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Virgin Orbit terminates rocket launch after releasing it over the Pacific

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May 25 (UPI) — Virgin Orbit said it terminated the launch of a demonstration rocket Monday afternoon shortly after its release from the wing of a 747 jet over the Pacific Ocean.

The rocket, called LauncherOne, was to ignite its engines in mid-air for the first time as the company develops a new method to send satellites into orbit.

The jet released the rocket just after 3:50 p.m., but the company announced the mission was terminated shortly afterward, without immediate explanation.

Later in the afternoon, Virgin Orbit tweeted, “Launcher One maintained stability after release, and we ignited our first state engine, NewtonThree. An anomaly then occurred in first stage flight.

“We’ll learn more as out engineers analyze the mountain of data we collected today.”

The crew on the plane was safe and returned home, according to the company.

Virgin Orbit, privately owned by Richard Branson‘s Virgin Group, intends to use the rocket to launch commercial or government satellites. Launching from a jet means the company can launch from any approved airport, not just from rocket launch pads.

Launching from a jet is known as a horizontal launch. Virgin Orbit said Monday’s attempt was is the first horizontal launch for a liquid-fueled, orbital-class rocket.

Once in space, the rocket was supposed to release a small satellite that would transmit data to the ground and then leave, according to Virgin Orbit.

Being able to launch rockets from airports means the company can “repopulate a satellite constellation very quickly, placing them into orbit at exactly the right time and place because we can take off from so many locations,” said Stephen Eisele, Virgin Orbit’s vice president of business development.

“We can even help the government replace satellites quickly if they are knocked out by a bad actor,” Eisele said.

Virgin Orbit is trying to develop a system of under-wing rockets intended to be cheaper and more flexible than its most similar competitor. That is Northrop Grumman’s under-wing system called Pegasus, which first launched in 1990.

Recent Pegasus missions have carried price tags of more than $40 million per launch, while Virgin Orbit looking at a price at $10 million to $12 million per mission.

Virgin Orbit has worked on developing the LauncherOne system for five years, with hundreds of test-firings of its NewtonThree engines and two dozen test flights of the jet, called Cosmic Girl.

The rocket is designed to carry relatively small payloads, a little over 650 pounds, into space. By comparison, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can carry over 50,000 pounds into space.



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Watch live: NASA chief to lay out budget needs to send astronauts to moon

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Sept. 23 (UPI) — Congress will hear testimony Wednesday from NASA about its budget needs as the space agency argues for full funding to carry out plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2024.

NASA Administrator James Bridenstine will appear before a Senate appropriations subcommittee to discuss the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EDT and will be streamed live.

NASA said in a report Monday it needs $28 billion for the first phase of its Artemis lunar program through fiscal 2025.

That figure includes $16.2 billion to develop, test and launch new-generation moon lander vehicles that will carry astronauts to the surface of the moon, as well as $7.6 billion for Boeing Space Launch System rockets, ground systems and Lockheed Martin Orion crew capsules.

The Senate has yet to pass a bill to fund NASA and an appropriations bill passed by the House in July provided the agency with $625 million for the development of a new moon lander, well short of the $3.2 billion Bridenstine said was “critically important” to the project on Monday.

“If we go to March without the $3.2 billion, it becomes more difficult,” he said. “We’re still within the realm of possibility because we do have our work underway right now.”

NASA said in August the cost for its SLS moon rocket, shown here in an artist’s conception, has swelled 30% to more than $9 billion. Image courtesy NASA

Bridenstine added that plans to send astronauts to the moon would remain on track if the funds are appropriated by Christmas, but added that NASA would still move forward with its moon plans even if the funding was delayed.

“Speed is still of the essence and sustainability follows speed,” he said. “If they keep delaying the funding, we [still] will go to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The 2024 timeline is four years sooner than NASA had originally planned, following a challenge by Vice President Mike Pence.

“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the moon is well within America’s reach,” Bridenstine said. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture.”

No human has been on the lunar surface since Apollo 17 left in late 1972, but NASA is planning this time to send the first woman to walk on the moon.

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Apple recalls shipment of iPhone 6 Plus due to photo glitch

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CUPERTINO, Calif., Aug. 23 (UPI) — Apple has recalled a shipment of its iPhone 6 Plus due to a technological glitch that produces blurry photos in the device’s camera, the company announced.

The recall affects a small number of iPhone 6 Plus devices, Apple said in a statement, which have demonstrated a glitch in the iSight camera.

Apple said it’s “a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry.”

Apple created a web page where users can enter their phone’s serial number to determine if they are affected by the recall.

The iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus were released last September.



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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.



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