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The rocket science behind the SpaceX astronaut launch

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Two NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, have finally made history by travelling to the International Space Station in a privately funded spacecraft, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. The launch was initially due to take place on May 27 but had to be be postponed due to bad weather. It launched at 3.22pm EST on May 30.

The astronauts took off lying on their backs in the seats, and facing in the direction of travel to reduce the stress of high acceleration on their bodies. Launching from Kennedy Space Centre, the spacecraft travelled out over the Atlantic, turning to travel in a direction that matches the ISS orbit.

The first rocket section separated at just over two minutes. The main dragon capsule separated from the second stage burn a few minutes later and continued its journey. The Dragon spacecraft finally docked with the ISS about 19 hours after launch.

Space mission launches and landings are the most critical parts. However, Space X has conducted many tests, including 27 drops of the parachute landing system. It has also managed an emergency separation of the Dragon capsule from the rocket. In the event of a failed rocket launch, eight engines would lift the capsule containing the astronauts up into the air and away from the rocket, with parachutes eventually helping it to land. The Falcon 9 rocket has made 83 successful launches.

Docking and return

The space station has an orbital velocity of 7.7km per second. The Earth’s rotation carries launch sites under a straight flight path of the ISS, with each instance providing a “launch window”.

ISS orbit. Author provided

To intercept the ISS, the capsule had to match the station’s speed, altitude and inclination, and it had do it at the correct time such that the two spacecraft were in close proximity to each other. The difference in velocity between the ISS and the Dragon capsule was near to zero at the point where the orbits of the two spacecraft intersected.

Once these conditions had been met, the Dragon capsule maneuvered to the ISS docking port, using a series of small control thrusters arranged around the spacecraft. This was done automatically by a computer, however the astronauts can control this maneuvre manually if needed.

As you can see in the figure below, maneuvering involves “translation control” as indicated by green arrows – moving left/right, up/down, forward/back. The yellow arrows show “attitude control” – rolling clockwise/anti-clockwise, pitching up/down, and yawing left/right.

How to maneuver a spacecraft. Author provided

This is complicated by Newton’s first law of motion – that any object at rest or in motion will continue to be so unless acted upon by an external force. That means any manoeuvre, such as a roll to the right, will continue indefinitely in the absence of air resistance to provide an external force until it is counteracted by firing thrusters in the opposite direction.

So now that you have a grasp of orbital maneuvring, why not have a go yourself? This simulator, provided by Space X, allows you to try and pilot the Dragon capsule to the ISS docking port.

The astronauts will return to Earth when a new set are ready to take their place, or at NASA’s discretion. NASA are already planning the first fully operational flight of crew Dragon, with four astronauts, although a launch date for that has not yet been announced and will undoubtedly depend on the outcome of this demonstration flight.

New era for spaceflight

The launch puts SpaceX firmly ahead of the other commercial ventures looking at providing crewed space launches. This includes both Boeing’s Starliner, which first launched last year but was uncrewed, and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser which is planned to be tested with cargo during a trip to the ISS next year.

The ability of the commercial sector to send astronauts to the ISS is an important step toward further human exploration, including establishing a human presence at the Moon, and ultimately, Mars.

With companies competing, however, an open question remains whether safety could at some point be compromised to gain a commercial edge. There is no suggestion this has happened so far, but any crewed mission which failed due to a fault stemming from economic concerns would have serious legal ramifications.

In a similar way to modern aircraft legislation, a set of space safety standards and regulations will need to be put in place sooner rather than later. For commercial lunar and beyond missions we also have to ensure that any spacecraft does not contaminate the location they are visiting with germs from Earth.

With more nations and companies developing plans for lunar missions, there are obvious advantages in international cooperation and finding cost efficient launch methods. This is not least because it’s not as dependent on the whim of elected governments for direction, which can change completely from one administration to the next.

So for us scientists looking to expand our knowledge of space, it is a very exciting moment.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation by Gareth Dorrian, Post Doctoral Research Fellow in Space Science, University of Birmingham and Ian Whittaker, Lecturer in Physics, Nottingham Trent University under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Apple reportedly planning two MacBooks with ARM processors for 2020

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Prolific Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo is at it again with another prediction on Cupertino’s upcoming products. Specifically, Kuo believes Apple is planning to launch a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro and a new MacBook Air with the newfangled chips as early as this year, as well as 14 and 16-inch Pros next year. In a research note, Kuo says(via MacRumors):

We predict that Apple will launch new MacBook models including the new 13.3-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ in 4Q20, the new ‌MacBook Air‌ equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ in 4Q20 or 1Q21, and new 14- and 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ and all-new form factor design in late 2Q21 or 3Q21.

Apple is also rumored to announce a redesigned iMac with a design more akin to the iPad Pro this year, although it probably won’t feature an ARM processor in 2020.

The company has developed an expertise in ARM processors since the inception of the iPhone, launching devices with processors that are often a generation ahead of competitors in performance while being more efficient to boot. At WWDC, the company claimed its silicon will both be more powerful and use less power than existing desktop processors, although the announcement was light on specifics.

Developers were offered a new Mac Mini featuring an A12Z Bionic process — essentially a tweaked iPad Pro chip — after WWDC. While we may see that chip in the new MacBook Air, being Apple’s entry-level laptop, we expect to see a big leap in performance on the new MacBook Pros, as those will have to compete with the existing Intel Models.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say — we’ll (hopefully) find out more later this year.

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Published July 10, 2020 — 19:05 UTC

Napier Lopez

Napier Lopez

July 10, 2020 — 19:05 UTC

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Far Cry 6 details leak, and our fingers are crossed for a female protagonist

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Ubisoft was apparently planning to reveal a new Far Cry game at its weekend E3 replacement event. Today, a leak gave away most of the major details about the game, including a look at the main villain. Ubisoft has also confirmed we’ll be seeing the game at the show.

Anton would not be pleased. See you on Sunday at #UbiForward. pic.twitter.com/HieToJzDxp

— Far Cry (@FarCrygame) July 10, 2020

We already suspected there was going to be a Far Cry game at this weekend’s event. Ubisoft allegedly has five games coming out this fiscal year — we could already account for Watch Dogs LegionAssassin’s Creed ValhallaRainbow Six: Quarantine, and Gods & Monsters. All we knew about the fifth game was that it was allegedly a new release in one of Ubisoft‘s major franchises. Far Cry is really the only other big series Ubisoft has that’s not already represented on that list. So here you go: Far Cry 6.

Far Cry 6 page just show up on PS HK Store. 🧐 pic.twitter.com/LXZ1EhGykG

— anjohn0422 (@anjohn0422) July 10, 2020

The game’s cover image and details leaked via the PlayStation Store, where a listing for the game appeared, presumably a few days ahead of schedule. The description that accompanied the picture describes the game thus:

Welcome to Yara, a tropical paradise frozen in time. As the dictator of Yara, Anton Castillo is intent on restoring his nation back to its former glory by any means, with his son, Diego, following in his bloody footsteps. Their ruthless oppression has ignited a revolution… Play as Dani Rojas, a local Yaran and become a guerrilla fighter to liberate the nation…

Wow, that sounds like it could almost be a description of a Just Cause game. When does Rico Fucking Rodriguez (yes, that’s his full legal name) show up with the hookshot to help Dani out?

Read: Microsoft may get Mortal Kombat and LEGO if it buys WB Games

All that said, I’m pleased that the player character will actually be a character this time around. After Far Cry 5 and New Dawn hamstrung their villains by making them menace faceless, mute player characters, we might finally get to see some more of that fun hero/villain interaction that makes Far Cry games so memorable. Also, with a name like Dani Rojas, I think there’s a good chance the hero could be a woman or at least have a selectable gender. I sure hope Dani’s a woman — it’d certainly add a new spin to things.

The other thing you’ll probably have already noticed is who they’ve cast as Anton Castillo: Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of game characters made the face and voice of a well-known actor — the ability to unbind characters from what their actors look like is one of the things I love about games (and animation). In my humble opinion no game has thus far benefited from the inclusion of such an actor’s conspicuous presence, though I’m willing to revisit that when Cyberpunk 2077 comes out and we can see how much of that game actually features Keanu Reeves. That said, I’m willing to let the man who played Gus Fring have his shot at playing a great game villain, so we’ll have to see if he changes my mind.

Expect to see the game officially unveiled at Ubisoft‘s show this Sunday. If the PlayStation Store leak is accurate, it’ll be released on February 18, 2021.

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Apple reportedly planning two MacBooks with ARM processors for 2020

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Holy Sheet: Apply Einstein’s ‘8th wonder of the world’ to your money in Google Sheets

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“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it,” Albert Einstein once said. For those who aren’t financial gurus, allow me to put this quote in layman’s terms: everyone who’s able to save up a little, and is patient enough, can get wealthy. It’s not how celebrities get rich, it’s how the millionaire next door gets born.

So how does it work?

To become this achievable millionaire next door, you don’t have to win the lottery, or have an IQ as high as Einstein’s. All you have to understand is one investment concept called compound interest, and of course make it work for you.

It works as follows. Say you invest $1000 in the broader market, using a relatively low-risk index fund (a basket of a broad range of stocks) such as the S&P 500 or an even more diversified total world stock market index fund, and you gain 8% in a year on capital gains and dividends (sort of the average annual return). After a year, your capital has grown from $1000 to $1080. Your profit is $80 after the first year.

Now let’s say you choose to keep the $1080 invested (including reinvesting the dividends). After the second year the $1080 grows another 8% (again, this is hypothetical, as the annual return fluctuates) to $1166.40, meaning your annual profit has gone up from $80 to $86.40.

Your money is growing faster because you’re not just growing your principal of $1000, but also last year’s earned interest of $80. You’re making interest on interest, in other words compound interest. On average your yearly earnings will grow, just by keeping it invested, and thus making it work for you.

How can we simulate this?

The main ingredients for generating compound interest are:

  • Investing money, preferably adding a steady amount each month. This is called dollar-cost averaging, and prevents you from going all in at the wrong time (i.e. the market’s low).
  • Time, lots of time, for your money to grow by reaping the benefits of compound interest generated by the market. You’re aiming for the so-called hockey stick effect to kick in, which means the longer you let your money work, the faster it rises.
Hockey stick effect for doubling your money each year, on a $10,000 principal

That’s all there is to it. So you’re probably wondering what would happen if you actually put aside say $500 a month for say 30 years, while the market’s 8% average return would continue to occur. Well, we’ve created a template for you just for that.

All you have to do is head over to the Google Sheet document, make a copy of it for yourself by heading to the menu and hitting File -> Make a copy. Then, change the main parameters on the right under ‘Capital already invested’ if you already have money invested in the market, ‘Extra savings invested per month’, and optionally tweak the ‘Average monthly return’ to increase the annual return (in red) if you expect a lower or higher annual return than 8%.

So there you have it. Money doesn’t necessarily just have to be for the few, as long as you have patience and perseverance.

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