If you need evidence that our outwardly peaceful little neck of the solar system is actually a dangerous place, look no further than the 40 newly launched Starlink satellites that were just clobbered out of orbit. It seems that the SpaceX launch on February 3 was ill-timed, as it coincided with the arrival of energetic plasma from a solar storm that occurred a few days before. The coronal mass ejection followed an M-class flare on the Sun, which was aimed just right to hit just as the 49-satellite addition to the Starlink constellation was being released. This resulted in an expansion of the upper atmosphere sufficient to increase drag on the newborn satellites — up to 50% more drag than previous launches had encountered. Operators put the satellites into safe mode, but it appears that 40 of them have already met a fiery demise, or soon will. Space is a tough place to make a living.
In better space news, mirror alignment on the James Webb Space Telescope is proceeding according to schedule. The alignment process is complex, and it required operators to start gathering the first of many photons the telescope will see over the next couple of decades. The video below is a fascinating look at the alignment process, which is needed to move the 18 separate hexagonal mirror segments into a single optical surface. The fact that operators are able to attribute the individual spots to specific mirror segments is pretty cool, as is the accidental selfie Webb took during the process. For more on how they move the mirrors, check out [Zachary Tong]’s working model of the mirror actuators.
Seeing how the passage of time has seemingly lost all meaning lately, you’d be forgiven to be shocked to learn that it’s “only” been two years since we had anything in the way of real, in-person conferences to announce. But it looks like Hackers on Planet Earth will buck the trend, having announced the appropriately named “A New HOPE” for July. The conference will be held in its new venue on the St. John’s campus in Queens, New York. We talked about the change in venue way back in the Before Time — how little did we know then what was about to unfold. We’re just glad to be announcing an actual meatspace conference for a change, so be sure to get your proposals in.
While trolling IEEE Spectrum, we noticed that they’ve had a series of articles lately focused on some of the classic games from the Golden Age of Arcades. So far we’ve spotted articles on Space Invaders, Pong, and Battlezone. That last one was a bit surprising — it was never much of a factor in the arcades we favored in our youth, which tended to endless rows of Pac-Man machines. But according to the article, the US Army apparently contracted with Atari for a version of Battlezone to train its tank crews. That’s an interesting tidbit we didn’t know, and the whole series is full of great technical details on these classic games, and how the designers got so much done with so few resources. Of course we’ve done some of our own coverage on that front too.
It seems like big rigs aren’t the only delivery vehicles Canadian authorities are taking exception to these days. Delivery robots are also causing some problems, at least in Toronto, where the City Council adopted rules to keep these adorable pink robots and their cohorts off the sidewalks and bike paths. A group representing those with disabilities objected to sharing the sidewalk with these remotely piloted delivery bots, as apparently did users of the city’s bike lanes. Excluding these bots from either of these paths seems to present a problem to the business model of their operators. Perhaps they should invest in a fleet of vehicles that can operate safely on the roadways — oh, wait…
And finally, we have to admit to never really getting the point of drift racing, a pursuit that seems to center around turning horsepower into the slowest possible progression around a track, all while turning expensive tires into air pollution. Of course, like most motorsports it’s probably more exciting for the driver than for the audience, or at least it would be if they hadn’t built a robot car that can drift itself. Sure, they offer fancy talk about how they’re learning how to handle the extreme edge cases of driving, such as might be encountered while negotiating icy roads. But we know what the real agenda is here: not only do they want to put the drift racers out of business, they want to make sure no student driver ever has to experience what it means to “turn into the skid” again.