Japan’s First Commercial Rocket Debuts With A Bang

Though it suffered through decades of naysayers, these days you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would still argue that the commercialization of space has been anything but a resounding success for the United States. SpaceX has completely disrupted what was a stagnant industry — of the 108 US rocket launches in 2023, 98 of them were performed by the Falcon 9. Even the smaller players, such as Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, are innovating and bringing new technologies to market at a rate which the legacy aerospace companies haven’t been able to achieve since the Space Race.

So it’s no surprise that other countries are looking to replicate that success. Japan in particular has been following NASA’s playbook by offering lucrative space contracts to major domestic tech companies such as Mitsubishi, Honda, NEC, Toyota, Canon, Kyocera, and Sumitomo. Over the last several years this has resulted in the development of a number spacecraft and missions, such as the Hakuto-R Moon lander. It’s also laid the groundwork for exciting future projects, like the crewed lunar rover Toyota and Honda are jointly developing for the Artemis program.

But so far there’s been a crucial element missing from Japan’s commercial space aspirations, an orbital booster rocket. While the country has state-funded launch vehicles such as the H-IIA and H3 rockets, they come with the usual bureaucracy one would expect from a government program. In comparison, a privately developed and operated booster holds the promise of reduced costs and a higher launch cadence, especially if there are multiple competing vehicles on the market.

With the recent test flight of Space One’s KAIROS rocket, that final piece of the puzzle may finally be falling into place. While the launch unfortunately failed shortly after liftoff, the fact that the private rocket was able to get off the ground — literally and figuratively — is a promising sign of what’s to come.

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User Beware: The Fine Line Between Content And Code

Everyone loves themes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a text editor or a smart display in the kitchen, we want to be able to easily customize its look and feel to our liking. When setting up a new device or piece of software, playing around with the available themes may be one of the first things you do without giving it much thought. After all, it’s not like picking the wrong one is going to do something crazy like silently delete all the files on your computer, right?

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened a few days ago to [JeansenVaars] while trying out a Plasma Global Theme from the KDE Store. According to their Reddit post, shortly after installing the “Gray Layout” theme for the popular Linux graphical environment, the system started behaving oddly and then prompted for a root password. Realizing something didn’t seem right they declined, but at that point, it was already too late for all of the personal files in their home directory.

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On An Aging Space Station, Air Leaks Become Routine

Anyone who’s ever owned an older car will know the feeling: the nagging worry at the back of your mind that today might be the day that something important actually stops working. Oh, it’s not the little problems that bother you: the rips in the seats, the buzz out of the rear speakers, and that slow oil leak that might have annoyed you at first, but eventually just blend into the background. So long as the car starts and can get you from point A to B, you can accept the sub-optimal performance that inevitably comes with age. Someday the day will come when you can no longer ignore the mounting issues and you’ll have to get a new vehicle, but today isn’t that day.

Looking at developments over the last few years one could argue that the International Space Station, while quite a bit more advanced and costly than the old beater parked in your driveway, is entering a similar phase of its lifecycle. The first modules of the sprawling orbital complex were launched all the way back in 1998, and had a design lifetime of just 15 years. But with no major failures and the Station’s overall condition remaining stable, both NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency have agreed to several mission extensions. The current agreement will see crews living and working aboard the Station until 2030, but as recently as January, NASA and Roscosmos officials were quoted as saying a further extension isn’t out of the question.

Still, there’s no debating that the ISS isn’t in the same shape it was when construction was formally completed in 2011. A perfect case in point: the fact that the rate of air leaking out of the Russian side of the complex has recently doubled is being treated as little more than a minor annoyance, as mission planners know what the problem is and how to minimize the impact is has on Station operations.

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Stacking Solar Cells Is A Neat Trick To Maximise Efficiency

Solar power is already cheap and effective, and it’s taking on a larger role in supplying energy needs all over the world. The thing about humanity, though, is that we always want more! Too much, you say? It’s never enough!

The problem is that the sun only outputs so much energy per unit of area on Earth, and solar cells can only be so efficient thanks to some fundamental physical limits. However, there’s a way to get around that—with the magic of tandem solar cells!

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Avi Loeb And The Interstellar Lottery

Except for rare occasions, I don’t play the lottery. Like many of you, I consider state-run lotteries to be a tax paid only by people who can’t do math. That’s kind of arrogant coming from a guy who chose to go into biology rather than engineering specifically because he’s bad at math, but I know enough to know that the odds are never in your favor, and that I’d rather spend my money on just about anything else.

But I’m beginning to get the feeling that, unlike myself and many others, Harvard professor Avi Loeb just might be a fan of playing the lottery. That’s not meant as a dig. Far from it. In fact, I readily concede that a physicist with an endowed chair at Harvard working in astrophysics knows a lot more about math than I do. But given his recent news splashes where he waxes on about the possibility that Earth has been treated to both near misses and direct hits from interstellar visitors, I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m looking at the lottery backward.

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NASA Found Another Super Earth With Tantalizing Possibilities

Earth is a rather special place, quite unlike the other planets in the solar system. It’s nestled at the perfect distance from the sun to allow our water to remain liquid and for life to flourish in turn. It’s a rare thing; most planets are either too close and scorching hot, or too far and freezing cold.

NASA is always on the hunt for planets like our own, and recently found a new super-Earth by the name of TOI-715b. The planet is larger than our own, but it’s position and makeup mean that it’s a prime candidate for further study. Let’s take a look at how NASA discovered this planet, and why it’s special.

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Air Canada’s Chatbot: Why RAG Is Better Than An LLM For Facts

Recently Air Canada was in the news regarding the outcome of Moffatt v. Air Canada, in which Air Canada was forced to pay restitution to Mr. Moffatt after the latter had been disadvantaged by advice given by a chatbot on the Air Canada website regarding the latter’s bereavement fare policy. When Mr. Moffatt inquired whether he could apply for the bereavement fare after returning from the flight, the chatbot said that this was the case, even though the link which it provided to the official bereavement policy page said otherwise.

This latter aspect of the case is by far the most interesting aspect of this case, as it raises many questions about the technical details of this chatbot which Air Canada had deployed on its website. Since the basic idea behind such a chatbot is that it uses a curated source of (company) documentation and policies, the assumption made by many is that this particular chatbot instead used an LLM with more generic information in it, possibly sourced from many other public-facing policy pages.

Whatever the case may be, chatbots are increasingly used by companies, but instead of pure LLMs they use what is called RAG: retrieval augmented generation. This bypasses the language model and instead fetches factual information from a vetted source of documentation.

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