Enter the Dragon V2

Thursday May 28th saw SpaceX, the private sector space company founded by Elon Musk, unveil the next iteration of their Dragon space vehicle, the Dragon V2.

Dragon has been in operation in an unmanned mode since 2010,  and was the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to be recovered successfully from orbit. In May 2012, it commenced uncrewed resupply flights to the International Space Station (which I covered here) as a part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) development programme.

Elon Musk unveils the Dragon V2 capsule, May 29th, 2014
Elon Musk unveils the Dragon V2 capsule, May 29th, 2014 (image: SpaceX)

Dragon V2 (which had previously been called Dragon Rider by the company) is a natural progression of the Dragon spacecraft, and while always in Spacex’s plans, having been originally announced in 2006, it has been part-funded by two US Government contracts, the Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev 2) in April 2011, and the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) in August 2012, both of which are focused on developing crewed vehicles capable of supporting the International Space Station (ISS) and of operating in low Earth orbit (LEO).

Dragon V2 is capable of carrying up to seven crew, or a combination of crew and cargo. The vehicle is intended to be reusable, and capable of landing almost anywhere in the world using propulsive-landing via its eight SuperDraco engines (Dragon 1 is only capable of making splash downs). However, Dragon V2 will retain a parachute descent system for use as a back-up, although it can still make a safe touch-down even if two of its eight descent engines fail. Also, unlike Dragon 1, which makes a close rendezvous with the ISS before being grabbed by one of the station’s robot arms and manoeuvred into a docking position, Dragon 2 will be able to undertake fully automated dockings with the ISS.

Dragon 2 making a control landing, post-mission (image: SpaceX)
Dragon 2 making a control landing, post-mission (image: SpaceX)

Nor does it end there. There are some ambitious plans for Dragon. The head shield, for example, is already capable of protecting the vehicle during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at velocities equivalent to those of a vehicle returning from the Moon or from Mars – and SpaceX has been working with NASA Ames Centre, California, on a conceptual uncrewed Mars mission evolution called Red Dragon.

Artist’s visualisation of how Red Dragon might appear when landing on Mars were the project to go ahead (image: SpaceX)

Potentially funded under NASA’s Discovery mission programme, Red Dragon, if given the green light, would provide a cost-effective means for NASA to undertake a sample return mission to Mars, allowing up to two tonnes of samples to be returned to Earth for detailed investigation and analysis in 2022, ahead of NASA’s goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Other have even more ambitious plans for Dragon and Mars. Dutch-based Mars One plans to kick-start a permanent, self-sufficient human colony on Mars from the mid-2020, with crews leaving Earth on a one-way trip every two years. According to the Mars One website, they hope to be able to use the Dragon vehicle and its associated Falcon 9 heavy launch vehicle also constructed by SpaceX, although there has been no public confirmation as to whether formal discussions with SpaceX have taken place.

Such plans aside, however, the first actual crewed mission for Dragon V2 is unlikely to occur prior to 2016. The next major milestone for the vehicle is a launchpad abort test, scheduled for later in 2014.

This will see the vehicle positioned at pad height and then launched to simulate an emergency in which the crew must escape their launch vehicle. After this, in 2015, there should be a high altitude abort test at Max Q, the period in the vehicle’s ascent when it is exposed to the maximum dynamic pressure. Both tests will feature the use of the vehicle’s SuperDraco engines, which form a part of the escape system as well as powering the craft during descent and landing. Capable of multiple re-starts and what is called “deep throttling”, the engines are themselves unique – the first ever fully printed rocket engines ever flown, produced by a direct metal laser sintering process.

If both of these tests are successful then it is conceivable that Dragon V2 could make an initial uncrewed orbital flight towards the end of 2015, and its first crewed flight in 2016.

Continue reading “Enter the Dragon V2”

Creating the VR metaverse

On Tuesday May 20th, at the SVVR conference in Mountain View, California, Second Life’s own Draxtor Despres (Bernard Drax, RL) hosted a panel discussion / Q&A session entitled Creating the VR Metaverse.

The panel comprised:

During the hour of the event, the panel discussed many aspects of the future of the metaverse, including identity and privacy, governance, whether the metaverse wile be a single entity or many, content portability, the user interface, and more, before answering questions from both Second Life and the real world audience.

The discussion was recorded and posted to You Tube, courtesy of Brian Hart. The following transcript is taken from the point at which the discussion started, after each of the participants  had been given the opportunity to introduce themselves.

L-to-R: Stafano Corazza, Josh Carpenter, Ebbe Altberg, Philip Rosedale, Tony Parisi (image: Ben Lang, The Road to VR)

As usual, please note that:

  • This is not a word-for-word transcript of the entire meeting. While all quotes given are as they are spoken in the audio, to assist in readability and maintain the flow of conversation, not all asides, jokes, interruptions, etc., have been included in the text presented here
  • If there are any sizeable gaps in comments from a speaker which resulted from asides, repetition, questions to others etc,, these are indicated by the use of “…”
  • Sound quality on the video is not ideal. There may therefore be the occasional misquote, although every effort has been taken to avoid this.

07:16 Bernard Drax (BD): Tony, you’ve been around for some time; what kind of deja-vu feeling is this, and what do you want to scream at these 23-year olds that are making the goggles?

07:34 Tony Parisi (TP): For those of you who don’t know my background, 23 years and three months ago I created this technology called VRML, virtual reality modelling language … I don’t teach VRML any more, but I’m still very passionate about it is a product for connected devices and connected experiences., which is why we got together to build that technology two decades ago.

the principle behind was, just like the other media that were getting sucked into the world-wide web, 3D would be a media type as part of that as well; you could use it to build visualisation, you could use it to create virtual worlds, you could use it to heal the sick, feed the poor, and a whole bunch of really cool things.

Back then I was your age, 23-year-olds or a little bit older. We were very excited, there’s a lot of deja-vu for me in this conference, because this conference has a lot of the energy of the first couple of VRML get-togethers. We didn’t know what wasn’t possible; we had all kinds of high hopes and dreams and of course, years into it, reality crashed into us. we learned a lot, but it was definitely a bit early to try to deploy virtual experiences back then.

The one take-away I will offer to everyone here, and its been a continued theme in my work… I’ve heard a lot about Unity, I’ve heard a lot about game engines, I’ve seen insane experiences; Unreal (Engine), those Kite guys, I can’t think of their name, mind-blowing, incredible production value … but don’t ignore the web.

Continue reading “Creating the VR metaverse”

SL11B Community Celebration: exhibitors, get ready

On Thursday May 29th, the SL11B Community Celebration team announced that all exhibitor application notifications have been sent out.

If you applied for exhibition space at SL11BCC, but haven’t seen / believe you may not have received the e-mail, please:

  • Check the same account as the e-mail you provided in your application
  • Check your spam folder.

The e-mail will have come from “The SLB Team”, and should be easy to spot.

If you did not receive a positive notification, please note that your name has been added to a list. Should any parcels remain unclaimed after June 2nd, 2014, they will be offered to those on the list.

If you’re received a positive notification, please read the e-mail carefully, as it contains a lot of valuable information, which should answer most questions prior to the gates opening and exhibitors being allowed into the SL11BCC regions.

The DJ Stage being built by Kazuhiro Aridian (by Vivena Resident, via the SL11B website)

The regions will be opening to exhibitors at midday SLT on Friday May 30th.

Keep in mind that there is a set procedure for gaining access to your exhibit parcel, details of which are in your acceptance e-mail. However, key points to note are:

  • You should be a member of The SLB Community group.
  • After the regions have opened to exhibitors, send a request to the group asking for an Exhibitor Assistant (EA).
  • When an EA is available, they will IM you  – please be patient; this may take a little while, as EAs deal with the initial rush
  • As a part of your conversation with the EA, they will provide you with:
    • An invitation to join the SLB Exhibit and Performance group (so you will need two free groups slots – one for this and one for The SLB Community group, if you have not already joined that)
    • A teleport invitation to your parcel
  • Make the SLB Exhibit and Performance group your active group (this should be your active group throughout all your building on the parcel) and claim your parcel by rezzing a prim on it
  • Prior to building your exhibit, take a moment to re-acquaint yourself with the SLB Exhibitor Policies.

Given that there will be an inevitable rush to access the regions, why not leave it a while avoid the crowd? As long as you have claimed your parcel by Monday June 2nd, 2014, you’ll be fine.

Saffia Widdershins and Marianne McCann have produced a short video going over these points and a few more as well.

Once again, the important dates of note for SL11BCC are:

  • Friday, May 30th, noon: Sims open for builders
  • Wednesday, June 15th, noon: Sims close to builders
  • Saturday, June 21st, noon: Press day
  • Sunday, June 22nd, noon: SL11BCC opens!
  • Monday, June 23rd: Second Life’s Official 11th Birthday!
  • Sunday, June 29th: final day of celebrations
  • Monday, June 30th to Saturday, July 5th: Sims will remain open for viewing. No performances.
  • Sunday, July 6th to Tuesday, July 8th: Breakdown
  • Wednesday, July 9th: Sims go offline

Related Links

SL projects updates 22/2: LSL functions for materials avialable for Aditi testing

Maestro Linden used the Server Beta meeting to announce that Simon Linden’s work on adding some LSL support for materials is now available for testing on Aditi.

Regions roller-test102 and roller-test103, both on channel DRTSIM-253, have the server-side scripting support (note the SLurls are for ADITI).

Please note that this is very much a work-in-progress, and the Lab’s own testing is still underway.

The following details can also be found on the Server Beta Meeting wiki page.

LSL fucntions for handling materials
Parameters have been added to the llSetPrimitiveParams() and llGetPrimitiveParams() functions to enable scripted control of materials maps

Materials can be added to object faces with llSetPrimitiveParams() functions using the following parameters:

  • [PRIM_SPECULAR, integer face, string texture, vector repeats, vector offsets, float rotation_in_radians, vector color, integer glossy, integer environment]
  • [PRIM_NORMAL, integer face, string texture, vector repeats, vector offsets, float rotation_in_radians]
  • [PRIM_ALPHA_MODE, integer face, integer alpha_mode, integer alpha_cutoff]

Materials can be read with the various llGetPrimitiveParams() functions using the following parameters:

  • [PRIM_SPECULAR, integer face] returns [string texture, vector repeats, vector offsets, float rotation_in_radians, vector color, integer glossy, integer environment]
  • [PRIM_NORMAL, integer face] returns [string texture, vector repeats, vector offsets, float rotation_in_radians]
  • [PRIM_ALPHA_MODE, integer face] returns [integer alpha_mode, integer alpha_cutoff]

Additional Notes

  • Behaviour for both getting and setting materials parameters should basically correspond to behaviour with PRIM_TEXTURE
  • The color vectors use 0.0-1.0 as the range, as with llSetColor()
  • The integer parameters for PRIM_SPECULAR correspond to the same values that you see in the build tool
  • Components of a material can be ‘reset’ as follows:
    • PRIM_NORMAL and PRIM_SPECULAR settings are set to default values by setting the texture to NULL_KEY
    • PRIM_ALPHA_MODE settings are set to default values by setting the alpha_mode to PRIM_ALPHA_MODE_BLEND – mask_cutoff is actually reset to 0 unless the alpha mode is PRIM_ALPHA_MODE_MASK
    • When PRIM_NORMAL, PRIM_SPECULAR, and PRIM_ALPHA_MODE settings are all set to default values, the material is deleted from that prim face, and LI may be updated accordingly
  • This new scripted capability will only work on the nominated test regions
  • ALM must obviously be enabled.

Known Issues

  • The version currently on Aditi lacks proper throttling, so there could be performance issues if scripts behave badly. A throttle will be added in due course
  • There is a viewer rendering issue, where the face will not be rendered and you’ll see log spam (BUG-6187). This can happen:
    • If the viewer has ALM enabled
    • And a prim face has a material on it
    • And PRIM_ALPHA_MODE is PRIM_ALPHA_MODE_BLEND (this is the default after a material is added)
    • And the diffuse texture does not have an alpha channel (e.g. plywood)

With reference to BUG-6187, Maestro added, “One thing to keep in mind …  is that if your diffuse texture lacks an alpha channel, you’ll also want to set the alpha mode to PRIM_ALPHA_MODE_NONE to avoid the bug, even if you really just want to add a normal map.”

The bug itself doesn’t mean the alpha mode should be set every time a materials map is changed, only when adding a material to a face which previously didn’t have a material. Maestro went on to give some further information on the issue:

What happens when you add a material via the build tool, is that the viewer inspects whether the current diffuse texture has an alpha channel and automatically sets the alpha mode to ALPHA_MODE_NONE if the diffuse texture is opaque, but keeps it at _BLEND if there’s an alpha channel. Unfortunately, the simulator can’t do this, because it doesn’t necessarily have the texture asset and doesn’t have the right libs to process texture assets in that manner. The build tool has some trickery where it always greys out the UI for alpha mode when the texture doesn’t have an alpha channel. Anyway, it’s kind of a hassle, but once PRIM_ALPHA_MODE is set to something ‘friendly’, you should be able to update normal or specular settings without touching it again.

As this is a viewer rendering bug, there is no timescale as to when a fix may appear.

The Lab is particularly interested in seeing how use of these new parameters may affect performance (such as through rapid and repeated changes to maps), and what kinds of rates cause these issues, so that they can more accurately assess the required level of throttling.

Depending upon how further testing goes, what additional changes the Lab needs to make, and what has already been scheduled at the time, these updates might be available on an RC on Agni in a few weeks.

Speak again, bright angel! Romeo+Juliet set to return to SL


I’ve been following the work of the Basilique Performing Arts Company for a while now, and with good reason. Their work stands at the forefront of performing arts within Second Life featuring ambitious, cutting-edge productions which engage and enthrall. So much so that their masterful production of Paradise Lost: The story of Adam and Eve’s original sin, which runs through until the end of June, is completely sold-out.

Now comes word that their inaugural production, Romeo+Juliet, is set to return for a special 3-date early summer season, ahead of a full 2014 season’s run commencing in August.

The three special performances come courtesy of the Linden Endowment for the Arts, and will take place in a purpose-built setting on LEA14, designed and built by the production’s directors, Canary Beck and Harvey Crabsticks.

"Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene ..." Verona (foreground) and the playhouse beyond, LEA14, Romeo+Juliet
“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene …” Verona (foreground) and the playhouse beyond. LEA14, Romeo+Juliet

The centrepiece of this is the playhouse where the performances will take place, located on a high plateau and surrounded by lush countryside. Around this lay four locations central to the unfolding story of tragic love: the town of Verona; the Capulet mansion; Mantua, the place to which Romeo retreats when the Prince proclaims him to be exiled from Verona, and the Capulet’s chapel, wherein the two lovers are reunited in death.

Visitors to the region are invited to explore the various settings, either before or after each of the performances, or any time on days when no performance is scheduled. Signposts have been placed throughout to help guide people between the various locations.

"What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand Of yonder knight?" The Capulet mansion, where Romeo first encounters Juliet. LEA14, Romeo+Juliet
“What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand Of yonder knight?” The Capulet mansion, where Romeo first encounters Juliet. LEA14, Romeo+Juliet

As the name suggests, Romeo + Juliet, which I reviewed here, presents Shakespeare’s famous play about star-crossed lovers in a brilliant mix of renaissance-inspired sets, 1940s costumes, and contemporary music from the likes of Nat King Cole, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, Michael Buble, Jack Black, Carl Douglas, Queen and more. With a nod towards Baz Luhrmann and a rich weaving of music and dance as the means by which the unfolding story is largely told, the production is unique and fully engages the audience.

For the performance at LEA14 and the upcoming full season, Romeo+Juliet hold something special for audiences. “We’ve completely remastered it from the ground up,” Canary told me when she contacted me to let me know about the LEA dates. “We have redone the show with the new techniques and technology that we’ve learned as a result of Paradise Lost, and it’s better for it.” Hence why the new production has a “2.0” in it!

So even if you enjoyed Romeo+Juliet during its original 40-week run in 2013, this production is still not to be missed.

The LEA14 performances are all free to attend, but audience numbers are limited to 20 per show, with seats allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

"For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo" - The Chapel wherein Romeo and Juliet are tragically reunited
“For never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” – The Chapel wherein Romeo and Juliet are tragically reunited. LEA14, Romeo+Juliet

Performance Dates

The three LEA14 performances will take place as follows (all times SLT):

  • 08:30, Saturday May 31st, 2014
  • 11:30, Sunday June 8th
  • 11:30, Sunday June 15th

Do be sure to mark your diary and to attend at least one; I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Related Links

Radegast Tech Support Class: helping blind users


Radegest is a lightweight client for OpenSim and Second Life available for Windows, Linux and Mac. As well as providing text-based capabilities, it was the first lightweight Second Life client to offer a 3D world view (windows and Linux), allowing users on low-end systems to have a visual experience when using a virtual world.

Offering a similar level of capabilities and interaction as a full viewer, and supporting recent updates and improvements to the SL service (mesh rendering, HTTP protocol updates, Marketplace Direct Delivery, Server-side Appearance, etc.), Radegast has become very popular among users with visual impairments and with audio gamers. So much so that Roxie Marten and Celene Highwater of Virtual Ability Inc., have written a comprehensive Accessibility Guide to help people get started with Second life through Radegast. This not only serves as an excellent introduction for the visually and aurally impaired, but forms a thorough introduction for anyone wishing to gain familiarity with using Radegest.

Radegest gives you almost all the capabilities of a full viewer in a lightweight package (image courtesy of Radegast)
Radegest gives you almost all the capabilities of a full viewer in a lightweight package (image courtesy of Radegast)

Because of Radegast’s popularity among the visually impaired, Celene Highwater will be teaching a special class on Radegast for all those interested in assisting new users understand the client and in helping them become a part of the growing community of blind SL users.

The class will be held at the The Tavern on Wolpertinger, on Thursday May 29th, at 12:00 noon SLT / PDT, and will take place in text, or voice upon request.

Anyone who is interested in learning the ins and outs of Radegast in order to help blind or visually impaired users make effective use of the client, is extended a warm invitation to attend the session.

Related Links