White House policy seeks fewer lawyers, more engineers at space companies

Enlarge / United Launch Alliance president and CEO Tory Bruno leads a tour in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen Pence, and then-NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on Feb. 20, 2018. (credit: NASA)

As the White House seeks to smooth the way for commercial spaceflight, President Trump will sign a new space policy directive on Thursday afternoon. The new policy directs US departments and agencies to implement several reforms to ease the regulatory system for launch licensing, remote sensing, and more.

“This builds on Space Policy Directive 1, to reorient the human spaceflight program back toward the Moon using commercial partners,” Scott Pace said Thursday.

The new directive formalizes recommendations made in February at the second meeting of the National Space Council to reform the regulatory environment. In short, the White House wants to cut paperwork for commercial companies launching rockets and flying

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America, your offshore wind is coming: 1.2GW in contracts awarded

European offshore wind farms have made big US projects possible.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island both awarded major offshore wind contracts on Wednesday, underscoring the increasing economic viability of a kind of renewable energy that has been long considered too expensive.

The Massachusetts installation will have a capacity of 800MW. Situated 14 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, the wind farm will be called “Vineyard Wind,” and it has an accelerated timetable: it’s due to start sending electricity back to the grid as soon as 2021. According to Greentech Media, the contract was won by Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, both companies with headquarters in Europe. The two share 50/50 ownership of the project and beat Deepwater Wind and Bay State Wind in the bidding.

Massachusetts recently approved an ambitious goal to build 1.6GW of wind energy capacity off its coast by 2027. This new contract gets the state half

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Protein that chikungunya virus uses to get into cells is identified

Enlarge / An electron micrograph of multiple copies of the chikungunya virus. (credit: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith)

The word “chikungunya” (chik-en-gun-ye) comes from Kimakonde, the language spoken by the Makonde people in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique. It means “to become contorted,” because that’s what happens to people who get infected. The contortion is a result of severe and debilitating joint pain. Chikungunya was first identified in Tanzania in 1952, but by now cases have been reported around the globe. There is no cure; the CDC recommends that “travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites.”

Chikungunya is only one of a family of viruses transmitted through mosquitoes for which we have no targeted treatment. This may partially be due to the fact that we didn’t know how they get into our cells. But for chikungunya, we’ve just found one of the proteins responsible.

Identification via deletion

Researchers used the

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Newest NOAA weather satellite suffers critical malfunction

Enlarge / GOES-17 is in space now, where fixing problems is… difficult. (credit: NASA)

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released some bad news today: the GOES-17 weather satellite that launched almost two months ago has a cooling problem that could endanger the majority of the satellite’s value.

GOES-17 is the second of a new generation of weather satellite to join NOAA’s orbital fleet. Its predecessor is covering the US East Coast, with GOES-17 meant to become “GOES-West.” While providing higher-resolution images of atmospheric conditions, it also tracks fires, lightning strikes, and solar behavior. It’s important that NOAA stays ahead of the loss of dying satellites by launching new satellites that ensure no gap in global coverage ever occurs.

The various instruments onboard the satellite have been put through their courses to make sure everything is working properly before it goes into official operation. Several weeks ago,

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Arizona state education standards see evolution deleted

Enlarge / A facepalm with ponies seems to be the most reasonable response to the proposed science education standards. (credit: Joachim S. Müller / Flickr)

In Arizona, the state’s superintendent of public instruction has led a campaign to remove evolution from the state’s science education standards. Diane Douglas has taken the standards, written by educators, and selectively replaced instances of the word “evolution” with euphemisms like “change over time.” The alterations come less than a year after Douglas publicly advocated for introducing religious ideas into biology classrooms. Arizona residents still have roughly a week to submit comments on the changes.

Edited standards

Most states develop educational standards that define their expectations for what students should know at different stages of their time in school. These standards then govern things, from the mass purchase of textbooks to the design of instructional plans by individual teachers. For large states like

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Stellarator’s plasma results show a triumph of engineering and modeling

Enlarge / The plasma vessel has a shape that mimics that of the magnetic field. (credit: Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics)

Many moons ago, Ars was introduced to the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator (W7-X), an experimental fusion concept. At the time, W7-X—the world’s largest stellarator—had just completed some warm-up tests and had been shut down to install more bits and pieces. That installation is not yet complete, but the results from some of those early runs are being analyzed, and they look good. The scientists may not be cracking champagne bottles, but they are certainly drinking boutique beer in celebration of the agreement between theory and experiment.

Banging rocks together to create bigger rocks

All of the elements heavier than hydrogen are the result of fusion. To create a heavier element through fusion, you first strip all the electrons away from two lighter atoms and then force the two nuclei

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US gov’t employee in China left with brain injury after strange sounds, pressure

Enlarge / United States Consulate General Guangzhou, China, where an employee reported experiencing unexplained sounds and pressures that led to a brain injury. (credit: US Dept of State)

The US government issued an alert Wednesday following reports that a government employee stationed in southern China experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” and sustained a brain injury.

The case draws clear and eerie parallels to mysterious health problems that affected US diplomats in Cuba, who also experienced unexplained episodes of unusual sounds and pressure followed by diagnoses of traumatic brain injury.

Responding to an email from the New York Times, a spokesperson for the United States Embassy in Beijing said that the unnamed employee was working in the US consulate in the city of Guangzhou, just northwest of Hong Kong, and experienced a variety of symptoms from late 2017 until April of this

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A rare, clear day afforded amazing views of a Falcon 9 launch from California

SpaceX

Most of us associate Southern California with Hollywood, beaches, and sunny weather. However, with relatively cold waters offshore and typically higher pressures over the Pacific Ocean, there is essentially a competition between air rising from the surface and sinking air further up in the atmosphere. The rising air and sinking air meet in the lower atmosphere to form a marine layer—typically low-altitude stratus clouds.

This marine layer often manifests as a thick, rolling fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a two- to three-hour drive northwest along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles. This means rocket launches from Vandenberg often end in disappointment for expectant viewers. This occurred most recently with the Atlas V rocket launch of NASA’s Mars InSight lander a few weeks ago, which people could hear, but not see.

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How you end up sleep-deprived matters

Enlarge (credit: Aaron Jacobs)

Anyone who has tried to pull a late-night study session and wound up rereading the same pages of their  textbook because  they can’t focus has experienced it.  And countless studies confirm it: if you’re sleep deprived, your brain starts functioning poorly. Reaction times slip, you’re more prone to careless actions, and generally just get bad at things. But how is it your body registers “too little sleep”? It could be after you spend too much time awake. Or it could be the amount of sleep you get in a 24-hour period. Or it could be tracked in relationship to your body’s internal 24-hour circadian clock.

A new study out this week suggests it’s not just one of these things, and different aspects of our mental capacities are more or less sensitive to precisely how you end up short on sleep.

Deprived

The challenge with separating

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EPA boots reporters from meeting on chemicals called a PR disaster

Enlarge / US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Scott Pruitt’s tenure as head of the US’ Environmental Protection Agency has often been bogged down in scandals involving questionable spending and the unjustifiable rollback of regulations.

But the latest controversy is one the agency’s own making. This morning, Pruitt was speaking at a workshop convened to discuss the handling of specific chemical contaminants that have been found in water supplies. The EPA was already under fire for what appeared to be an attempt to stall a report that suggests these chemicals were more toxic than previously thought, so the workshop provided an opportunity to show that the agency took the risks seriously. Instead, the EPA started a brand-new controversy by specifically excluding CNN and the AP from Pruitt’s speech and by having security physically escort a reporter out of the building.

Contamination

The controversy focuses on

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“Like slavery”: Rehab patients forced into unpaid labor to cover “treatment”

Enlarge / A heroin addict at a rehab house. (credit: Getty | AFP)

If you caught John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight this past Sunday, you saw a lengthy segment detailing the atrocities of the rehabilitation industry. As Oliver pointed out, it’s largely an unregulated, unstandardized market rife with bad actors, scams, and bunkum that offers little help to patients desperate to recover from deadly addictions. With some charging tens of thousands of dollars for a month of treatment, rehab facilities often rely on therapies with little evidence of efficacy—such as horse petting—and report largely made-up percentages for their success rates.

Even experts in the field find themselves at a loss for how to identify effective, quality facilities. The result is that many patients pay large sums only to go on to struggle with or die from their condition. And these devastating consequences are only heightened by the country’s current

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Waiting for cheaper renewables can cost more in the long run

Enlarge (credit: Paul / Flickr)

Waiting for the price to come down before switching to a new technology sounds like a frugal decision. But when it comes to a country’s electrical grid, what saves you money now could actually cost you much more in the long run. That’s the central conclusion of a new study led by Imperial College London’s Clara Heuberger.

Almost every nation in the world (depending on how you categorize the United States’ erratic behavior) has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of limiting global warming. A large component of that pledge is the conversion of electrical generation from fossil fuels to renewables. But there is a tension between the cheap and immediate availability of fossil fuels and the varied status of different renewable technologies.

Waiting for unicorns

It may make some economic sense to watch the price of solar continue its fall before

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The SpaceX rocket used for the ill-fated Zuma mission to fly again today

Enlarge / A sooty Falcon 9 rocket is ready for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (credit: NASA)

SpaceX will attempt its 10th launch of the year on Tuesday, a mission serving two different customers. The Falcon 9 rocket will carry five communications satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation, along with two gravity-measuring satellites for NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences.

This first-stage booster has flown once before, a little more than four months ago when it launched the Zuma mission for the US government—a satellite or spacecraft that was apparently lost in space after it failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX appears to have been absolved from blame for this mishap, and certainly the first stage booster performed nominally during that mission.

SpaceX will not attempt to recover this core, as it is a Block 4 variant of the

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Vaccination method that wiped out smallpox gets unleashed today on Ebola

Enlarge / Nurses working with the World Health Organization administer the Ebola vaccine to a local doctor at the town hall of Mbandaka on May 21, 2018 during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign. (credit: Getty | JUNIOR KANNAH)

With more than 7,500 doses of an experimental vaccine against Ebola, health officials today began a vaccination campaign to try to thwart the latest outbreak of the deadly virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the World Health Organization, the campaign will start with healthcare workers operating in areas affected by the outbreak. Then officials will focus on a “ring vaccination” strategy, which targets people who have had contact with someone with a confirmed case of Ebola, as well as people who have had contact with those contacts. (This creates rings of vaccination around each case, hence the name). These defensive social circles ensure

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2,000 years ago in Denmark, a fierce battle left dozens dead

Enlarge / Femur, tibia, and fibula, and two small stones. (credit: PNAS)

Roman military accounts from the early centuries CE describe the tribes of north-central Europe as fierce fighters who took the field with large forces and treated vanquished foes with ritual brutality. Until recently, however, there hasn’t been much archaeological evidence to back up the Roman accounts. But some time in the first century CE, two of those tribes clashed in what is now the Alken Enge wetlands in the Illerup River Valley in Denmark. Archaeologists excavated the aftermath from 2009 to 2014, finding broken weapons and shields along with the bones of at least 82 men.

Many of the bones bore the marks of grievous wounds dealt just before death, which is no surprise on a battlefield, of course. But all of them were found in places that would have been under water 2,000 years ago—and they’d all

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NASA’s EM-drive is a magnetic WTF-thruster

Enlarge / The Earth’s magnetic field is remarkably sneaky. (credit: NASA)

It was bound to happen eventually. A group of researchers that may actually be competent and well-funded is investigating alternative thrust concepts. This includes our favorite, the WTF-thruster EM-drive, as well as something called a Mach-Effect thruster. The results, presented at Space Propulsion 2018, are pretty much as expected: a big fat meh.

The key motivation behind all of this is that rocket technology largely sucks for getting people around the Solar System. And it sucks even worse as soon as you consider the problem of interstellar travel. The result is that good people spend a lot of time eliminating even the most far-fetched ideas. The EM-drive is a case in point. It’s basically a truncated hollow copper cone that you feed electromagnetic radiation into. The radiation bounces around in the cone. And, by some physics-defying magic, unicorns

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Ariane chief seems frustrated with SpaceX for driving down launch costs

Enlarge / The Ariane 5 rocket launches in April, 2018. (credit: Ariane Group)

The France-based Ariane Group is the primary contractor for the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, and it has also begun developing the Ariane 6 rocket. The firm has a reliable record—indeed, NASA chose the Ariane 5 booster to fly its multi-billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope—but it also faces an uncertain future in an increasingly competitive launch market.

Like Russia and the US-based United Launch Alliance, the Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster.

But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX’s present-day prices. Moreover,

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Medicines were tainted with pesticides in sloppy drug facility, FDA warns

Enlarge / Pesticides in a store in Miami, Florida. (credit: Getty | Kerry Sheridan)

A drug manufacturer used the same, uncleaned equipment to make pesticides as it did several human drugs, according to a warning letter released by the Food and Drug Administration. The result was that at least two medicines were contaminated with pesticides, the agency noted.

The FDA’s sternly worded letter charged that drug manufacturer Product Quest MFG, LLC of Daytona Beach, Florida and its manufacturing facility, Ei LLC in Kannapolis, North Carolina, committed “significant violations.” It also noted that the firm’s response to the problems so far were “inadequate” and that its investigations into the extent of the problems were “not thorough and scientifically sound.” The agency levied legal threats if the issues weren’t fixed pronto.

“Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in legal action without further notice including, without limitation, seizure

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China has launched a communications satellite to the Moon

Enlarge / The far side of the Moon. No robotic spacecraft has ever made a soft landing here. (credit: NASA)

China’s space agency has taken a critical first step toward an unprecedented robotic landing on the far side of the Moon. On Monday, local time, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation launched a Long March 4C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Although it did not broadcast the launch, the Chinese space agency said it went smoothly, according to the state news service Xinhua.

“The launch is a key step for China to realize its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the Moon,” Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, told Xinhua.

About 25 minutes after the launch after the launch, the Queqiao spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage, and began a trip toward a halo orbit

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Clean air, water on voters’ agenda, but not Congress‘

Enlarge / Congressman Mo Brooks wanted to know if scientists were including the influence of rocks falling into the ocean when they calculated sea level rise.

A poll came out this week indicating that huge majorities of the US public think that the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect the environment. About 70 percent would like to see more action on clean water, and over two-thirds would like to see additional steps taken on climate change. While there are some partisan divides regarding the right actions to take, most members of both parties would like to see expanded use of solar and wind power.

All of which provides a backdrop to the truly bizarre spectacle that took place in a hearing held by the House Science Committee this week. In a hearing meant to focus on technological solutions to climate change (like the hugely popular wind and solar), Republican

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