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Rocket Report: NASA considers Falcon 9 triple header, Indiana pol eyes Moon

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (credit: Aurich Lawson/SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 1.48 of the Rocket Report! Mostly good news this week, with launch-related successes in Japan, the United States, and New Zealand. We also have an interesting article written by a friend of Vice President Mike Pence, who says NASA should use Falcon Heavy rockets for the lunar return.

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.

Japanese startup launches suborbital rocket. Interstellar Technologies launched its suborbital Momo-3 booster to an altitude of 114km on Saturday, The Japan Times reports. The booster fell into the Pacific Ocean 10 minutes after the launch. "It was a complete success. We'll work to achieve stable launches and mass-produce (rockets) in quick cycles," company founder Takafumi Horie told the publication.

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Instagram blocks vaccine hoax hashtags

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 11:56am
Instagram will block hashtags spreading "verifiably false" information about vaccinations.

Detective Pikachu film review: This is how you adapt a video game for theaters

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / How do you know it's Detective Pikachu, not just standard Pikachu? Clues: the hat, the magnifying glass, the lush fur. (credit: Warner Bros. / The Pokemon Company)

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is the best video game adaptation I've ever seen in a theater. And it's even better than that weak praise might imply.

We could spend this entire article regretting the existence of Uwe Boll or arguing the merits of the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil film series, but Detective Pikachu is such a fun, polished film that those comparison points really don't make sense. The more important comparison point is Pokémon itself—and the many feature-length cartoons that it has already been attached to.

Detective Pikachu is brisk, whimsical, and family-friendly, but it particularly wins out—and survives its pitfalls—by doing something really surprising: fully breaking from the Pokémon game-plot paradigm.

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28 years later, hacker fixes rampant slowdown on SNES‘ Gradius III

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 11:30am

Behold, slowdown destroyed!

Many gamers of a certain age (this author included) remember the early '90s disappointment of buying the SNES version of hit arcade shmup Gradius III. In magazine screenshots, the game's huge, colorful sprites were a sight to behold, comparable to the 1989 arcade original. In action, though, any scene with more than a handful of enemies would slow to a nearly unplayable crawl on the underpowered SNES hardware.

Now, Brazilian ROM hacker Vitor Vilela has righted this nearly three-decade-old wrong with a ROM patch that creates a new, slowdown-free version of the game for play on SNES emulators and standard hardware.

The key to Vilela's efforts is the SA-1 chip, an enhancement co-processor that was found in some late-era SNES cartridges like Super Mario RPG and Kirby Super Star. Besides sporting a faster clock speed than the standard SNES CPU (up to 10.74 Mhz versus 3.58 Mhz for the CPU), SA-1 also opens up faster mathematical functions, improved graphics manipulation, and parallel processing capabilities for SNES programmers.

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Jeff Bezos unveils Moon lander concept

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 6:56am
Blue Origins claims that the lunar lander will be able to take humans to the Moon's south pole by 2024.

Old Falcon 9 rockets done firing their engines will now inflame imaginations

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 4:00am

Ten days before Christmas 2017, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted a Dragon spacecraft into orbit. The first stage then performed a series of engine burns and landed safely along the Florida coastline. The core has remained in storage since then.

Absent a costly, time-consuming renovation, this "full-thrust" Falcon 9 rocket will never fly into space again. SpaceX prefers to re-fly its newer "Block 5" version of the Falcon 9, which incorporated reuse lessons learned from earlier flights like the ones this rocket core had made. This rocket's job, therefore, was seemingly done.

But William Harris, the president and chief executive of Space Center Houston, thought he knew of a way rockets like this one could still serve the aerospace enterprise, albeit in a different way. Although such a Falcon 9 rocket would no longer fire its engines, it could still inflame the enthusiasm of young people.

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Jeff Bezos unveils his sweeping vision for humanity’s future in space

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 2:22am

WASHINGTON D.C.—The world's richest person, Jeff Bezos, unveiled his sweeping vision for humanity on Thursday afternoon in a Washington D.C. ballroom. With the lights dimmed, Bezos spoke on stage for an hour, outlining plans for his rocket company, Blue Origin, and how it will pave the way to space for future generations.

We have seen bits and pieces of Bezos' vision to use the resources of space to save Earth and make it a garden for humans before. But this is the first time he has he stitched it together in such a comprehensive and radical narrative, starting with reusable rockets and ending with gargantuan, cylindrical habitats in space where millions of people could live. This was the moment when Bezos finally pulled back the curtain, in totality, to reveal his true ambitions for spaceflight. This is where he would like to see future generations one day live.

His speech felt akin to the talk SpaceX founder Elon Musk delivered at an international space conference in 2016. Mexico City is where Musk first unveiled a design for a super-large rocket and starship, as well as his plans for millions of humans to live on Mars and make a vibrant world there.

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Feds charge Chinese national in 2015 breach of health insurer Anthem

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 12:50am

Enlarge (credit:

Federal prosecutors have indicted a Chinese national they say carried out sophisticated network intrusions on four US companies, including one on health insurer Anthem that stole personal information belonging to close to 80 million people.

Fujie Wang—a 32-year-old resident of Shenzhen, China, who sometimes used the first name Dennis—was part of a hacking group that gained entry to Anthem and three other unnamed companies, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday. Along with other members of the group, he carried out the hacks using spear-phishing emails that lured employees of the companies to malicious websites. The websites, in turn, installed backdoors on the employees’ computers. The defendants allegedly used the compromised computers to penetrate the networks.

In some cases, the indictment alleged, the hackers would wait months before identifying and harvesting sensitive data stored on the networks, presumably to prevent calling attention to the breaches. The series of intrusions spanned from February 2014 to January 2015. Two of the three unnamed US companies were in the technology and basic materials industries. The third provided communications services.

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Final Fantasy VII remake finally looks like a video game—and it’s a pretty one

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 12:28am

Sony's latest promotional video for future PlayStation games (dubbed "State of Play") concluded with a surprise peek at a long-awaited game: Final Fantasy VII Remake. In bad news, the Thursday trailer was clearly limited by publisher Square Enix's intent to save a bigger reveal for "June," possibly timed for the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo.

But in good news, the project, announced nearly four years ago, finally looks like an honest-to-goodness video game. At last, we can begin guessing what its final version might possibly look and play like.

The most apparent thing from the trailer, embedded below, is an active battle system that looks largely similar to that found in Final Fantasy XV and the wider Kingdom Hearts series. (We got a tease of this in a late-2015 trailer.) A low-angled camera sits behind whichever character is being controlled, and each fighter gets two immediate action buttons, along with a shortcut to a larger menu. (That menu wasn't toggled in today's one-minute video.)

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Could aviation ever be less polluting?

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 12:27am
The aircraft industry has to cut greenhouse gases but air travel is growing, so what's the answer?

A dress with 3D-printed petals and other tech news

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 12:04am
BBC Click's Lara Lewington looks at some of the week's best technology stories.

Open source bug poses threat to sites running multiple CMSes

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 9:39pm

(credit: Pixabay)

Websites running the Drupal, Joomla, or Typo3 content-management systems are vulnerable to attacks that could possibly execute malicious code until administrators install just-released patches, developers and security researchers warned.

The vulnerability resides in the PharStreamWrapper, a PHP component developed and open-sourced by CMS maker Typo3. Indexed as CVE-2019-11831, the flaw stems from a path-traversal bug that allows hackers to swap a site's legitimate phar archive with a malicious one. A phar archive is used to distribute a complete PHP application or library in a single file, in much the way a Java archive file bundles many Java files into a single file.

In an advisory published Wednesday, Drupal developers rated the severity of the vulnerability affecting their CMS as moderately critical. That's well below the highly critical rating of a recent Drupal vulnerability and earlier remote-execution flaws that took on the name "Drupalgeddon." Still, the vulnerability represents enough of a risk that administrators should patch it as soon as possible.

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The last reactor at Three Mile Island is shutting down

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 9:25pm

Enlarge / The Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant is seen in the early morning hours March 28, 2011, in Middletown, Penn. (credit: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, power company Exelon said that it would be closing the single reactor that it operates on Three Mile Island by September 30.

Three Mile Island (TMI) is notorious for its role as the site of the United States' first commercial power plant accident in 1979. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was not able to correlate the accident to any deaths or ill health effects in the Middletown, Pennsylvania, area, but the threat galvanized environmentalists against nuclear power and led to sweeping regulatory reforms in throughout the nation.

TMI-1, the 819 megawatt (MW) reactor that Exelon owns, was not affected by the 1979 accident. Exelon says it has been operating the reactor at a loss.

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Dealmaster: Grab a pair of Anker wireless noise-cancelling headphones for $80

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 6:45pm

Enlarge / Today's deals include $30 off a Nintendo Switch, Google Pixel 3A gift card bundles, noise-cancelling headphones, and more. (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by the return of a deal on Anker's Soundcore Space NC, one of the few sub-$100 wireless noise-cancelling headphones that we have tested and can safely recommend. They're currently down to $80 on Amazon; that's $20 off the usual going rate and tied for an all-time low.

We've written about these headphones in the past—in summary, they can't really touch the best Bluetooth noise-cancellers from Sony and Bose when it comes to audio and active noise-cancellation quality, but for a pair that costs a third of those headphones, they're impressive. The SpaceNC headphones do a capable enough job of blocking out the low-end rumbles, it has a hearty, full sound, its earcups have plenty of cushy padding, and it gets around 20 hours of battery life per charge. You should still pay up for those superior pairs if at all possible, but if you're just priced out, this is an acceptable compromise.

We'll note that Anker recently launched an even cheaper pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, which themselves are currently on sale for $60 as of this writing. Those come with better battery life (closer to 26-28 hours) and a comparatively more neutral sound, but they don't necessarily sound better, and their noise-cancelling quality is notably weaker than that of the Soundcore Space NC. We'd still recommend the latter.

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SpaceX broadband testing to ramp up with launch of dozens of satellites

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 6:39pm

Enlarge / A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight in April 2017. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says it will begin launching satellites for the actual service later this year.

This week, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that dozens of Starlink satellites will be aboard the Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May 15, according to several news reports.

"This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together," Shotwell said on Tuesday at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, DC, according to SpaceNews. "We start launching satellites for actual service later this year."

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Pennywise is back and as terrifying as ever in first trailer for IT: Chapter II

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 6:12pm

The Losers Club returns to Derry as adults in IT: Chapter Two, based on Stephen King's bestselling novel.

Pennywise the murderous clown is back and scarier than ever, looking for revenge on the grown-up members of the Losers Club in IT: Chapter Two, Warner Brothers' follow-up to its 2017's blockbuster horror film, IT.

(Some spoilers for first film and novel below.)

Set in 1989,  IT essentially adapted half of King's original novel, telling the story of a group of misfit kids calling themselves "The Losers Club," who discover their small town of Derry is home to an ancient, trans-dimensional evil that awakens every 27 years to prey on children in particular, taking the form of an evil clown named Pennywise. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) loses his little brother, Georgie, to Pennywise, and the group decides to take on Pennywise and drive him into early hibernation, where he will hopefully starve. But Beverly (Sophia Lillis) has a vision warning that Pennywise will return on schedule in 27 years, and they must be ready to fight him anew.

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One of our favorite ST: The Next Generation episodes aired 31 years ago

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 6:10pm

This article contains spoilers about an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that aired 31 years ago today. That's outside the statute of limitations as far as we're concerned. Also, Lee Hutchinson did a great job with the image captions in the gallery below.

Via the office water cooler, I discovered that today is the anniversary of one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation—Conspiracy.

You know the one. The Enterprise is doing its thing on its way to do something scientific on Pacifica (a place we learn in later years is a beach world, so evidently beach science). Starfleet's uniforms are yet to sport Nehru collars, the carpet on the bridge still looks new, and Data doesn't really understand jokes yet. Captain Picard gets an urgent message from Captain Keel, an old friend with very heavy eyebrows, and the beach trip is off as our captain and crew are sucked into an alien conspiracy at the heart of the Federation.

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Drones used missiles with knife warhead to take out single terrorist targets

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 5:47pm

Enlarge / A see-through model of the original Hellfire missile. Imagine the center replaced with a set of pop-out blades, and you've got the "Flying Ginsu." (credit: Lockheed Martin)

Drone strikes have been the go-to approach by both the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency to take out terrorists and insurgent leaders over the past decade, and the main weapon in those strikes has been the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire II missile—a laser-guided weapon originally developed for use by Army helicopters as a “tank buster.” But as concerns about collateral damage from drone strikes mounted, the DOD and CIA apparently pushed for development of a new Hellfire that takes the term “surgical strike” to a new level, with a version that could be used to take out a single individual.

The Wall Street Journal reports that just such a weapon has been developed and deployed on at least two occasions, based on information provided by multiple current and former defense and intelligence officials. Designated the Hellfire R9X, the missile has no explosive warhead—instead, its payload is more than 100 pounds of metal, including long blades that deploy from the body of the missile just before impact.

“To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,” according to the WSJ. Some officials referred to the weapon as "the flying Ginsu," because the blades can cut through concrete, sheet metal, and other materials surrounding a target.

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Facebook 'auto-generated' extremist video

BBC Technology News - May 9, 2019 - 5:15pm
A study found some content for terror groups was being generated by Facebook's own systems.

Facebook co-founder calls for breakup of Facebook

Ars Technica - May 9, 2019 - 5:02pm

Enlarge / Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Hughes on Harvard's campus in 2004. (credit: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, Chris Hughes was one of his roommates and became a Facebook cofounder. Hughes left Facebook more than 10 years ago, but his time at Facebook earned him a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now Hughes says that Facebook has grown too big and powerful. In a lengthy opinion piece for the New York Times, he argues that the company gives too much power to founder Mark Zuckerberg.

"Mark is a good, kind person," Hughes writes. "But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.

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