The reports of the death of automotive AM radio may have been greatly exaggerated. Regular readers will recall us harping on the issue of automakers planning to exclude AM from the infotainment systems in their latest offerings, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense given the reach of AM radio and its importance in public emergencies. US lawmakers apparently agree with that position, having now introduced a bipartisan bill to require AM radios in cars. The “AM for Every Vehicle Act” will direct the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to draw up regulations requiring every vehicle operating on US highways to be able to receive AM broadcasts without additional fees or subscriptions. That last bit is clever, since it prevents automakers from charging monthly fees as they do for heated seats and other niceties. It’s just a bill now, of course, and stands about as much chance of becoming law as anything else that makes sense does, so we’re not holding our breath on this one. But at least someone recognizes that AM radio still has a valid use case.
More fallout for SpaceX this week after their Starship launch attempt, but of the legal kind rather than concrete and rebar. A handful of environmental groups filed the suit, alleging that the launch generated “intense heat, noise, and light that adversely affects surrounding habitat areas and communities, which included designated critical habitat for federally protected species as well as National Wildlife Refuge and State Park lands,” in addition to “scatter[ing] debris and ash over a large area.”
Specifics of this energetic launch aside, we always wondered about the choice of Boca Chica for a launch facility. Yes, it has all the obvious advantages, like a large body of water directly to the east and being at a relatively low latitude. But the whole area is a wildlife sanctuary, and from what we understand there are still people living pretty close to the launch facility. Then again, you could pretty much say the same thing about the Cape Canaveral and Cape Kennedy complex, which probably couldn’t be built today. Amazing how a Space Race will grease the wheels of progress.
Cloudy with a chance of concrete? The “success” of last week’s brief but eventful Starship launch has apparently raised some regulatory eyebrows, with the Federal Aviation Administration launching an investigation into the destruction wrought by the mighty rocket. And it’s not just the hapless Dodge Caravan that they’re concerned with — although we found some fantastic POV footage that shows the kill shot as well as close-ups of the results — but also the damage rained down upon residents around the Boca Chica launch complex. Tons of concrete and rebar were excavated by the 33 Raptor engines during the launch and sent in all directions, reportedly landing up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the pad. What’s worse, a lot of debris ended up on beaches that are home to endangered species, which has the Sierra Club also taking an interest. The FAA has apparently nixed any launches from the Texas facility until they complete their investigation.
Mark it on your calendars, folks — this is the week that the term RUD has entered the public lexicon. Sure, most of our community already knows the acronym for “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” and realizes its tongue-in-cheek nature. But given that the term has been used by Elon Musk and others to describe the ignominious end of the recent Starship test flight, it seems like RUD will catch on in the popular press. But while everyone’s attention was focused on the spectacular results of manually activating Starship’s flight termination system to end its by-then uncontrolled flight at a mere 39 km, perhaps the more interesting results of the launch were being seen in and around the launch pad on Boca Chica. That’s where a couple of hundred tons of pulverized reinforced concrete rained down, turned to slag and dust by the 33 Raptor engines on the booster. A hapless Dodge Caravan seemed to catch the worst of the collateral damage, but the real wrath of those engines was focused on the Orbital Launch Mount, which now has a huge crater under it.
The big news this week comes from the world of medicine, where a woman has received a 3D-printed ear transplant. The 20-year-old woman suffered from microtia, a rare congenital deformity that left her without a pinna, the external structure of the ear. Using scans of the normal ear, doctors were able to make a 3D model of what the missing pinna should look like. Raw material for the print was taken from the vestigial ear of the patient in the form of cartilage cells, or chondrocytes. The ear was printed using a bioprinter, which is a bit like an inkjet printer. The newly printed ear was placed into a protective structure and transplanted. The operation was done in March, and the results are pretty dramatic. With a little squinting, it does look a bit like there are some printing artifacts in the ear, but we’d imagine that’s more from the protective cage that was over the ear as it healed.
It looks like the ongoing semiconductor shortage isn’t getting any better, and if the recent spate of computer thefts from semi trucks is any indication, it’s only going to get worse. Thieves seem to be targeting the Freightliner Cascadia, probably the most popular heavy freight truck on the road in North America today, with “smash and grab” thefts targeting the CPC4, or Common Powertrain Control module. These modules are sitting ducks — they’re easy to locate and remove, the chip shortage has made legit modules nearly unobtanium from dealers, and the truck won’t run without them. That’s driven the black market price for a CPC up to $8,000 or more, making them a tempting target. And it’s not only individual trucks parked in truck stop lots that are being hit; gangs are breaking into trucking company lots and bricking dozens of trucks in short order. So the supply chain problem which started the semiconductor shortage caused the module shortage, which drives the thieves to steal modules and take trucks off the road, which only worsens the supply chain shortage that started the whole thing. Nice positive feedback loop.
A funny thing happened on the way to the delta. The one on Jezero crater on Mars, that is, as the Perseverance rover may have captured a glimpse of the parachute that helped deliver it to the Red Planet a little over a year ago. Getting the rover safely onto the Martian surface was an incredibly complex undertaking, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was completely autonomous. The parachute, which slowed the descent vehicle holding the rover, was jettisoned well before the “Sky Crane” deployed to lower the rover to the surface. The parachute wafted to the surface a bit over a kilometer from the landing zone. NASA hasn’t confirmed that what’s seen in the raw images is the chute; in fact, they haven’t even acknowledged the big white thing that’s obviously not a rock in the picture at all. Perhaps they’re reserving final judgment until they get an overflight by the Ingenuity helicopter, which is currently landed not too far from where the descent stage crashed. We’d love to see pictures of that wreckage.