Space Sunday: starships, helicopters and rockets

A camera close to the landing zone captures Starship SN15 with two good Raptor motor burns bringing it into a safe landing on May 5th. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has achieved its first successful landing of a Starship prototype after Starship SN15 was launched on May 5th, 2021.

The vehicle was the fifth full-scale prototype of the vehicle SpaceX intends to use on missions to Mars – and so much more – with the previous four, prototypes SN8, SN9, SN10 and SN11 all having suffered failures of various descriptions: SN8 came in too “hot” blowing up as it hit the landing pad; SN9 encountered motor issues that lead to being unable to remain upright so it also crashed into the landing pad; SN10 actually made a touch-down, but issues with one of its motors meant it blew up shortly afterwards; and SN11 exploded prior to landing after encountering issues when re-starting its Raptor motors.

Just before launch, Starship SN15 on the launch stand, venting excess vapours. The structure to the left is a test rig that is being used to simulate the dynamic stresses the forward section of an unladen Starship will face during atmospheric entry. Credit: SpaceX

SN15, however, is a substantially different vehicle to those. As the first of the “next generation” prototypes, it includes multiple updates and improvements throughout – including flying with the very latest iteration of the Raptor motors. Proof of this came in the run-up to the flight, when SN15 completing all its pre-flight tests without a significant issue – unlike the earlier models.

The vehicle lifted-off at 23:24 UTC, rapidly vanishing into low-altitude cloud as it climbed to the expected altitude of 10 kilometres, where it flipped into a horizontal skydiving descent. Just over 6 minutes after lift-off, the roar of the three Raptor engines re-starting reverberated through the clouds before the vehicle re-appeared in a tail-fist descent on  two of the three engines to complete a successful landing.

Starship SN15 on the landing pad, post-flight. The fire around the engine skirt is visible, and the fire suppression system can be seen dousing the area in water. Credit: SpaceX

Following landing, a small fire was visible at the base of the vehicle – the result of excess methane venting, and an issue SpaceX will need to address. However, it was clear that SN15 was safely down on the ground and “safing” procedures could commence.

Despite the atmospheric conditions, the team at team (this is not an official NASA group) had a number of video cameras placed around the SpaceX facilities at Boca Chica, Texas, and following the flight, they edited the footage from those cameras together to show the lift-off and landing sequences from different angles, some with the audio delay created by the distance of the camera from the launch stand edited out.

Some of these clips bring home the raw power of the Raptor engines – seconds after ignition, the shockwave of sound from the three engines on the Starship starts the camera vibrating – a small demonstration of what is to come when a Super Heavy / Starship combination lifts-off with no fewer than 28 of these engines firing simultaneously.

Following the flight, some pundits were forecasting SN15 could be set to make a second flight, possibly in short order – an idea fuelled be Elon Musk. This seems unlikely, as SpaceX will doubtless want to carefully examine the vehicle to learn all that they can from it prior to attempting to fly it a second time – if, indeed, they do.

All six of SN15’s landing legs suffered severe damage, as shown in this image, possibly the result of lateral loads placed on the vehicle on landing. Credit: SpaceX

As it is, the the landing legs – and possibly the base of the vehicle as well – suffered considerable damage during the “nominal” landing, as the image to the right shows.

Thought to be the result of lateral loading – the vehicle may have skidded sideways on touch-down – the damage is further evidence that SpaceX needs to seriously re-think how landing legs are mounted and deployed.

This is something the company his indicated it would be doing – and images of the proposed Starship Human Landing System (HLS) points to the direction in which they may move – although Musk has also floated the idea of eventually discarding any landing legs, and “catching” returning Starships via a launch tower, a-la his idea for Super Heavy – an idea that will presumably only apply to those Starships intended to operate no further than Earth orbit.

The next vehicle in the fleet that is likely to fly will be SN16, The legs on SN15 are the same as those on the earlier SN8-SN11 vehicles, and they are slated to be replaced by a more robust system,  and the degree of damage they suffered either as a result of a heavier touch-down or a possible lateral load being placed on the legs as a result of the vehicle “sliding” as it touched down. Either way, this damage along means that SN15 is unlikely to re-fly soon (although that doesn’t mean it won’t re-fly at some point).

As it stands, SN16 is now fully stacked and ready for transfer to a launch stand in order to have its Raptor engines fitted in preparation for a flight – this transfer could take place as soon as the coming week.

It is unclear how many more Starship launches will occur in the short-term: SpaceX is attempting to carry out an orbital launch of a Super Heavy Booster and an unladen Starship in July. Given the state of preparations – the company has yet to produce a fully flight-ready Super Heavy (Booster Number 1 has been scrapped, and work appears to have ceased on BN2 and BN2.1, leaving only BN3 under assembly at the moment), plus the orbital launch facilities are still under construction. Thus, unless attention and resources are significantly further shifted to booster development and testing, that July date seems to be highly ambitious.

Ingenuity Says ‘Farewell’ to “Wright Brothers Field”

On  Friday, May 7th, 2021, the Mars helicopter drone Ingenuity completed its 5th of five pre-planned test flights. In doing so, the little 1.8 Kg helicopter both set a new record and commenced a new phase in its mission.

During this flight, Ingenuity initially rose to the “usual” altitude of 5 metres, then said “farewell” to its operational based of “Wright Brother’s Field”, and headed south for a distance of  129 metres before coming to a hover. It this ascended further – climbing to 10 metres to take high-resolution of the area around itself, before descending to a landing in a flight lasting a total of 108 seconds.

The new landing site was selected on the strength of images gathered during the 4th flight for Ingenuity. It lies fairly close to the path the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will follow as it now commences its science operations in earnest. The initial plans for the rover do not require it to make long-haul drives, but rather investigate the area to the south of the mission’s landing site, and this will allow the Ingenuity team to carry out further flights that can both further test their vehicle and allow them to potentially assist the rover team by scouting possible places of interest for the rover to explore.

Overall, Ingenuity is in fair better shape than had been expected at this point in its flight regime: the solar collectors are working optimally, the battery system is providing more than enough energy to both power the little vehicle and to keep it warm during the harsh Martian nights.

The plan forward is to fly Ingenuity in a manner that does not reduce the pace of Perseverance science operations. We may get a couple more flights in over the next few weeks, and then the agency will evaluate how we’re doing. We have already been able to gather all the flight performance data that we originally came here to collect. Now, this new operations demo gives us an opportunity to further expand our knowledge of flying machines on other planets.

– Bob Balaram, Ingenuity Chief Engineer, NASA/JPL

Prior to the 5th flight, NASA issued an audio recording captured by Perseverance of Ingenuity’s 4th flight – something the mission teams had been hoping to do.

The recording is a fascinating demonstration of the difference in how sound travels on Mars compared to Earth. Given the speed the rotors on Ingenuity spin (2400 rpm), one might expect the helicopter to generate the same high-pitched whine common to radio control helicopters on Earth. However, as the recording reveals, the less-dense atmosphere of Mars reduces the motor sounds from Ingenuity to a low-pitched hum. When listening, also note the doppler shift created by the drone’s motion away from, and back towards, the rover.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: starships, helicopters and rockets”

A tropical paradise in Second Life

The Sim Quarterly: Krak Bak Caye, May 2021

Come with me on an ocean of blue,
Where the Sun always shines and there’s nothing to do.
Where the water is warm and there’s nothing to do,
Will you come, will you come, with me?

OK, so Roger Whittaker wrote those words in reference to the beaches of his beloved Kenya, but they hold true for many a tropical paradise in the world, including Caye Caulker, the 8 kilometre long limestone coral island off the coast of Belize.

Those who have had the good fortune to visit Belize will know that it can be a place to escape the world and its worries, offering the visitor every luxury and opportunity for unique experiences (ever dreamed of renting a waterside cabana where each morning, the dolphins arrive and call for you to come and swim with them?).

The Sim Quarterly: Krak Bak Caye, May 2021

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel to Belize or its islands – particularly tiny Caye Caulker – then from now through until later July, then can visit it in spirit, thanks to the latest installation to arrive at Electric Monday’s Sim Quarterly. This is because the region has been gloriously transformed into the island of Krak Bak Kaye, inspired by Caye Caulker, to offer the chance of glorious escape.

Come with me finding tropical fish
That dance on the sea, whenever you wish.
At the end of your line is your supper-time dish,
Will you come, will you come, with me?

The Sim Quarterly: Krak Bak Caye, May 2021

On arrival at the landing point above the region, visitors will be offered a tourist brochure in the form of a HUD, and have the choice of taking two “flights” down to the island via floatplane Just click the signs next to each aircraft to be teleported to the beach or to the little Main Street that captures the essence of the older parts of Caye Caulker Village (admittedly, as the island has gained popularity, so has the number of hotels grown around the settlement, which has expanded well beyond what it once was).

From either point of arrival, visitors can roam freely and enjoy any of the opportunities the island offers: wind surfing, boating, fishing, swimming, diving Via the deep lagoon that sits off-shore – so be sure to pack your swimsuit when paying a visit!

The Sim Quarterly: Krak Bak Caye, May 2021

You can watch the weary world turning on its own.
Let somebody else pick up that silly telephone.
You can stretch yourself and laugh in the morning Sun.
You can smile, you can take a boat and sail for a while.
You can smile!

Gentle on the eye and the computer and rich in authenticity, Krak Bak Kaye is a perfect getaway – so why not book your ticket today?

The Sim Quarterly: Krak Bak Caye, May 2021

Lyrics to Come with Me by Roger Whittaker, from the album Roger Whittaker in Kenya (1982).

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2021 CCUG meeting week #18 summary

Florence at Low Tide, February 2021 – blog post

The following notes were taken from my audio recording and chat log of the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meeting held on Thursday, May 6th, 2021.

These meetings are chaired by Vir Linden, with dates available via the SL Public Calendar and the venue for the CCUG is the Hippotropolis camp fire.

Content-wise, this was a short meeting, many of the usual attendees being absent, perhaps caught out by CCUG meetings over the last few months only taking place every other week, and this one following directly after Week #17’s meeting.

SL Viewer

There have been no further updates to the current crop of official SL viewers since the release of the Project UI viewer (see: Lab issues Project UI viewer aimed at new users), leaving the pipelines for the week as follows:

  • Release viewer: Eau de Vie Maintenance viewer, version, dated April 23rd, promoted April 29th.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Project UI viewer, version, issued May 3rd.
    • Love Me Render (LMR) 5 viewer, version, dated April 22nd.
    • Maintenance 2 RC viewer – Fernet, version, dated April 21st.
  • Project viewers:
    • Legacy Profiles viewer, version, dated October 26th.
    • Copy / Paste viewer, version, dated December 9th, 2019.
    • Project Muscadine (Animesh follow-on) project viewer, version, dated November 22nd, 2019.
    • 360 Snapshot project viewer, version, dated July 16th, 2019.

General Viewer Notes

  • The current RC viewers – LMR 5 and Maintenance 2 – are currently awaiting new versions following their merges with the current release viewer code base. There has been a delay in testing due to members of the the lab’s viewer QA team being on vacation.
  • LMR 5 is now considered “complete”, so following the code merge, should be in a strong position to be promoted as the next de facto release viewer.
  • LMR 6, the next rendering focused viewer is still in development. So far a dozen bugs are being addressed to be a part of this viewer, and more are being added to the list. As such, it’s liable to be a while before this viewer appears as an RC.
  • It is hoped the Apple notifications fix viewer and the updated Voice viewer that helps with expected Voice drop-outs both available in the very near future.

Documentation and Resources

The core of this meeting focused on a a discussion about where “accurate” avatar skeletons can be obtained, as the current resources appear out-of-date (e.g. the Fitted Mesh resource page indicates the skeletons in the supplied link are pre-Bento), whilst the Bento page indicates one skeleton may be “broken”.

Whilst there are alternate reliable sources for skeleton information (e.g. via Machinimatrix), these are not always resources newer users may be comfortable using as they “are not Linden Lab” – even though the people responsible for them worked closely with other users and the Lab on projects such as Bento and helped define the Bento skeleton.

This highlights a particular issue in not having up-to-date “official” resources on matters such as content creation – which may in turn be a contributing factor in the development of poorly-made / poorly-optimised SL content. Two problems here are that:

  • LL  does not have the resources to manage and maintain the entire SL wiki (and in fact there had been murmurs in the past about consideration being given to deprecating the wiki in favour of other sources,   although this is currently not the case).
  • Due to issues of “bot griefing”, access to editing the SL wiki had to be restricted several years ago “pending” improved tools to prevent such events – but this has yet to happen. Therefore, it is much harder for users to help maintain the wiki, as tended to be the case in the past.

In Brief

  • Account / inventory syncing between Agni (the Main grid) and Aditi (the Beta grid) remains broken. No ETA on when this may be resolved, other than “watch the status page“.
  • Date of next meeting: Thursday, May 20th, 2021.

Monochrome tales in Second Life

Kondor White Gallery: The Art of Black and White – Rachel Magic

There is something about black and white images – particularly those taken within Second Life, for some reason – that I find particularly evocative.

Whilst colour images, carefully pre- or post-processed, hold a depth of attraction and speak clearly to the artistic talent of the photographer-artist responsible for their creation, monochrome images – even through they have likely been subjected to a similar level of pre- or post-processing – just seem to retain a degree of natural depth to them I am drawn to. So much so, that I’ve honestly played with the idea of using black-and-white illustrations in my travelogue blog posts.

Kondor White Gallery: The Art of Black and White – Rachel Magic

The richness of depth and narrative was brought home to me again while visiting the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor, and specifically The Art of Black & White by Rachel Magic (LarisaLyn), which can be found throughout May at the Kondor White Gallery.

Rachel states of herself that she doesn’t like to lock herself into one visual style, and anyone who has witnessed her work will know this in the case. But there are two constants to her work: a richness of expression and a depth of story. All of this is true within the two floors of the gallery space hosting this exhibition.

Kondor White Gallery: The Art of Black and White – Rachel Magic

The lower floor focuses on landscapes captured from around Second Life. These offer unique views of their settings, be it through focus or techniques such as over-exposure / strength of contrast. These approaches present extracts of stories that our imaginations are invited to fill out – what lies at the end of the road; where are the owners of the bicycles – are they at work, relaxing on a beach beyond at the fence; who might be riding on the train caught through an archway…?

On the upper floor, Rachel presents a collection of monochrome avatar studies that, by their nature, paint a broader story, each one complete in it framing, angle and focus. These are all completely captivating, although I admit that Sweet Child of Mine, tucked into a corner – one of four smaller sized images in this collection.

Kondor White Gallery: The Art of Black and White – Rachel Magic

A further attraction of The Art of Black and White is a single artist presenting a split of landscape and avatar studies in a single exhibition when the “norm” among artists is to lean far more towards a focusing on one or the other rather than offering both in equal balance.

Enticing and engaging, The Art of Black and White will run through May and is well worth visiting.

Kondor White Gallery: The Art of Black and White – Rachel Magic

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May 2021 SL Web User Group summary with video

The Web User Group meeting venue, Denby

The following notes cover the key points from the Web User Group (WUG) meeting, held on Wednesday, May 5th, 2021. These meetings are generally held on the first Wednesday of the month, with dates and venue details available via the SL public calendar. A video of the meeting, courtesy of Pantera, can be found at the end of this article.

Web Properties Updates

[Video: 1:04-9:18]

  • General post-Uplift internal work is still continuing, but the end is coming into sight. Most of this work in non-user visible.
  • There is also some back-end / infrastructure changes in progress, which are again not visible to users, but are intended to “help in the future” in terms of deploying new feature,  etc.
  • Housekeeping work on tools related to the lab’s management of the Marketplace and other web properties has been continuing.
  • The revamped splash / join / login screen was revamped in April, and has been receiving a lot of (not always positive) feedback on the use of a person, rather than an avatar. My personal take on this is that:
    • a) The image is taken from the upcoming broadcast advert for Second Life, and thus is part of a broader strategy rather than a standalone decision, which some people seem to be missing.
    • b) Why not use a “real” person? After all, a good part of Second life is about setting your imagination free, so to me the image speaks to that and offers an enticement to click to find out more.
The splash page was updated in April, gaining a fair amount of attention in the process.
  • An issue with people receiving e-mail in a foreign language if they’d previously followed a link to an MP listing in that language has been fixed.
  • The issue of people being randomly logged-out of the Marketplace whilst browsing, trying to make purchases, etc., should now be fixed.
  • The April “limited Edition” Last Names  (the OwO and UwU names) have been removed from the Last Names list. These apparently proved to be very popular, so the Lab is considering more such “limited offers” on names with a specific focus (these two having appealed to the furry community in particular).
  • The What’s Hot part of the Destination Guide has been revised so it actually lists places where avatars are actually at when the section is being browsed.
  • Keira Linden is putting together a plan for Marketplace updates based on feedback from merchants / users. This work will not be immediate, but will be commencing at some point in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future. Those with specific Marketplace feature requests in mind are asked to check the Jira before filing, as a fair number are already recorded and Accepted.

Mobile Client

[Video: 11:58-12:24]

  • iOS Version:
    • The App still did not make it back to Apple in April for their testing as a result of LL’s QA finding more issues that needed to be addressed internally.
    • The hope is to get it back to Apple Soon™.
  • Android: nothing to report.

Place Pages

[Video 37:50-52:40 (text chat)]

  • Place Pages have been around for some four years now (see: Linden Lab announces Second Life Place Pages available).
  • They have not received a lot of TLC since they, and it is hard to determine how well they are used (I did provide a short tutorial on setting them up  in 2018 after some updates had been made – see:Tutorial: creating Second Life Place Pages, for whatever that is worth).
  • There is interest at the Lab in probing hold well they are used, and how they might be improved (one issue with Place Pages is that while they have a search capability of their own, they aren’t actually referenced by any of the other common search tools, such as web search in the viewer, which tends to limit their visibility). Some suggestions are made in chat during the meeting.

In Brief

  • Names Changes / Last Names: it is possible that thought may be given to how the Premium member Name Changes / Last Names capability might be enhanced.
  • No further updates on Premium Plus, other than it is still percolating in the background.
  • The question was asked why LL originally stopped allowing last names in SL.
    • The short answer is that studies of users sign-ups revealed that having to pick a first and last name as part of the sign-up process resulted in a high volume of potential users failing to complete the sign-up process – possibly because people didn’t like being limited in their choice of last name.
    • The decision was therefore taken to remove the last name selection process and introduce Display Names, they idea being people could quickly sign-up with an account name of their choice, and then use Display Names to freely create their preferred avatar name.
    • OK, so it wasn’t quite such a short answer…
  • Further language localisation of properties such as the Marketplace is being considered.
  • The ability for a single account to hold multiple Marketplace stores has been the subject of multiple requests over the years (see feature request BUG-226927, for example). Whilst not on the Marketplace roadmap, Keira indicated a willingness to explore the idea.
  • Jira status “Ready for Development” – this started appearing in a swath of bug reports and feature requests fairly recently (both those in progress and those that many have been completed). It appears to be related to a issue with the cloning tool LL uses when producing a duplicate of a report from the public Jira to their internal Jira,  and does not indicate a new workflow status for any given bug / request.
    • In fact, some reports said to be displaying a “Ready for Development” status appear to have reverted to the more usual “Accepted” in the last 24 hours.

Next Meeting

  • Wednesday, June 2nd, 14:00 SLT.

Enjoying a touch or Ireland in Second Life

Craggy Island, May 2021 – click any image for full size

Craggy Island, designed by Mishi (Mishi Masala), sits on a Homestead region as a “peaceful and picturesque island off the coast of Ireland”. It’s a place people are encouraged to visit for the views, to unwind and / or for the craic (gossip / new, presumably of the local variety!). It’s also a place Shaun Shakespeare pointed me towards by way of a landmark he dropped into my lap, so I donned my hiking boots and headed off to take a look.

Almost completely encircled by the green hills of an off-region surround, Craggy Island is a genuine delight, offering as it does not so much a sense of being out on a little island somewhere, but perhaps a place within the rural regions of Eire; From some angles, I felt is if I might be in Galway, perhaps Connemara, not far from the coast there. But then on swinging my camera around to look in another direction, the view brought to mind County Kerry, perhaps not far from Derryfanga – a feeling heightened by the simple expedient of positioning my camera so the intervening Linden Water between region and the peaks of the surround was masked from my view.

Craggy Island, May 2021

Undulating gently, this is a setting that is easy on the eye and a quiet delight to explore (the sussuration of waves duly noted!), the scattered buildings sprinkled across the moor-like landscape encouraging the feet to wander.

The landing point sits just a handful of paces from a thatched roofed pub – a place that has attracted the attention of one famous visitor! It is a natural place to wander towards, given the track the meanders towards it from the landing point, but turn the other way upon landing, and the stubby spire and slate roof of the local church might equally attract your attention as they peek over the lip of a small rise in the land, the smoke rising from the chimney of a house beyond it also encouraging feet to head in that direction.

Craggy Island, May 2021

But really, where you chose to roam makes no difference: you’re going to come across something worthy of your attention whichever direction in which you strike out.

To the north and east sits a farm that appears to be focused on rearing sheep and pigs – although a recently ploughed field close to hand suggests a modest crop of some short might also be cultivated. Away to the south and west, the crofter’s cottage with smoke rising from its chimney appears to be focal point for cattle and goat rearing. Or perhaps they are both part of the same farm.

Craggy Island, May 2021

Between them, the land rises and falls in gentle slopes and folds, places to sit nestled here and there, a small loch puddling the land, its calm surface home to a small mist. Horses wander more freely than cattle or sheep – which appear to keep close to the respective farm buildings, whilst a Romany caravan offers a particular retreat for those wishing to escape. Throughout, little tracks start here and there, wind along the grass for a while and then vanish, as if teasing those that follow them.

Needless to say, opportunities for photography abound throughout the setting, and if you have a wearable horse, this is a place that also offers the opportunity for taking a ride over its moorlands or along the low-lying areas of the coastline.

Craggy Island, May 2021

Watched over by the vigilant eye of a lighthouse and set under a hazy, late afternoon sky, the charm of Craggy island certainly lives up to the promise of céad míle fáilte.

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