When SpaceX debuted the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, one of the biggest questions concerned who, exactly, would use the large booster and its 27 engines. Now we have an answer: the US Air Force, which on Thursday announced that it had selected the Falcon Heavy to launch its Air Force Space Command-52 satellite.
The military launch is presently scheduled to occur in September 2020 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Air Force will pay $130 million for the mission, which is higher than the standard rate for a Falcon Heavy launch due to the military's mission assurance requirements.
SpaceX has several other missions set for the Falcon Heavy before then, but this represents a big step for the company, as it means the Air Force has certified the rocket after just a single test flight. The Air Force Space Command-52 satellite flight is believed to be the first time that the Falcon Heavy rocket has competed head to head with a United Launch Alliance rocket for a military mission, and obviously it came out on top.
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Forty years ago this week, in the case of Parker v. Flook, the US Supreme Court came close to banning software patents. "The court said, 'Well, software is just math; you can't patent math,'" said Stanford legal scholar Mark Lemley. As a result, "It was close to impossible in the 1970s to get software patents."
If the courts had faithfully applied the principles behind the Flook ruling over the last 40 years, there would be far fewer software patents on the books today. But that's not how things turned out. By 2000, other US courts had dismantled meaningful limits on patenting software—a situation exemplified by Amazon's infamous 1999 patent on the concept of shopping with one click. Software patents proliferated, and patent trolls became a serious problem.
But the pendulum eventually swung the other way. A landmark 2014 Supreme Court decision called CLS Bank v. Alice—which also marks its anniversary this week—set off an earthquake in the software patent world. In the first three years after Alice, the Federal Circuit Court, which hears all patent law appeals, rejected 92.3 percent of the patents challenged under the Alice precedent.
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