An Experimental Space Junk Collector Is On Its Way to the ISS

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A group of European engineers are about to go fishing in space. Their target: space junk.

Yesterday, SpaceX launched the Dragon spacecraft, which, if all goes according to plan, will reach the International Space Station on Wednesday, April 4. Among the many different experiments it has in tow, one didn’t receive much attention: a new “proof of concept” space junk collector called RemoveDEBRIS.

Created by scientists at the University of Surrey Space Center in the U.K., this spacecraft will run a series of experiments over the coming months aimed at capturing and destroying some of the debris floating around our planet.

NASA currently estimates there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris currently orbiting the Earth, all traveling fast enough to seriously damage any unlucky spacecraft that happens to cross their path. And while scientists have proposed many creative solutions for removing some of these dangerous bits, none have been ever been tested out in space.

Enter: RemoveDEBRIS. When the 100-kilogram (220-pound) space junk collector arrives at the ISS, the station’s six-person crew will unpack it in the next few weeks (makes sense that they would want to first get to the fresh food in the same shipment). At the end of May or in early June, Spaceflight Now reports, the crew will then transfer the craft to the Japanese Kibo lab’s airlock, and transfer it out into space via a robotic arm. When released, RemoveDEBRIS will be the largest satellite ever launched from the ISS.

Once out in space, REMOVEDebris will run three tests. It will:

  • Attempt to snag a dummy piece of debris (mimicked by an inflatable miniature satellite called a CubeSat) using a net
  • Track another CubeSat using close-up ranging lasers and navigation technology, as a space junk collector would need to pursue a target piece of junk
  • Fire a harpoon at a test target attached to the RemoveDEBRIS arm

If successful, these tests could show that the simple technology once applied to sea creatures could be useful in snagging some of the junk threatening orbiting spacecraft.

Guglielmo Aglietti, RemoveDEBRIS principal investigator, told Spaceflight Now that the primary aim of the mission is to show that cleaning up space debris can be relatively affordable.

“At the end of the day, everything boils down to funding,” Aglietti said. “We all agree, in the space sector, that it is a good idea to start to remove larger pieces of debris… if the cost to do it is exorbitant, then people will prefer to take the risk that their new satellite is going to be hit by a piece of debris. If we manage to lower the cost of the missions, then this is much more likely to happen.”

At the end of its mission, RemoveDEBRIS will run one final test: opening an expandable sail to generate drag (remember, it will be in the upper atmosphere still has some air, unlike the vacuum of space), pulling itself down into the atmosphere and burning up there. That will happen up to 1.5 years after the experiment begins.

It’s a fitting end for RemoveDEBRIS. After all, it would be pretty ironic for a space junk cleaner become space junk itself.

The post An Experimental Space Junk Collector Is On Its Way to the ISS appeared first on Futurism.

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The Play Store’s latest look (with oodles of white space) is spreading to more users, ready or not

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Interface design is a never-ending task, and no matter how much you might love the way an app looks and feels right now, there’s always that angel (or is it devil?) over the developer’s shoulder, whispering, “Couldn’t that be a little more optimal? What if you moved this button over here?” And so, things change: sometimes for the better, hopefully not so much for the worse. A little over a month ago, we shared with you a new visual style that Google was flirting with for the Play Store, seemingly sucking the color out of the app and, well, not really replacing it with anything, leaving us stuck with vast expanses of empty white.

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The Chinese Space Station Has Crashed in the Pacific. Why Was It So Hard to Track?

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If a massive space station falls out of the atmosphere into the Pacific Ocean, with no one there to witness it, does it make a sound?

That’s no hypothetical question. We’re asking about Tiangong-1, the Chinese space station that finally “de-orbited” from space and into the Pacific around 8 PM Eastern time on April 1.

Let’s be honest — “de-orbited” is a polite way of saying “free-fall.” Scientists could neither alter nor even really track Tiangong-1’s descent. That could be a problem in a future — an atmosphere more packed with spacecraft presents a (slightly) higher risk for humans on the ground.

We’ve anticipated Tiangong-1’s homecoming since 2016, when abnormalities in the space station’s orbit suggested that the Chinese space agency had lost control of it. It took a few months for authorities to admit that the craft was out of their reach. Normally, a space agency will retire a satellite by purposely guiding it into the atmosphere, at an angle and speed such that it burns up completely or re-enters Earth’s atmosphere far from human populations.

That makes Tiangong-1’s spinning, erratic descent less than ideal.

Scientists weren’t exactly sure when and where the craft would land until the moment it did so. Indeed, the space station’s case highlights the fact that scientists still don’t have the capacity to wrangle the significant number of variables that factor into tracking and modeling such situations.

Around noon Eastern time on April 1, seven hours before the craft actually fell, the European Space Agency (ESA) had reached the limit of what it could forecast. And there still a pretty big window for when and where the station would re-enter.

“With our current understanding of the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and Europe’s limited sensors, we are not able to make very precise predictions,” said Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, in an agency blog about Tiangong-1.

Note: we do not want to overstate the odds of being hit by falling spacecraft. Space junk falls out of the atmosphere all the time, and only one person has ever been hit by it. For the Tiangong-1, the odds that the falling space station would have hit any single human on Earth were still 1 in 1 trillion, lower than your yearly odds of being struck by lightning.

But that may change in the coming years. The growing space industry has promised to put a number of new spacecraft into orbit around Earth in the next decade, including thousands of new satellites. As we increase the number of objects in space, the overall probability of something falling out of the sky into a populated area will increase. At the moment, nobody has a way to zap space junk (or incoming meteors, for that matter) that might pose a threat, and it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll get one anytime soon.

Instead, as ESA’s Krag implies, research could help a lot. If we could better understand how the upper atmosphere behaves, we could better model where a falling object would land, and potentially warn people in the area if needed.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely. The sort of basic research that would improve scientists’ understanding of the atmosphere is chronically under-funded, and in the U.S., happens in agencies to which the White House doesn’t allocate many resources.

Basic research into the upper atmosphere isn’t nearly as sexy as as falling space junk, but it could one day save a lot of people some logistical — and potentially physical — headaches.

The post The Chinese Space Station Has Crashed in the Pacific. Why Was It So Hard to Track? appeared first on Futurism.

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China’s first space station burns up over the South Pacific

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China's Tiangong-1 has met its fiery end. The out-of-control space station plummeted through the Earth's atmosphere at roughly 7:15pm ET on Sunday evening, as expected. Most of Tiangong-1 was destroyed during re-entry, however parts crash-landed some…
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China’s out-of-control space station harmlessly breaks up over the Pacific Ocean

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China’s out-of-control space station — Tiangong-1 — has at last plunged through Earth’s atmosphere and landed somewhere over the southern Pacific Ocean. The spiraling spacecraft made its descent at around 8:16PM ET on April 1st, according to US Strategic Command, which was able to confirm the exact point of reentry along with organizations in eight other countries. The vehicle’s fall puts an end to the space station’s seven years in orbit, and it managed not to hit any populated areas on the way down.

It was hard to know exactly where Tiangong-1 was going to make its final descent, which is the case for most falling space debris. Sunday afternoon, trackers were able to narrow down the time of the vehicle’s reentry to a three- to…

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Counterclockwise: smartwatches are cooler in space than on Earth

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The Timex Datalink was co-developed with Microsoft and first launched in 1994. Since then, many astronauts and cosmonauts have used a Datalink. That’s so cool, but it seems that for a long time, smartwatches were more popular in space than they were down here on Earth. The Datalink models were fairly limited in what they can do. You can set up many alarms (which the astronauts loved), store text notes and even run basic apps, transferred from a computer. Astronaut James H. Newman (right) wears the Timex Datalink 50 model 70502 on STS-88 Some makers tried watch phones – e.g….

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What iPad color should you get: Silver, space gray, gold, or rose gold?

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Which of the iPad line’s space gray, silver, gold, or rose gold finishes is right for you? Let’s take a look.

When it comes to choosing a color (or, if we’re being honest, metallic finish) for your iPad, iPad mini, and iPad Pro, there are a few factors worth weighing. Do you want a white bezel around your screen, or a black one? Do you crave the rarest of iPad colors, rose gold? And does color even matter if you plan to hide your iPad in a case?

You may not need a guide to pick the iPad color right for you, and that’s okay. But if you do, we’ve got you covered no matter your coloration concerns.

Fade to black vs bright white

Before you consider your iPad’s rear case color, consider the hue around your screen: The silver, gold, and rose gold iPads have white faceplates, while the space grey iPad models use a black bezel.

Some prefer the look of black — which, like almost all TV sets these days, lets the border practically disappear into the screen. But a black faceplate is also prone to showcase fingerprints and smudges and may prove distracting to brighter content. In contrast, if you use your iPad as a personal reader, a white bezel can prove easier on the eyes when reading websites, documents, and ebooks with bright or white backgrounds.

Ideally, the faceplate shouldn’t prove too distracting in practice for all but the pickiest of eyes, making it more personal preference than anything else.

  • If a white faceplate catches your eye — and not in a good way — you’ll want to consider the Space Gray iPad line.
  • If you find a black bezel too constraining or contrasting, stick with a white faceplate and the Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold rear casing options available for it.

Discoloration vs damage

A big concern with white, silver, and other brightly-colored products is the chance for discoloration; dark colors have their own issues, too, with casings often showing scratches, chips, and smudges more easily.

Apple spent much of 2010 figuring out how to make the white iPhone resistant to UV and typical sources of discoloration. The iPads have used the same process for years, making them just as resistant. Still, if it’s a major worry, there’s no harm in sticking with Space Gray.

Likewise, the iPhone 5 and iPad mini taught Apple that black anodization was more susceptible to damage than it ought to be; instead, all other devices — iPads included — get space gray, a lighter (but tougher) anodization that rates about the same as other colored aluminum shells where scratches are concerned. That said, space grey still tends to show dust, smudges, and fingerprints more than the other colors in Apple’s iPad line.

  • If you’re concerned about picking up excess dust and smudges, or you have to photograph your device often, stick to silver, rose gold, or gold.
  • If you’re worried about color discoloration, you shouldn’t be — but space gray may allay your fears.

Popularity vs. personality

Black is almost always the most popular color when it comes to electronics and electronics accessories. And while Space Gray may not look as cool as “true” black, it’ll likely still be the default color for many. That said, lighter-colored iPads can stand out more, especially with brightly colored cases; Space Gray iPad models tend to let accessories be the star.

There’s also the exclusivity factor to weigh: The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is currently the only iPad that comes in Rose Gold, which means if you want the latest color option, you’ll want to pick it. (That said, the 2018 iPad’s gold hue is also fairly coppery-rose, so you can still get a reddish iPad hue if you want.)

  • If you want a reliable (and popular) color, it’s hard to resist Space Gray.
  • If you want to stand out from the crowd, consider the 10.5-inch iPad Pro or 2018 9.7-inch iPad’s Rose Gold or Gold options.

Case vs clean

Apple’s iPads are more durable than ever, but they’re still large pieces of glass. We generally recommend that if you plan to use your iPad anywhere you might risk a drop, a case is a good idea. But even if you’re planning on locking your iPad Pro, iPad, or iPad mini up the moment it leaves the box, you’ll still see much of the device’s original color.

For one, most cases don’t cover the faceplate; others, like Apple’s Smart Cover and Keyboard, protect the screen and keep the rear casing entirely unprotected.

Choose a color you love, then add a case you dig to complete the look. (After all, they’re accessories because they accessorize!) If you already have a great case, pick the iPad color that either makes it pop (black) or helps it shine (white). Either way, make sure you love the iPad you get, regardless of accessories you may or may not add to it later.

Who should get a space gray iPad?

Get a Space Gray iPad if you want color that…

  • Won’t distract you when you game or watch video
  • Absolutely won’t discolor, even if it does show wear and tear a little more visibly
  • looks timeless (though more reserved)
  • You can get on any iPad model

iPad — See at Apple

iPad Mini — See at Apple

iPad Pro — See at Apple

Who should get the silver iPad?

Get a Silver iPad if you want a color that…

  • Draws more attention in its own right (without being overly fussy about it)
  • Provides a good bright bezel for e-reading activities
  • Might be more of a distraction but doesn’t show as much damage
  • Works in tandem with accessories for a great finish
  • You can get on any iPad model

iPad — See at Apple

iPad Mini — See at Apple

iPad Pro — See at Apple

Who should get the gold iPad?

Get a Gold iPad if you want a color that…

  • Stands out from the crowd with a little tasteful bling
  • Provides a good bright bezel for e-reading activities
  • Might be more of a distraction but doesn’t show as much damage
  • You can get on any iPad model (and get it rosy on the 2018 iPad!)

iPad — See at Apple

iPad Mini — See at Apple

iPad Pro — See at Apple

Who should get the rose gold iPad Pro?

Get a Rose Gold iPad Pro if you want color that…

  • Is exclusive to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro model
  • Brings extra luxury atop the champagne gold model
  • Provides a good bright bezel for e-reading activities
  • Might be more of a distraction but doesn’t show as much damage

iPad Pro — See at Apple

Still undecided?

At the end of the day, we aren’t going to be able to make the color decision for you — buy what you like, and what makes the most sense for your computing habits.

If you prefer black, go black; if you want a bit of popping color, choose silver, gold, or rose! Everything else is manufactured anxiety. Just close your eyes, picture your iPad in your hand, and carefully look at what color you’re picturing. And hey, if you feel any buyers’ remorse, Apple offers a pretty comprehensive 14-day return policy — so you can always try out one color and swap it if you’re not feeling the look.

Updated March 30, 2018: Added information about the 2018 iPad.

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ARKit app to build, launch and land a space rocket coming soon from USA Today

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We learned yesterday that there have been 13 million downloads of augmented reality apps powered by ARKit, and USA Today has plans to increase that number.

It has announced that it will soon be launching an AR app that allows you to do some launching of your own. 3-2-1 Launch is an app that allows you to assemble, launch and land an AR rocket …

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This galaxy without dark matter is bending the rules of space

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The complexities of space are pretty mind-boggling, but there are a handful of accepted theories on which scientists base their research. Space is a vacuum, for example, while a light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles. So researchers at Yale Universi…
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