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Three billionaire entrepreneurs – Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson – are each vying to usher in a new era of private commercial space travel.

Here is how their rival ventures compare in the race to open up space travel.

Tickets

Bezos, Branson, and Musk have been investing billions of dollars in their space startups, each promising to ferry paying customers on rides to space – and it will cost a pretty penny to be part of it.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic is reported to have more than 600 ticket reservations already, priced around $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.8 crores). It expects to begin a full commercial service in 2022 and eventually hopes to slash the ticket price to around $40,000 (roughly Rs. 30 lakhs).

Reuters reported in 2018 that Bezos’ Blue Origin was planning to charge passengers at least $200,000 (roughly Rs. 1.4 crores) for the ride, based on an appraisal of Branson’s rival plans and other considerations, though its thinking may have changed. Blue has not divulged its long-term pricing plans.

An as-yet unidentified person secured one of the seats on Blue’s first suborbital mission, slated for July 20, with a $28 million auction bid.

Musk’s SpaceX has already taken a crew to the International Space Station, and the company has plans to send an all-civilian crew into orbit in September. Musk has also said SpaceX will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with its forthcoming Starship rocket in 2023.

Design

Virgin Galactic’s reusable SpaceShipTwo system will see its VSS Unity spaceplane lifted to altitude by a large carrier aircraft called VMS Eve before separating.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket-and-capsule combo shoots into suborbital space before separating. The rocket section returns to the launchpad, with the pressurised capsule falls back to earth under parachutes. It features six observation windows – the largest ever used in space.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule sits atop a reusable Falcon rocket which it uses to reach space.

Crew and passengers

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane can hold six passengers: two crew and four passengers.

Blue Origin’s craft can take six passengers and flies autonomously.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is capable of carrying up to seven people.

Itinerary

Virgin Galactic boasts a flight time of around 90 minutes from take-off to landing, including several minutes of weightlessness.

Blue Origin’s capsule suborbital flight is around 10 minutes after separation. Again, those on board experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet before returning to Earth.

The SpaceX missions are expected to last three to four days from launch to splashdown.

Funding

Typical of Branson’s ventures, Virgin Galactic is publicly funded. Its shares peaked at almost $60 (roughly Rs. 4,480) following FAA approval in June 2021.

Blue Origin is privately owned, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos previously indicating he would sell around $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,470 crores) in Amazon stock annually to fund the venture.

SpaceX is also privately owned and has raised billions of dollars in successive funding rounds. Key investors include Alphabet and Fidelity. Musk says fees charged for SpaceX’s charter flights will go toward missions to the moon and eventually Mars.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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Asteroid 2023 BU Made Fourth Closest Approach to Earth

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Asteroid 2023 BU Made Fourth Closest Approach to Earth

There are hundreds of millions of asteroids in our solar system, which means new asteroids are discovered quite frequently. It also means close encounters between asteroids and Earth are fairly common. Some of these close encounters end up with the asteroid impacting Earth, occasionally with severe consequences.

A recently discovered asteroid, named 2023 BU, has made the news because today it passed very close to Earth.

Discovered on January 21 by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov in Crimea, 2023 BU passed only about 3,600 km from the surface of Earth (near the southern tip of South America) six days later on January 27.

That distance is just slightly farther than the distance between Perth and Sydney and is only about 1 percent of the distance between Earth and our Moon.

The asteroid also passed through the region of space that contains a significant proportion of the human-made satellites orbiting Earth.

All this makes 2023 BU the fourth-closest known asteroid encounter with Earth, ignoring those that have impacted the planet or our atmosphere.

How does 2023 BU rate as an asteroid and a threat? 2023 BU is unremarkable, other than that it passed so close to Earth. The diameter of the asteroid is estimated to be just 4–8m, which is on the small end of the range of asteroid sizes.

There are likely hundreds of millions of such objects in our solar system, and it is possible 2023 BU has come close to Earth many times before over the millennia. Until now, we have been oblivious to the fact.

In context, on average a 4-metre-diameter asteroid will impact Earth every year and an 8-metre-diameter asteroid every five years or so Asteroids of this size pose little risk to life on Earth when they hit because they largely break up in the atmosphere. They produce spectacular fireballs, and some of the asteroids may make it to the ground as meteorites.

Now that 2023 BU has been discovered, its orbit around the Sun can be estimated and future visits to Earth predicted. It is estimated there is a 1 in 10,000 chance 2023 BU will impact Earth sometime between 2077 and 2123.

So, we have little to fear from 2023 BU or any of the many millions of similar objects in the Solar System.

Asteroids need to be greater than 25m in diameter to pose any significant risk to life in a collision with Earth; to challenge the existence of civilisation, they’d need to be at least a kilometre in diameter.

It is estimated there are fewer than 1,000 such asteroids in the Solar System and could impact Earth every 5,00,000 years. We know about more than 95 per cent of these objects.

Will there be more close asteroid passes? 2023 BU was the fourth closest pass by an asteroid ever recorded. The three closer passes were by very small asteroids discovered in 2020 and 2021 (2021 UA, 2020 QG and 2020 VT).

Asteroid 2023 BU and countless other asteroids have passed very close to Earth during the nearly five billion years of the Solar System’s existence, and this situation will continue into the future.

What has changed in recent years is our ability to detect asteroids of this size, such that any threats can be characterised. That an object roughly 5m in size can be detected many thousands of kilometres away by a very dedicated amateur astronomer shows that the technology for making significant astronomical discoveries is within reach of the general public. This is very exciting.

Amateurs and professionals can together continue to discover and categorise objects, so threat analyses can be done. Another very exciting recent development came last year, by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which successfully collided a spacecraft into an asteroid and changed its direction.

DART makes plausible the concept of redirecting an asteroid away from a collision course with Earth if a threat analysis identifies a serious risk with enough warning.


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Google Working on Fast Pair Setup, May Debut on Galaxy S23 Series: Report

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Google Working on Fast Pair Setup, May Debut on Galaxy S23 Series: Report

Google is reportedly working on the ability to set up an Android phone via the company’s Fast Pair feature. The capability could reportedly debut on a smartphone with the Samsung Galaxy S23 series that is expected to be unveiled by the South Korean conglomerate at its Galaxy Unpacked 2023 event on February 1. The upcoming flagship smartphone series from Samsung is expected to include the vanilla Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra models.

Fast Pair is a feature that is part of Google Play Services that allows users to set up, connect, and pair new devices like headphones, Wear OS smartwatches, styluses, tracking tags, and other accessories automatically, with a single tap when nearby and turned on. According to a report by 9to5Gooogle, the Fast Pair feature has reportedly been updated by Google to also include support for setting up nearby smartphones.

The updated Fast Pair feature could reportedly debut on Samsung‘s upcoming flagship smartphone series, the Samsung Galaxy S23. With the Fast Pair feature enabled on an Android device, it could detect nearby devices that are compatible with Fast Pair including another Android smartphone and other accessories, as per the report. On detection of the specific device that is nearby, the feature will automatically redirect users to the process to install the relevant steps that need to be followed to move data between the two devices.

With nearby Android smartphones also being supported on Fast Pair, and reportedly featuring on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series, the smartphones in the series could detect nearby Android devices and prompt users to install the Samsung Smart Switch app that allows users to transfer data between two devices, according to the report.

The feature could end up making the setup process for a new Samsung Galaxy S23 series smartphone easier than ever, but there is currently no information on whether the older and newer device will both need support for the updated Fast Pair feature.

9to5Google accessed details from a recent version of the Google Play Services application that seems to suggest that Google is preparing to debut Android’s new Fast Pair feature on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series. The South Korean conglomerate recently opened pre-reservations for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series in India, along with several other countries.

However, it is important to note that neither Google nor Samsung has confirmed plans to update the Fast Pair feature or the inclusion of such a feature on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series, respectively.


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Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Grab, Throw Objects Just Like a Human

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Watch Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot Grab, Throw Objects Just Like a Human

Boston Dynamics has unveiled the latest version of its Atlas Robot that is capable of improved human-like movement and actions. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based robot firm, showed off the humanoid robot with grippers while displaying its capabilities via a video posted to YouTube. The robot is seen performing complex actions such as grabbing and throwing an object, navigating complex terrain while holding another object.

In the video posted on Boston Dynamics’ YouTube channel, the company’s Atlas Robot is seen navigating a challenging environment while walking on two legs mimicking human motion. The Atlas Robot is also seen grabbing hold of a plank and jumping to spin around, carrying it and placing it to create a bridge to walk between two platforms, all while holding onto a toolkit.

The Atlas Robot is then seen walking across the platform bridge it created, tossing up the toolkit to the person on top of the scaffolding. The executed manoeuvre is being referred to by Boston Dynamics as an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip.

After successfully passing the toolkit along to the human on the ledge above, the Atlas Robot then theatrically proceeds to do a perfectly executed backflip while still on the thin platform.

The demonstration shows how humanoid robots such as the Atlas could potentially replace humans in performing tasks that involve risk of life and injury when performed by humans.

Recently, Boston Dynamics and IBM were seen collaborating to deploy robot dogs at the US National Grid sites for the purpose of autonomous inspection. The robotic dogs named Spot, are integrated by artificial intelligence (AI) developed by IBM Research and being deployed at the electric and gas utility sites in Massachusetts and New York for regular inspections.

However, Boston Dynamics’ creative foray into deploying robots in real-life situations and applications hasn’t always been smooth. The company faced backlash for selling Spot to local police departments, including the NYPD, leading to the NYPD cancelling the arrangement.


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