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Gaming News

Seven Things I Love About Starlink So Far

October 15, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Ubisoft’s toys-optional toys-to-life space opera arrives this week on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch. While I’ve only had a couple of days to dive into the sci-fi adventure, I’ve already found several things to love about Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

In Starlink, a group of crack pilots headed by genius astrophysicist Victor St. Grand journey to the Atlas system on a research mission. Upon their arrival the group is attacked by the forces of the Forgotten Legion, who kidnap St. Grand for sinister purposes. It’s up to the remaining members of the Starlink Initiative (and maybe some Switch-exclusive friends) to scour the Atlas system for clues, bolster their team with new alien allies, recover their fallen leader and save the universe. Fortunately they have access to Starlink technology, allowing them to swap ships, pilots and weapons on-the-fly, like the collectible physical (or digital) toys they are.

It’s a spaceship game. That’s one reason I love it. It’s a spaceship game that gives me an excuse to purchase toys. That’s two things I love. Here are a few more.

A Beautiful Star System

No Man’s Starlink

I’ve spent a good portion of my time playing Starlink over the weekend turning off the game’s HUD and wandering about, taking it all in. From the Roger Dean-esque, progressive rock album cover look of the game’s planetary surfaces to the quiet majesty of deep space, Starlink is consistently gorgeous.

I can seamlessly fly from a planet’s surface into the airless depths and back again (a la No Man’s Sky), which gives the game a tremendous sense of scale, even though it currently features only seven planets.

Atlas is a star system brimming with missions to perform, loot to uncover and battles to be won, but it’s at its best in the quiet moments between the action. I’ve enjoyed cresting a hill and having a pair of massive feathered creatures come into view. Or zooming across the landscape as gloomy desert gives way to breathtaking arrangements of purple fungus.

It’s Got Those Titan AE Vibes

I’m a huge fan of Don Bluth’s 2000 animated film Titan AE. That film that tells a very human story in an extremely alien landscape. It’s got a ragtag band of pilots and engineers, struggling against overwhelming odds. It’s got heart and cheek in equal parts, not to mention a killer soundtrack. I find myself humming that movie’s soundtrack as I play through the adventure of Mason and his friends.

I’m in over my head.

From impetuous rocker Razor to the mysterious alien collective known as Judge, the Starlink Initiative has some cool folks it in. It also has one incredibly annoying, blonde-haired social media addict named Levi McCray, whose toy is destined to be a peg-warmer.

Levi is useless and should be spaced.

The Toys Are Nice

You don’t see many toy spaceships in stores these days. It’s all action figures and tiny collectible things sold in blind bags so you have to buy a dozen to get the one you want. Kids and adults these days need more reasons to hold painted plastic spacecraft in their hands while making whooshing noises. Starlink sells several of these.

Each of the game’s eight physical spaceships is a character. Judge’s Neptune is rounded and bulbous with clean lines and smooth curves. The Nadir, piloted by the rough and tumble pirate alien Shaid, is scuffed all to hell and sports a skull up front, because pirates. It’s an armada as mismatched as its members.

I also love the way the toys attach to the controller mounts provided in the Starlink starter kits. First the player mounts their preferred pilot to the stand. Then the ship goes over it, so you can see the pilot within the transparent cockpit. Then the player can go nuts, adding stat-enhancing wings (up to three on each side) plus a pair of elemental weapons. Everything clicks together nicely, and appears in-game instantly as soon as it’s attached.

ItUbisoft provided me a starter set for the Switch, three ship packs (each with a pilot and weapon), a weapon pack containing two extra weapons and one additional pilot. I’ve preordered the rest, because I have a toy collecting problem.

The Toys Are Optional

If I didn’t have a toy collecting problem, I wouldn’t need to purchase any toys at all. Rather than spend $75 on a physical starter pack, there’s a $60 digital version that includes a couple of pilots, three ships and some extra weapons. Instead of snapping toys onto a mount, players can just pop into a menu and set up their loadout. There’s also an $80 edition that includes digital versions of every toy available at launch. Additional toy packs on their own, if you buy them physically, cost $25 per starship, with weapon and pilot packs $10 and $8 respectively.

Should one want the toys but isn’t too keen on carrying them around to play, the physical toys unlock digital versions in game as well. That’s especially handy on the Switch, which wouldn’t be nearly as portable a system with giant plastic spaceships hanging from it.

Spaceship Customs

Again, I like the toys. I especially enjoy transforming my spaceships from completely sensible looking vehicles into mad mash-ups of weapons and wings. Each ship can handle up to three different wings on each side, stacked on on top of another. Each wing adds stats, which is lovely. They also add weight, which is slightly less lovely, but it’s the price to pay to look this pretty.

It’s a monster, but it is my monster.

Mixing and matching weapons can be quite fun as well. Not only do weapons produce damaging elemental effects when paired, they can also have unexpected effects when mounted in a way not originally suggested. There’s a flame ram, for instance, which heats up and sends the player’s ship flying forward extremely fast. There’s also the Imploder, a weapon that fires black holes. Black holes can damage the player’s ship, but if they mount a ramming weapon backwards and fire it at the same time, the ship goes rocketing backwards, away from the damaging void. Clever!

————

While I’ve played Starlink for hours now, there’s still plenty of time for me to find things to love (and possibly hate) about the game. Look for a full review in the coming days. For now, whoooooosh.

Gaming News

High School Kids Send EarthBound Into Space

August 7, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Screenshot: Krazy Kontraptions (YouTube)

How much do you love EarthBound? Do you love it so much that you’d shoot it into space?

When Ronnie Doyle turned 14 recently, his grandfather bought him an unorthodox birthday gift. By making a donation to a crowd-funded science group called Earth To Sky Calculus, he gave his grandson the opportunity to shoot a small object into “a realm often called ‘the edge of space,’” documenting the whole thing with a video. Doyle could pick anything “smaller than a lunchbox,” he told Kotaku, and decided on one of his prized possessions: his copy of Nintendo’s 1995 Super Nintendo RPG.

“The process of sending the game is very frightening,” Doyle said in an email. “This is a $200 game that has a big risk of not coming back in one piece. The cartridge was drilled into both sides to ensure it had a safe flight, but I decided to take that risk.”

The helium balloon holding the cartridge, launched from Doyle’s home state of California, had a GPS attached to it, which let the Earth To Sky Calculus team—made up of a group of high school kids and their teacher—find it once it landed. The game reached an altitude of 100,000 feet, where, according to the group, “the noontime sky fades to black, stars pop out, and meteors can be seen in broad ‘daylight.’”

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The cartridge still works, Doyle said. For now, he’s keeping it in his retro game collection, “unless someone wants to trade Stadium Events for it.”

“As far as I know, this is the only copy of EarthBound that is not bound to earth,” he said.

Tech News

NASA contest finalists show off their Mars habitat models

July 29, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Team SEArch+/Apis Cor

Yes, we’ve yet to successfully send humans to Mars, but we already need to start thinking how we can stay there for long stretches of time — or even for good. NASA launched the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge back in 2015 to find a suitable artificial housing for the first wave of Martian residents, and now the agency has narrowed the contestants down to five after seeing the realistic virtual models they created. The agency and its project partner, Illinois’ Bradley University, judged 18 teams’ models created using a specialized software.

According to TechCrunch, the software requires various details about the structures creators are designing. In other words, the teams couldn’t just come up with a concept that looks good — they had to make sure their habitats’ wall thickness, heating, pressure sealing and other elements can actually withstand harsh Martian conditions.

The five teams split a $100,000 cash pot earmarked for this stage of the competition, with the two top teams taking home $20,957.95 each. One of the top teams, Zopherus from Arkansas, has envisioned a habitat built by moving 3D printers that can deploy rovers to retrieve local materials for construction.

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AI. SpaceFactory of New York designed a cylindrical habitat for max space usage.

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Team Kahn-Yates of Jackson, Mississippi, which got third place, features a design with translucent dots to let the light in. It was also created to withstand Mars’ massive dust storms.

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SEArch+/Apis Cor from New York prioritized creating a habitat that lets the light in but can provide strong radiation shielding.

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Finally, Team Northwestern University from Illinois has conjured up a design that features a spherical shell with an outer parabolic dome. They also want to make building one as easy as possible by using an inflatable vessel as base for a 3D printer, so it can quickly print out a dome with cross beams.

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The five teams now have to prove their ideas are feasible by 3D printing — autonomously, that is — part of their structures and to create a one-third-scale version of their design. Monsi Roman, NASA’s Centennial Challenges program manager, said: “We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles. They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets.”

Tech News

Virgin Galactic breaks Mach 2 in third powered test flight

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic conducted another test of its VSS Unity, taking it out on a third rocket-powered supersonic flight this morning. After being released from the VMS Eve carrier craft, the VSS Unity flew higher than it has previously, reaching a peak altitude of 170,800 feet and entering the mesosphere for the first time. It also reached speeds of Mach 2.47 during its 42 second rocket burn. The first and second VSS Unity powered test flights reached altitudes of 84,271 feet and 114,500 feet and speeds of Mach 1.87 and 1.9, respectively.

Updated key stats from today’s test flight:
Release altitude: 46,500 ft
Burn time: 42 seconds
Boost Mach: 2.47
Apogee: 170,800 ft, 32.3 miles, 52 km
Re-entry Mach: 1.7

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 26, 2018

The VSS Unity replaced Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which crashed in 2014, killing one of its pilots. The company says that tests like the one performed today allow it to collect cabin data like temperature, pressure, thermal response, vibration and radiation.

“The flight was exciting and frankly beautiful,” said pilot Mike “Sooch” Masucci. “We were able to complete a large number of test points which will give us good insight as we progress to our goal of commercial service.”

Tech News

Scientists may have found liquid water on Mars

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Today, scientists announced that they have detected what could be a large reservoir of liquid water under the surface of Mars. The “lake” measures 20-km across and is located about 1.5 km below the Mars’s southern polar ice cap. An article about the discovery was published in the journal Science.

We know that abundant liquid water existed on ancient Mars. The rover Curiosity found an ancient streambed on the planet that held evidence of flowing liquid water. Until now, we knew that water exists in ice around the planet, as well as that there are signs of liquid water on the surface. But scientists thought that Mars had lost the majority of its liquid water. Now, if this discovery pans out, it’s clear that some large pockets of liquid water still exist on or near the Martian surface.

It’s important to note that there are quite a few caveats to this discovery. First, scientists have discovered evidence of a buried lake; that’s not the same as finding an actual lake. They used a tool called MARSIS on the ESA’s Mars Express Orbiter to study the thickest part of Mars’s southern ice cap. The readings they obtained between May 2012 and December 2015 mirrors data from subsurface liquid water under ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland here on Earth.

It this underground lake does indeed exist, the water must be very briny — a mix of magnesium, calcium and sodium, which are all present in Martian rocks — in order to stay liquid. Even so, it has very interesting implications for the possibility of life on Mars, as life does exist on similar-type water bodies on Earth.

This detection has only been made by one instrument, so it’s important to confirm it before we all get our hopes up. Still, this sounds very promising, and it’s exciting to think of the possibilities of what else might be up there.

Tech News

Catching the ISS's fleeting pass between enormous sunspots

July 24, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Astrophotography requires abundant patience and planning, but as Spanish photographer Dani Caxete has shown, you sometimes need quick reflexes, too. His entry in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018 contest shows the International Space Station (ISS) superimposed on the sun, in between two large sunspots. He didn’t have a lot of time to grab it — traveling at 5 miles per second, the ISS took just 0.5 seconds to pass in front of our star.

You have to be in the right place at the right time too, of course. Caxete uses an app called CalSky, tells you where to be in order to capture celestial bodies like satellites, the Sun, Moon and planets like Mars. It told him that the space station would pass directly in front of the Sun at 11:34:45 AM on September 5th, 2017 at a precise location near a road in Madrid, Spain.

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In a fun video (above), Caxete documented his day capturing the photo. It shows him heading toward the shooting location, intercut with footage from the ISS as it passed the USA and Atlantic ocean on its way to arriving between Madrid and the mid-day sun.

Caxete set up his modest, but sharp Long Perng 80mm f/6.8 refractor telescope, attached to a 24-megapixel Nikon D610 full-frame DSLR. With the scope pointed directly at the sun and a filter to drastically lower its brightness, he captured five images of the ISS passing in front of the sun. The best is the one shown above, with the ISS transiting directly between the sunspots AR 12674 and AR 12673 that flared during September 2017.

The photo is entered in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018 contest, which features a number of photos from some of the best astrophotographers in the world. Many of them are amateurs with relatively modest equipment, as the competition bars images submitted to photo agencies, or those that contain data from professional research observatories. The winner will be picked on October 23rd, and featured in an exhibition of the winning images over the last 10 years at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

Tech News

Boeing’s spacecraft faces even longer delays after propellant leak

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/KSC/Aerojet Rocketdyne

The road to NASA’s Commercial Crew — restoring human spaceflight capabilities to the US — has been bumpy, to say the least. And now, it appears that there has been another setback. Ars Technica uncovered a previously undisclosed issue that Boeing’s spacecraft, the Starliner, suffered during a test of its launch abort engines.

Back in June, Boeing was testing the abort engines of the spacecraft. While the engines were able to successfully fire for the duration of the hot fire, a problem cropped up at the end of the test. During shutdown, there was a propellant leak. Since then, Boeing has been investigating the problem. “We have been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners,” the company said in a statement to Ars Technica. “We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action. Flight safety and risk mitigation are why we conduct such rigorous testing, and anomalies are a natural part of any test program.”

The launch abort engines are necessary if there is an issue during or after launch. The powerful engines will propel the Starliner away from the rocket, ensuring the crew’s safety. This system is crucial for certifying that the spacecraft is ready to carry human passengers. According to Ars Technica, Boeing has informed NASA that a redesign of the spacecraft is not necessary to fix the issue.

NASA has contracted with both Boeing and SpaceX to build spacecraft for its commercial crew program, and both are delayed. As a result, NASA has worked with Boeing to possibly operationalize the test flights of the Starliner. The first crewed test of the spacecraft is currently scheduled for December 2018, though that date was unlikely before this issue cropped up. However, with this new development, the first crewed test of the spacecraft may be delayed even more as Boeing implements and tests fixes to this propellant leak issue.

Tech News

The Andromeda galaxy ate our sister galaxy

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

ROBERT GENDLER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images

The Andromeda galaxy is our closest galactic neighbor, and it apparently has been hiding a dark past. Scientists from the University of Michigan discovered that this sinister figure cannibalized our sibling approximately two billion years ago. That’s right, at one point, the Milky Way had a sister galaxy, and Andromeda ate it.

Scientists have been aware for some time that a large galaxy like Andromeda probably ate smaller galaxies around it; that’s where the halo of stars surrounding Andromeda comes from. But there was really no way to determine how many galaxies it had consumed over the course of its lifetime, nor how insatiable its hunger may have been. But now, using computer models, researchers have determined that much of that outer halo is actually composed of one larger galaxy that Andromeda mercilessly ripped into.

“Astronomers have been studying the Local Group — the Milky Way, Andromeda and their companions — for so long. It was shocking to realize that the Milky Way had a large sibling, and we never knew about it,” said Eric Bell, a co-author of the paper published in Nature Astronomy about the discovery, in a release. The sister galaxy, called M32p, was massive, third in size only to Andromeda and the Milky Way in our small section of the universe.

What’s more, this revelation may also solve a secondary mystery: Andromeda has a small satellite galaxy, M32, and scientists don’t know where it originated. Using this theory, they can extrapolate that the dense, compact galaxy is actually the remnant of M32p. “M32 is a weirdo,” Bell continued. “While it looks like a compact example of an old, elliptical galaxy, it actually has lots of young stars. It’s one of the most compact galaxies in the universe. There isn’t another galaxy like it.”

Not only does this discovery help scientists learn more about the universe around us, how we got here and how galaxies evolve, but it also tells us just how mean Andromeda is. While our large and menacing neighbor is not actually coming for us anytime soon, it’s going to happen eventually, and we’d best be prepared for the fight.

Tech News

Russia may send a robot 'crew' to space in 2019

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Vyacheslav Prokofyev via Getty Images

Leveraging robotics to undertake dangerous missions has obvious benefits for mankind, and space travel is no exception. In 2011, NASA sent its dexterous assistant ‘Robonaut 2‘ on a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) with the objective of working alongside presiding astronauts. Now a “source in the rocket and space industry” tells RIA Novosti that a Russian android duo could be following suit as early as next year.

According to Defense One, the FEDOR androids will, in an unprecedented move, fly on the unmanned Soyuz spacecraft not as cargo, but as crew members. The Roscosmos space agency has reportedly given the flight its preliminary approval. We’ve reached out for further confirmation on this front.

FEDOR, an abbreviation of Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research, refers to a 2014 program that aimed to create a robot capable of replacing humans during high-risk scenarios such as rescue missions. The androids have been endowed with a number of abilities, including driving, push-ups, lifting weights, and, you guessed it, shooting. Former Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin then had to deny Russia was “creating a terminator”.

With rapid developments in the AI arena, the question of whether it will be used for destructive or benevolent purposes is always on the table, but Rogozin assured that FEDOR would have “great practical significance in various fields.” Backing up those comments is CNA associate research analyst Samuel Bendett, who points out that despite its military-ready build, FEDOR was designed to function in space from the beginning.

Tech News

NASA helps businesses make use of its satellite data

July 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

NASA has made its raw satellite data widely available for a long while. Now that it has a privatization-minded leader, though, it’s looking to make that data more palatable for the business crowd. The administration has released a Remote Sensing Toolkit that should make it easier to use observational satellite info for commercial purposes, including straightforward business uses as well as conservation and research. The move consolidates info that used to be scattered across “dozens” of websites, and helps you search that unified database for helpful knowledge — you don’t have to go to one place for atmospheric studies and another to learn about forests.

The kit includes both some ready-to-use tools for making sense of satellite content as well as the code companies can use to craft their own tools.

It’s easy to see concerns that NASA might downplay purely scientific uses of its data as a result. Still, this might be overdue. The earlier approach may have offered massive amounts of content (petabytes, NASA said), but there was no one repository where you could find everything you needed. This could encourage more use of that data for all purposes, not just for companies hoping to make a profit.