Space Sunday: looking back on Earth and landing rockets and probes

The Earth and Moon, as seen from orbit over Mars, November 20th 2016

The Earth and Moon, as seen from orbit over Mars, November 20th 2016

Two marbles sit on a midnight background, one a swirl of blue, white, brown and green, the other tinted in shades of grey. Together they are the Earth and her Moon as seen by the most powerful imagining system currently orbiting the planet Mars.

It is, in fact a composite image, although Earth and the Moon are the correct sizes and the correct position / distance relative to one another. The images were captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on November 26th, 2016.

The images were taken to calibrate HiRISE data, since the reflectance of the moon’s Earth-facing side is well-known. As such, this is not the first image of our home planet and its natural satellite captured from Martian orbit, but it is one of the most striking. Whilst a composite image, only the Moon’s brightness has been altered to enhance its visibility; were it to be shown at the same brightness scale as Earth, it would barely be visible. That it appears to be unnaturally close to Earth is in fact an illusion of perspective: at the time the pictures were taken, the Moon was on the far side of Earth relative to Mars, and about to pass behind it.

The image of Earth shows Australia prominent in the central area of the image, its shape just discernible in this high-resolution image, taken when Mars and the MRO were 205 million kilometres (147 million miles) from Earth.

For me, this is another picture demonstrating just how small, fragile and unique our home world actually is.

 Falcon 9 Makes Triumphant Return to Flight

With Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approval given, SpaceX, the private space company founded by Elon Musk, made a triumphant return to flight status with its Falcon 9 launch system on Saturday, January 14th.

January 14th, 2017: the SpaceX Falcon 9, carry 10 advanced Iridium Next communications satellites in its bulbous paylod fairing, lifts-off from Space Launch Complex 4E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Credit: SpaceX

January 14th, 2017: the SpaceX Falcon 9, carry 10 advanced Iridium NEXT communications satellites in its bulbous payload fairing, lifts-off from Space Launch Complex 4E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launches had been suspended in September 2016, after a Falcon 9 and its US $200 million payload were loss in an explosion during what should have been a routine test just two days ahead of the planned launch (see here for more). Towards the end of 2016, and following extensive joint investigations involving NASA and the US Air Force (The Falcon 9 was located at Launch Complex 40 at the Canaveral Air Force Station when the explosion occurred), SpaceX were confident they had traced the root cause for the loss to a failure of process, rather than a structural or other failure within the vehicle itself. However, they had to wait until the FAA had reviewed the investigation findings and approved the Falcon 9’s return to flight readiness before they could resume operations.

The January 14th launch came via the SpaceX West Coast facilities, again leased from the US Air Force, and saw a Falcon 9 booster lift-off from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket was carrying the first ten out of at least 70 advanced Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites SpaceX will launch over the coming months, as Iridium Communications place a “constellation” of 81 of the satellites in orbit around the Earth in a US $3 billion project.

All ten satellites were successfully lifted to orbit and deployed following a pitch-perfect launch, which had to take place at precisely 9:54:34 local time (17:54:34 UT) in order for all ten satellites to be correctly deployed to reach their assigned orbits. However, all eyes were on the Falcon 9’s first stage, which was set to make a return to Earth for an at-sea landing aboard one of the company’s two autonomous drone landing barges, Just Follow The Instructions.

Down and safe: the Falcon 9 first stage, seen via a camera aboard the autonomous drone barge Just Follow The Instructions, shortly after touch-down on January 14th, 2017. Credit: SpaceX

Down and safe: the Falcon 9 first stage, seen via a camera aboard the autonomous drone barge Just Follow The Instructions, shortly after touch-down on January 14th, 2017. Credit: SpaceX

Operating the Falcon 9 on a basis of reusability is core to SpaceX’s future plans to reduce the overall cost of space launches. While the company has previously made six successful returns and landings with the Falcon 9 first stage, this being the first attempt since September 2016’s loss added further pressure on the attempt. but in the event, it went flawlessly.

After separation from the upper stage carrying the payload to orbit, the first stage of the Falcon 9 completed what are called “burn back” manoeuvres designed to drop it back into the denser atmosphere. Vanes on the rocket’s side were deployed to provide it with stability so that it dropped vertically back down to Earth, using its engines as a braking system and deploying landing legs shortly before touchdown – and the entire journey was captured on video, courtesy of camera built-into the rocket’s fuselage.

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SL project updates 2017-2/3: TPV Developer Meeting Jan 13th

The notes in this update are taken from the abbreviated TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, January 13th, 2017. The video of that meeting is embedded at the end of this update. My thanks as always to North for recording and providing it.

SL Viewer

The Maintenance RC viewer was updated to version 5.0.1.322791 on Thursday, January 12th. Otherwise the pipeline remains unchanged from part 1 of this week’s update. [34:20] this will likely be the next viewer to be promoted to release status.

64-bit Viewer

[03:07] It is anticipated that the 64-bit official viewer, version 5.1.0.501863 at the time of writing, will remain in the project cycle for some time. An update to it is anticipated in week #3 (week commencing Monday, January 16th, 2017). Currently, the project viewer isn’t being used by many, and the Lab hopes this number will pick up so that a little more feedback can be obtained.

Points of note with the 64-bit viewer and 64-bit plans:

  • The Mac version is currently without Havok support, an it will likely be 2+ weeks before it does.
  • There will also be a number Havok libraries build in support 64-bit, which will be made available to TPV sub-licensees, but this is unlikely to happen until the Lab starts building 64-bit release candidates.
  • KDU within the viewer is being updated to version 7.9.
  • [08:08] New packaging of the media code and a new version of CEF.
  • The viewer update code will be completely revised.
  • The crash reporting code may be updated.

[11:28] Eventually, the Lab plans to have the viewer available in both 32-bit and 64-bit for Windows, and 64-bit only for Mac OSX and Linux.

For more on Linux, see below.

Voice Updates

[07.18] Updates to Voice should be appearing in a viewer in the next 2(ish) weeks. This will include a new SL Voice plug-in from Vivox which includes a new Opus codec, as well and bug and exploit fixes.

360-Snapshot Viewer

[08:33] Work will resume on this project viewer, version 4.1.3.321712 at the time of writing,  once work on the CEF updates (noted above) have been completed.

Linux and the Viewer

[10:08] Currently, the Lab have not carried out any work on a 64-bit version of the viewer on Linux. However, thought is being given on how to move forward with Linux, and it is hoped that the Lab will have some ideas to put to the TPV / open-source community by the next TPV Developer meeting. It is also hoped that by that time, the Lab will have started work on a 64-bit Linux version of the viewer.

Other Items

The following are covered in brief. please fer to the video for specifics.

New Camera Presets Coming?

[09:14] Jonathan Yap, who has worked on various code contributions for the viewer including, most recently, graphics presets, is working on a new project, which appears to be updating the viewer’s camera persets.

Music Stream Autoplay

[16:45-28:09] A lengthy discussion takes place on music autoplay within the official viewer, and whether or not it should be enabled by default.

  • Having it enabled is seen a off-putting to new users, as it means they can be confronted with loud music playing over their system almost from the moment they log-in, with no apparent way to turn it off. This is seen as possibly causing some to log-off in frustration
  • Having it disabled by default is seen as breaking the shared experience in regions where the creator has specifically included music streaming as a part of the environment
  • The compromise is potentially for the default volume on media to be reduced.

(Note, this discussion also drags on between 29:45-33:50, after the above agreement being reached.)

Click-to-Walk

[28:45] In a similar vein, a request was made to disable click-to-walk, as it has been observed that new users get confused when they find their avatar apparently moving when they haven’t touched their keyboard.  A JIRA on this has been requested.

Group Chat Issues and Group Notice Deliveries

[34:59] Group chat lag become more noticeable over the holiday period. However, the Lab ran a restart of the back-end group chat servers, and this appeared to resolve the majority of issues. If specific groups are still experiencing issues, JIRAs are requested.

[36:49] There are reports that the problem of group notices not always getting through is getting worse. So people don’t get the notice, others get them twice, etc. A JIRA, BUG-40824, has been raised on issues with off-line receipts of group notices as well.

As an aside to this, a fix is in progress t ensure that off-line messages, which may not always get delivered at the next log-in, will be delivered.

Environment Maps, Shiny, Projectors and More

[42:29-end-of-meeting] The end of the meeting centres on a convoluted discussion on the environment map used for the sky, shiny / glossiness, etc. In sort, there is a request for region holders / creators to be able to replace the environment map with a texture of their own choosing. On the plus side, among other things, this could allow things like easier simulation of reflections using projectors. on the negative side, again among other things, it could break a lot of existing content.

Changes to the environment map, providing they can be shown to have specific benefits and do not break existing content, have not been ruled out. However, a specific proposal is really required.

A second helping of Hell’s Heaven in Second Life

The Hell's Heaven 2.0, Rainbow Ridge; Inara Pey, January 2017, on FlickrThe Hell’s Heaven 2.0 – click any image for full size

“Stay awhile,” Snoob (SnoobJohnson) and his partner, Mila (Mila Maesar) say in greeting to visitors to their homestead region, The Hell’s Heaven 2.0. “Let  this world  refresh your soul and
melt your worries away …  Explore this cloudy world of changing scenery and enjoy your stay!”

It’s a warm invitation, and there is much to enjoy within the region, which has been beautifully created by Snoob, with touches inspired by Mila to offer photographers and explorers alike with a visual treat – an anyone who has looked at the Flickr group for the region will only be too aware.

The Hell's Heaven 2.0, Rainbow Ridge; Inara Pey, January 2017, on FlickrThe Hell’s Heaven 2.0

This is a land of two distinct parts. To the west sit low-lying marshlands, ankle-deep in water and carpeted in long reeds and grasses through which a water-hugging mist drifts.  Scattered over this lay dilapidated shacks and cabins, their floors flooded and wooden walls slowly rotting, submerged wooden walkways running from nowhere to nowhere outside. Wrecks of cars and pick-ups complete the scenery, together with a couple of rowing boats and the rusting body of an old airboat.

To the east, the land rises abruptly in a series of rocky crags, high ridges and flat-topped plateaus, cutting the land between them into deep gorges, one connected to the next, through which the marshy waters drift and aged trees stand, trunks bent and branches hanging low, like old men needing a cane for support as they watch the passing of time and the world.

The Hell's Heaven 2.0, Rainbow Ridge; Inara Pey, January 2017, on FlickrThe Hell’s Heaven 2.0

Waterlogged paths wind through these grey canyons, leading the way to an old, broken railway line emerging from a boarded tunnel. Overhead, clouds drift across a sky deepening with dusk, their shapes a mix of grey and softly burnished bronze. Between sky and ground, strung across one of the gorges, sits an old chair lift, all but one of the wooden seats fading in the sun, the exception dangling beacon-red beneath the uppermost stretch of taut cable. Do be aware when wandering the canyons, that a private residence lies beyond them in the north-east corner of the lane – please respect privacy there.

A hinterland of rock, reeds, and water, there is a feeling this place has been long abandoned; the cars are rusting, an old fuel pipe and valve leaking oil into the water, adding the glossy touch of alien colours to its surface here and there. But while abandoned, this land is not deserted. Egrets and herons perch here and there, eyes alert for fish – so the waters aren’t that contaminated – while crocodiles rest among the reeds, perhaps also waiting for unwary prey to come a little too close.

The Hell's Heaven 2.0, Rainbow Ridge; Inara Pey, January 2017, on FlickrThe Hell’s Heaven 2.0

The Hell’s Heaven 2.0 – the name a reminder of Snoob’s original The Hell’s Heaven – is very much a place of peace and serenity, with the feeling of decade and passing time adding to its beauty, and not necessarily in a melancholy way. There is a sense of romance to the region, giving it the feel of a setting from an unwritten novel.

Be sure to pay a visit and write your own chapter.

SLurl Details

 

Murder, corruption, atrocities and horror!

It’s time to kick-off another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, January 15th 13:30: Tea-Time at Baker Street – “Kinda!”: A Study In Emerald

study-in-emeraldAlluding to both the Sherlock Holmes canon and the Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos, this Hugo Award-winning short story by Neil Gaiman will delight fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, and of course, Gaiman.

A Study in Emerald draws listeners in through carefully revealed details as a consulting detective and his narrator friend solve the mystery of a murdered German noble. But with its subtle allusions and surprise ending, this mystery hints that the real fun in solving this case lies in imagining all the details that Gaiman doesn’t reveal, and challenges listeners to be detectives themselves.

With Corwyn Allen, Kayden Oconnell, John Morland, and Caledonia Skytower.

Monday, January 16th 19:00: Our Fair City

Gyro Muggins delves into this short story by Robert Heinlein. In it, the master of science-fiction takes a turn into the remain of fantasy, complete with a touch of politics allegedly born out of the dirty tricks Heinlein witnessed in his failed 1938 attempt to gain election to the California State Assembly.

First published in Weird Tales in 1949, Our Fair City looks at corruption among cops and politicians within a small city, centred on an attempt by a newspaper columnist with a penchant for digging up the dirt on people and a parking lot attendant, to clean the place up. Their plan to do so?

Run the parking attendant’s pet Whirlwind (yes, whirlwind), “Kitten”, for office!

Tuesday, January 17th 19:00: How to Speak Dragonese (How To Train Your Dragon #3)

Climbing on to a Roman Dragon Rustling ship by mistake in your first ‘Boarding an Enemy Ship’ lesson is bad enough. But to then discover that Alvin the Treacherous is also on board proves to Hiccup he couldn’t have been more wrong, especially when he steals his copy of How to Speak Dragonese. Can Hiccup save the dragons and the day?

Caledonia Skytower reads the third How To Train Your Dragon book by Cressida Cowell.

Wednesday, January 18th 19:00: The Atrocity Archives

atrocity-archivesBob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed.

Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping Nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world.

Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

Join Corwyn Allen as he delves in The Atrocity Archives, the first volume of the Laundry Files, by Charles Stross.

Thursday, January 19th, 19:00: From the Shadows

Join Shandon Loring as he celebrates Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday.


Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for January / February is Heifer International, working with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.