Updates from the week ending Sunday, February 27th, 2022
This summary is generally published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:
It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog.
By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.
Note that for purposes of length, TPV test viewers, preview / beta viewers / nightly builds are generally not recorded in these summaries.
Official LL Viewers
Release viewer: version version 220.127.116.118554 – formerly the Maintenance J&K RC viewer, promoted Monday, February 28 – NEW.
Linden Lab has announced that, as from March 31st, 2022, they will be applying sales tax for users in the United States on recurring billings such as Premium subscription renewals, and land fees.
The announcement comes with a note that the company will, for the time being, continue to absorb sales tax on point-of-sales purchases such as for first-time Premium subscription payment, Name Change fees, and one-time Linden Dollar purchases – although the announcement notes that taxes on such purchases will have to be passed on to U.S. users at some point in the future.
The blog post carrying the announcement reads in full:
Ever since Second Life’s inception two decades ago we have seen many local, state and federal governments impose new ways to collect tax revenue from internet-based businesses. The Wayfair Sales Tax case decision by the Supreme Court was when prior rules about sales tax really changed. Since then, we have done our best to shield our residents from these taxes as long as possible, but we are no longer able to absorb them.
As of March 31, 2022 we will begin charging sales tax in the U.S. For the time being we will charge taxes only on recurring billings, such as premium subscriptions and land fees. The amount of tax charged will be communicated clearly in the receipt or invoice.
We will continue to absorb the taxes at point-of-sale purchases such as one-time L$ buys, first-time premium subscriptions, and name changes. At some point in the future we will need to begin passing those taxes on to you. We will make another announcement when those charges are phased in.
Your individual charges will be determined by your local jurisdictions. There are more than 13,000 sales and use tax jurisdictions in the United States, with great variation in their rules and tax rates. Tax amounts are also affected by other factors such as the type of goods or services being purchased. To determine the charges, we will be relying on an automated third-party system which closely tracks local tax laws, so the tax amounts are always up to date.
This is news we don’t enjoy sharing, but for the health of the business and of Second Life, we can no longer continue absorbing these tax burdens.
Thank you for your understanding and your continued support of Second Life.
Again, please note the paragraph stating that the sale tax you may face is dependent upon your local tax jurisdiction – there is no “one size fits all” approach.
The Wayfair Sales Tax case refers to the 2018 South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. et al case heard by the Supreme Court, in which the Court determined that an out-of-state seller (e.g. Linden Lab) can have economic presence in U.S. states where it has no physical presence, and can thusly be held legally accountable for collecting appropriate sale taxes on goods and services.
Since that decision, U.S. states have increasingly sought to mandate that out-of-state companies selling products in within their boundaries via electronic, etc., means and no physical presence, should collect sales tax on those sales.
The move by the Lab also follows past moves vis-à-vis the passing of Valued Added Taxed (VAT) charges for EU citizens (2007 – although there was later some revision to this in 2015), and passing VAT changes charge on to users in Norway, and Goods and Services Tax (GST) for citizens in Australia, both of which were announced in 2020.
As I looked at the Mars 2020 mission in my previous Space Sunday piece (see: Space Sunday: A year on Mars and the Polaris Programme), I thought it time to catch up on some of the most recent news about NASA’s other “big rover” working on Mars, Perseverance’s “older sister”, Curiosity, the rover of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, which will mark its tenth anniversary on Mars later in 2022.
Curiosity’smission to Gale Crater, almost half a world away from Perseverance continued onwards despite the dearth of regular updates posted to the official blog (but them, updates on Perseverance have been far less voluminous than see during the first year of MSL operations on Mars, largely thanks to NASA opting to make greater use of social media tools like Twitter to hand out bite-size nibbles of updates.
However, one recent discovery that got some hearts all a-flutter recently was that of a curious formation Curiosity imaged on flank of “Mount Sharp”, the huge mound rising from the middle of the crater – and officially called Aeolis Mons. At first glance, it appears to show a petrified flower sprouting from the surface of the planet – and while it is most certainly not any such thing or even the first of these formation Curiosity had encountered – the raw images captured by Curiosity were released sans any indication of scale, getting some website and individuals a little over-excited.
The object is in fact a mineral structure called a diagenetic crystal cluster. Essentially they are a collection of crystals formed by mineral precipitating from water, undergoing diagenetic recombination in the process, creating this beautiful, but tiny three-dimensional structures.
In fact, the rover first encountered structures like this since around Sol 870 of the mission, as it explored the Pahrump Hills at the base of “Mount Sharp”. However, this particular structure is somewhat different, as the structures found at Pahrump were formed by sulphate (salt) crystals, leached out of receding waters as the lakes that once repeatedly filled Gale Crater finally vanished. This structure formed from salts and other minerals, and most likely formed inside a small rock over which water coming off the slopes of “Mount Sharp” once flowed, before it was left to the mercy of the Martian wind, which slowly eroded it over the aeons until only this delicate-looking but tough structure remained.
The other interesting point with the image is the manner in which it was created. For most its mission, Curiosity has captured images of objects and structures, stored them, and then transmitted them to Earth for post-processing. Here, however, MAHLI took around eight images of the object all from very slightly different angles. The images were then processed by the rover itself, using a software package referred to as the onboard focusing process, which allowed them to be combined and adjusted to produce a single frame of great depth and detail that could then be transmitted to Earth.
In fact, so detailed is the structure – dubbed Blackthorn Salt – in the image, and such is the depth afforded by the picture Simeon Schmauss was able to produce a 3D model of it using Sketchfab, allowing us to see it really up close and from almost any angle – click the image below and see for yourself. However, when doing so, please note that the blurred and “draped” grey elements seen “hanging” from the structure’s arm / branches when looking at it from the side are not a part of the structure, but are artefacts of the Sketchfab rendering process, as the image from MAHLI doesn’t show what is directly below the arms / branches.
Curiosity itself continues to explore and climb “Mount Sharp”, attempting to make its way to higher slopes. Most recently, it has been making its way along a shallow and short “valley” that will hopefully provide access to the “Greenheugh Pediment” – a comparatively gentle slope, formed by water erosion and lying at the base of the mound’s steeper slopes. It is hoped that by crossing the Pediment will lead to a long valley (Gediz Vallis), which is hoped will provide a route further up “Mount Sharp”.
Since arriving on Mars in august 2012, the rover has travelled 27.3 kilometres and has gathered and analysed 34 rock samples and six soil samples, all of which indicate Gale Crater was once a warm, wet environment that may well once have harboured all the fundamentals for life to form.
Russia Stops Soyuz Launches out of Europe’s Spaceport, French Guiana
Following the sanctions imposed on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine, Roscosmos has announced it is halting all cooperation with Europe with regards to Soyuz launches out of Europe’s Spaceport, French Guiana and withdrawing its 87 support personnel from the launch site.
The announcement will immediately impact the launch of two Galileo navigation satellites that had been scheduled for April aboard Soyuz, and potentially a follow-up launch of another pair of Galileo satellites due later in the year.
Also potentially impacted are Two ESA missions: the EarthCARE Earth science mission (developed in partnership with JAXA (Japanese space agency) and scheduled for February 2023, and the Euclid infrared space telescope (March 2023), together with the French government’s military CSO-3 reconnaissance satellite.
Soyuz is offered as a launch vehicle through French launch service provider Arianespace alongside of Ariane and Vega launch vehicles, with Arianespace, through its shareholding in Starsem, can also broker payload launches on Soyuz out of the Baikonaur spaceport, Kazakhstan. However, the future of Soyuz launches out of French Guiana has been the subject to debate for some time, given that Arainespace has been keen to move customers to their new Ariane 6 and Vega-C launchers, both of which are set to enter service from 2022.
No comment has been made by either the European Space Agency or Arianespace on the matter – but both are due to meet to discuss matters on Monday, February 28th. In terms of space cooperation, suspending Soyuz launches out of French Guiana is pretty much the only lever on space matters Russia can pull without adversely impacting their own operations; something that is in stark contrast to 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.
At that time, the United States was reliant on Russia for both crewed launches to the ISS, and the supply of RD-180 motors used by the Atlas 5 vehicle. However, the US now has the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle for ISS missions, which should, in 2023, be joined by Boeing’s Starliner, while United Launch Alliance will be retiring the Atlas 5 (there are only 25 more launches on the books, and has sufficient RD-180 motors for many of those flights).
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos also suggested that sanctions could impact Russian co-operation with the ISS, warning that without Russian support, the space station could fall into “uncontrolled descent from orbit and then falling onto the territory of the United States or Europe”.
The threat is based on the fact that Russian Progress resupply vehicles are periodically used to raise the space station’s orbit as drag with the tenuous atmosphere causes it to lower. However, the US and Japan both have the potential means to boost the orbit, whilst away from Rogozin’s tweets, NASA and Roscosmos alike have stated ISS operations continue to pretty much be “business as usual”.
Notably excluded from any threats – for the time being – is the European ExoMars mission, due to see the Rosalind Franklin rover and a Roscosmos-made lander launched to Mars from Baikonur in September atop a Proton-M rocket. This is a particularly critical launch, as the available window only lasts 12 days and if missed will mean another 26-month delay to the mission, which had initially been set to launch 2020.
Space Image of the Week¹
I am virtually sure it’s the most detailed ISS lunar transit to date 😊
I had to ride 250 km from home and find a remote place in the countryside between the blankets of fog, for this 1/2 second transit at 27000 km/h.
– Thierry Legault
The above comments refer to the image below, showing the International Space Station crossing between Earth and the Moon, captured by French amateur astronomer and astro-photographer Thierry Lagault, who travelled from Paris to Bourges in January 2022 in the hope that the winter weather would allow him to capture the space’s passage across the full Moon.
The image is being credited at one of the most detailed pictures of a ISS lunar transit every captured. It is so detailed, is it possible to see details of the primary solar arrays at either end of the station’s main truss structure, as can the structure of the station’s pressurised modules.
An enlarged version of the image, rotated through 90º so that south is to the right, reveals even more detail – the Russian modules of the ISS pointing towards the top of the image, and the US / international modules pointing down.