothbrush that tells you if you're missing areas when brushing; and a wand-like device called Opte that scans the skin and releases serum that covers up age spots and other discoloration.
Although some of the products have been sold in test runs, pricing hasn't been set yet. But expect to pay a lot more than the ordinary stuff currently on drugstore shelves.
An elegant way to text
People feeling overwhelmed by their array of connected devices can invest up to $700 on another device meant to feel more artisanal.
Mui Lab, based in Kyoto, Japan, has designed an internet-connected wall panel made of sycamore wood that you can touch to send messages, check the weather or control other home devices such as lights and thermostats. Lighted letters and icons appear on the wood panel when it's being used — and disappear when it's inactive.
CEO Kazunori Oki says it's about bringing a more natural feel to a connected home.
While you're at it, you can make your home smell better. Feeling like more lavender and less jasmine? Or want your holiday party to smell like a blend of Christmas tree, fireplace and cookies? The Moodo "smart-home fragrance diffusers" made by Israeli fragrance company Agan Aroma enable users to adjust blends from their smartphones. Each $139 device holds up to four capsules with different scents.
Beijing, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — All systems are go as a Chinese spacecraft and rover power up their observation equipment after making a first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, the Chinese National Space Administration said.
The Jade Rabbit 2 rover has succeeded in establishing a digital transmission link with a relay satellite that sends data back to the Beijing control center, the space agency said in a posting late Friday on its website.
The rover's radar and panoramic camera have been activated and are working normally, it said. A photo released by the agency showed the rover stopped at a point not far from where the Chang'e 4 spacecraft touched down Thursday.
Chang'e 4, named after a Chinese moon goddess, is the first craft to make a soft landing on the moon's far side, which faces away from Earth. Previous landings, including one by China's Chang'e 3 in 2013, have been on the near side.
After sending the rover off from a ramp, the spacecraft deployed three 5-meter (16-foot) low-frequency radio antennas, the Chinese space agency said. Chang'e 4 also has sent back images taken with a topographical camera.
Researchers hope that low-frequency observations of the cosmos from the far side, where radio signals from Earth are blocked by the moon, will help scientists learn more about the early days of the solar system and even the birth of the universe's first stars.
Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb noted, however, that the relay satellite needed to send back information from the far side also contaminates the sky.
"As long as we keep it clean of radio interference, the far side of the moon is very good for radio astronomy," he said.
The far side has been observed many times from lunar orbits, but never explored on the surface. It is popularly called the "dark side" because it can't be seen from Earth and is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.
"It's just the far side, it can be either dark or light," Loeb said, depending on the time of day.
The pioneering landing highlights China's ambitions to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space. Both China's space community and public have taken pride in the accomplishment, with some drawing comparisons to the United States.
China's space program lags America's, but has made great strides in the past 15 years, including manned flights and a space laboratory that is seen as a precursor to plans for a space station.
Beijing, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said.
The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m., China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast.
The far side of the moon faces away from Earth and is relatively unexplored. It is also known as the dark side of the moon.
The pioneering landing demonstrates China's growing ambitions as a space power. In 2013, Chang'e 3 was the first spacecraft to land on the moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976.
The mission of Chang'e 4, which is carrying a rover, includes carrying out low-frequency radio astronomical observations and probing the structure and mineral composition of the terrain.
The Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang'e 4 blasted off on Dec. 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.
In May, a relay satellite "Queqiao," or "Magpie Bridge," named after an ancient Chinese folk tale, was launched to provide communications support between Chang'e 4 and Earth.
China plans to send its Chang'e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples — the first time that will have been done since 1976.
Laurel, Jan 2 (AP/UNB) -NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has survived humanity's most distant exploration of another world.
Ten hours after the middle-of-the-night encounter 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away, flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, received word from the spacecraft late Tuesday morning. Cheers erupted at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control.
An anxious spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration.
New Horizons zoomed past the small celestial object known as Ultima Thule 3 ½ years after its spectacular brush with Pluto. Scientists say it will take nearly two years for New Horizons to beam back all its observations of Ultima Thule, a full billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto. At that distance, it takes six hours for the radio signals to reach Earth.
A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto.
Flight controllers say everything looked good for New Horizons' flyby of the tiny, icy object at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday, 3 ½ years after its encounter with Pluto. Confirmation won't come for hours, though, given the vast distance. The mysterious target nicknamed Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) is 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.
Scientists want New Horizons observing Ultima Thule, not phoning home. So they won't know until late morning whether the spacecraft survived.
With New Horizons on autopilot, Mission Control at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, was empty. Instead, team members and their guests gathered nearby for back-to-back countdowns at midnight and again 33 minutes later.
Queen guitarist Brian May, who also happens to be an astrophysicist, joined the team at Johns Hopkins for a midnight premiere of the song he wrote for the big event.