Big Bendy Screens, Chatterbox Robots, and TV in the Cloud

Welcome, dear friends, to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that’s distracted itself from the shellshock of the election just long enough to cast a beady eye over the latest gadget announcements.

Spied from inside the comfort of a warm blanket this time around are a curved monitor, a robot with Alexa integration, and a cloud-based DVR from TiVo.

As always, we are sworn to inform you that these are not reviews, and the ratings reflect only how much I’d actually like to try each, assuming my nerves hold up long enough to handle any gizmos.


Around the Bend

A little more than four months after moving to a new apartment, I’m at long last about to start setting up my office. Goodbye, Ikea dining table. Hello, fancy new desk. When I actually have my new setup, I’d like to have a monitor at long last to complement my laptop. AOC’s latest is under serious consideration.

The AG352QCX, pictured above, is a 35-inch, curved behemoth with two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI 2.0 input, VGA, DVI, audio in and out ports, and DisplayPort 1.2. That’s plenty enough for most people’s purposes, though a second HDMI port would have been welcome.

Do note that when I say I’ll have an “office” for “work,” I fully intend to spend plenty of time in that little nook playing games as well, so a monitor designed for interactive action is high on the priority list. The 200-Hz refresh rate and 4ms response time, along with FreeSync (which smooths gameplay and reduces screen tearing), should help make sure I get the bad guys before they get me.

The 1080p resolution is not fantastic for the price — Pounds 699, approximately US$866 — when we’re edging toward 4K and Retina displays becoming commonplace. That’s more a concern for desktop usage, though. The lower resolution will be less noticeable for high-refresh rate gaming taking up the entire screen.

It fits my needs, giving me extra screen real estate while working, and a monitor on which to play games in the off hours. It’s probably a little too large for me, though, even if the curved screen does look great.

Rolling Robot

Regular readers may note that there is virtually zero chance of me giving a low rating to a cute robots with giant eyes, even if those peepers are on a screen and not physical eyes.

Omate’s Yumi has a 5-inch display for a face and can show different expressions, while it has a light ring to alert you to notifications. More practically, it has Alexa integration: A microphone and speakers let you issue commands and receive feedback from Amazon’s personal assistant.

It has wheels, so it is somewhat mobile. Unfortunately, it can’t rotate its head, and while there’s a camera for video calls, Yumi needs to stay in place for that, so you can’t chat to a relative through the robot while walking around your home.

The little cherub is winsome and with the helpful Alexa integration, I would not hesitate to bring one home. Still, there are better-looking alternatives already on the market, and I suspect plenty more are on the way.

TV Everywhere

Less of a product announcement than a leak, the first few details of TiVo’s cloud-based DVR have seeped into the world. It seems the Mavrik saves all the shows you want to watch later in the cloud, and you’ll be able to stream them whenever you want.

Certainly, there are streaming services around, like Hulu and HBO Go, which provide consumers a way to watch shows soon after they air. These services are decentralized, though, and without paying for a whole bundle of them, it’s unlikely you’ll find it easy to watch all of your favorite shows.

A system like Mavrik should cut out the wait time, and save the shows you want instead of relying on each service’s cherry-picked portfolio — as long as you have the cable package to match, that is.

Tivo Mavrik

The box connects directly to a TV antenna, according to the leak, though it appears you can stream both live and recorded shows and movies using an app. Mavrik would have been dead on arrival if TiVo didn’t allow users to stream content to whichever device they prefer to watch on, so in-app streaming is heartening.

There are other cloud-based DVR systems around, though none really have the brand value of TiVo, meaning this could become a commonplace setup in relatively short order. It will require a subscription, of course, but the likely utility of Mavrik just might make it worthwhile. The cost of the subscription plus a cable package nullifies the convenience for me, but it just might stick for others.

AMD Reveals Radeon FreeSync 2: Here’s What You Need to Know

One of the longest running bugbears of PC gaming is screen tearing — ever so often you’ll notice that when in motion, visuals on screen appear torn or distorted, even with the best possible PC. Screen tearing happens when the PC’s graphics card pushes out frames either faster or slower than the monitor can refresh its image, resulting in visible jitter and split frames. While only seen for a fraction of a second, tearing is extremely jarring can ruin the experience of playing a game.

AMD Reveals Radeon FreeSync 2: Here’s What You Need to KnowMore often than not, video cards can render frames faster than monitors can handle them, but the frequency is not uniform. Usually monitors can display games at 60 frames per second, but even if a video card is pumping out 80 or 90 frames per second and there are minute differences in the lag between them (also known as frame pacing), the result is visible screen tearing.

Some fixes exist, such as vertical sync, commonly known as v-sync — which forces the video card to slow itself down to the monitor’s maximum refresh rate, usually translating to a uniform 60 frames per second, expressed as 60Hz. This brings with it other concerns, most notably input lag and the inability to use the full potential of the graphics card.
In games with busy sections such as the grand firefights in Battlefield 1, PCs often struggle even with v-sync enabled. You’ll be subject to stuttering and lag due to the monitor having to wait for the graphics card before it has a new frame to display. This is even more detrimental to the experience as a game’s most crucial segments can become insufferable.
The obvious solution is to allow monitors to refresh at a variable pace rather than forcing unevenly delivered frames into a 60Hz structure. This requires monitors to have special panels that can handle a variable refresh rate, and controllers that can sync with the input stream.

Both Nvidia and AMD have come up with different ways to handle this. Nvidia calls its approach G-sync, and AMD has its own FreeSync standard. AMD’s choice of name is significant, because while Nvidia’s technology is proprietary and available only to its partners, FreeSync is not only freely useable but is also now an official part of the VESA (Video Electronics Standard Association) standards that display manufacturers follow.

FreeSync was officially launched on March 19, 2015. Fast forward to a little less than two years later, and AMD has revealed a second iteration — FreeSync 2 or Radeon FreeSync 2, if we’re to be completely pedantic.

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AMD shared a few details related to FreeSync 2 with Gadgets 360 and other select media outlets at an event in Sonoma, California last month, and while specific details were hard to come by, here’s everything we know so far.

LFC is now mandatory with FreeSync 2
Perhaps the biggest addition to FreeSync 2 is one that should have been part of its initial release: Low Frame-rate Compensation or LFC. This allows FreeSync 2monitors to continue running smoothly even when the incoming video stream’s refresh rate falls below the monitor’s minimum threshold. This needs the monitor’s maximum refresh rate to be 2.5x of its minimum refresh rate, so that there’s enough range to allow a laggy frame to be displayed completely before the next one pushes it out of the way.

amd freesync 2 twitch alt tab amd_freesync_2
HDR support for FreeSync and FreeSync 2
HDR is another big addition to FreeSync 2. AMD hopes to reduce the lag between when an image is rendered and when it shows up on screen, particularly when HDR is involved. The game you’re playing is told the specific characteristics of the monitor connected, so it can map colour tones accordingly and reduce the lag caused by translation.

If you’re using FreeSync, HDR rendering is being brought over as is full-screen borderless window mode for you to Alt-Tab out of games and into services like Twitch as you see fit.

FreeSync 2 gets Automatic Switching between modes
Also, FreeSync 2 will automatically detect what you’re doing so it can activate HDR when you’re playing a game or watching a movie, and turn itself off when you’re on your desktop. When a game launches, everything will automatically switch to the correct settings, reverting to standard options like sRGB when you’re back to your desktop.

AMD claims that FreeSync 2 with HDR allows for over twice the perceivable brightness and colour volume over sRGB, though only with a FreeSync 2 API-enabled game and video players. You will of course need content that is created in a way that utilises these capabilities. You’ll also need a monitor specifically certified for Freesync 2.

free sync 2 auto mode switch amd_freesync_2

No concrete details on FreeSync 2 monitors just yet
AMD is boasting that it has over 20 display partners on board compared to Nvidia’s eight, and 121 FreeSync monitors available across the world right now versus 18 G-Sync ones. However, the company hasn’t announced any specifics about partners for FreeSync 2 just yet, or whether existing monitors will be able to support it.

When asked if it would charge vendors for FreeSync 2 certification, the company replied with: “No comment at this stage.” It seems unlikely, given its past commitment to free standards, including Mantle and the original FreeSync. We also expect both HDMI and DisplayPort input methods to be supported.

lg lfc monitor amd freesync amd_freesync_2

Will your existing GPU work with FreeSync 2?
If you own an AMD Radeon graphic card from the HD 7000 series and above (i.e. any AMD card launched from 2012 onwards), FreeSync 2 will be supported via a driver update. What’s more, AMD claims that FreeSync 2 will work in parallel with FreeSync.

Closer to home, FreeSync monitors haven’t been available in India easily, with only handful of options from LG, Viewsonic, and Samsung in the market. Nonetheless, with AMD looking to sort out its GPU supply woes in India after the RX 480 debacle, it will be interesting to see if display partners get more bullish about FreeSync 2.

Nasa Sees Record Number of Astronaut Applications

Nasa Sees Record Number of Astronaut Applications

Nasa has received a record 18,300 resumes from people keen on becoming astronauts, the US space agency said Friday.

The number of applications for a spot in Nasa’s 2017 class is almost triple the amount that came in during the last recruitment call for the 2012 class.

And it shatters the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” Nasa Administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut, said in a statement.

But only a chosen few will actually see their galactic career goals realized.

Over the course of the next year and a half, a selection board will whittle down the applications and invite only the most highly qualified candidates for interviews at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

In the end, a mere eight to 14 lucky individuals will be asked to report for training.

Nasa expects to announce its new class in mid-2017.

The timeframe for submitting applications opened on December 14 and closed Thursday, with the space agency taking to social media to get the word out.

Training for the chosen candidates includes a focus on spacewalking and teamwork, as well as some command of Russian language.

Those who make it through will be given technical duties at Johnson’s Astronaut Office.

They will then be assigned to the International Space Station, the Orion spacecraft for deep space exploration or one of two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development – SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner.

With the American spaceflight program grounded since 2011 when the space shuttle was retired, Nasa’s current active corps currently comprises 47 members, down from 149 in 2000 at the peak of the space shuttle era.

In its call for recruits, Nasa encouraged pilots, engineers and other scientists to apply.

Qualified candidates need to be US citizens and have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, science, computer science or math, as well as three years of professional experience or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft.

They also have to be physically fit and pass a “Nasa long-duration astronaut physical.”

More than 300 people have been hired as Nasa astronauts since the US space agency’s first corps of seven was selected in 1959 as part of Project Mercury, which sent men into orbit around the Earth.

“A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from US soil on American-made spacecraft,” Bolden said.

Gravitational Waves: LIGO India Could Be Operational by 2023-End

Gravitational Waves: LIGO India Could Be Operational by 2023-End

With the Indian government giving in-principle approval for establishing a state-of-the-art LIGO interferometer in the country, a top US scientist has said it is “technically feasible” for the project to be operational by the end of 2023.

“It is technically feasible for LIGO-India to go online by the end of 2023,” said Fred Raab, head of theLIGO Hanford Observatory and LIGO Laboratory liaison for LIGO-India.

Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) scientists have made dozens of trips to India to work with Indian colleagues, especially with the three nodal institutes that would have primary responsibility for construction and operation of LIGO India – Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) Gandhinagar, Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), Indore.

“Together, we have identified an excellent site for the facilities and have transferred detailed LIGO drawings of the facilities and vacuum system to IPR, after adapting them for conditions in India,” he said.

The Union Cabinet on February 17, gave its approval in the wake of the announcement of LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves earlier this month.

“This is the step that we’ve been waiting for. It will allow funding for the LIGO-India project to begin, and commence a number of critical path activities toward getting a detector built in India,” said LIGO Laboratory Executive Director David Reitze.

“Coming on the heels of the Discovery announcement, this has truly been an historic week for LIGO and for the field of gravitational wave astronomy,” he said.

The project will build an Advanced LIGO Observatory in India, a move that will significantly improve the ability of scientists to pinpoint the sources of gravitational waves and analyze the signals, a statement said.

Gravitational waves-ripples in the fabric of space and time, produced by dramatic events in the universe such as merging black holes and predicted as a consequence of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, carry information about their origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained.

With their first direct detection, announced on February 11, scientists opened a new window onto the cosmos.

The twin LIGO Observatories at Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, are funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and were conceived, built, and are operated by Caltech and MIT.

Advanced LIGO – a major upgrade to the sensitivity of the instruments compared to the first generation LIGO detectors – began scientific operations in September 2015.

Funded in large part by the NSF, Advanced LIGO enabled a large increase in the volume of the universe probed, leading to the discovery of gravitational waves during its first observation run.

At each observatory, the 4-km-long L-shaped interferometer uses laser light split into two beams that travel back and forth down the arms (four-foot diameter tubes kept under a near-perfect vacuum).

The beams are used to monitor the distance between mirrors precisely positioned at the ends of the arms.

According to Einstein’s theory, the distance between the mirrors will change by an infinitesimal amount when a gravitational wave passes by the detector.

A change in the lengths of the arms smaller than one-ten- thousandth the diameter of a proton (10-19 metre) can be detected.

According to Reitze, the executive director of LIGO and a Caltech research professor, the degree of precision achieved by Advanced LIGO is analogous to being able to measure the distance between our solar system and the sun’s nearest neighbour Alpha Centauri – about 4.4 light-years away, accurately to within a few microns, a tiny fraction of the diametre of a human hair.

“We have built an exact copy of that instrument that can be used in the LIGO-India Observatory,” said David Shoemaker, leader of the Advanced LIGO Project and director of the MIT LIGO Lab, “ensuring that the new detector can both quickly come up to speed and match the US detector performance”.

LIGO will provide Indian researchers with the component and training to build and run the new Advanced LIGO detector, which will then be operated by the Indian team, the statement said.

LIGO-India will also bring considerable opportunities in cutting edge technology for the Indian industry which will be engaged in the construction of the new observatory’s 4-kilometer-long beam tubes.

As per the US statement, Indian scientists at RRCAT have designed a special testing/prototype facility for receiving Advanced LIGO parts, have been training the teams that will install and commission the detector and are currently cross-checking the IPR vacuum system drawings against the Advanced LIGO detector drawings to ensure a good fit and rapid installation for the third Advanced LIGO detector.

In addition to leading the site-selection process, IUCAA scientists have been setting up a computing centre for current and future data.

This preparation should make it possible for India to carry the project forward rapidly, it noted.

“LIGO-India will further expand the international network that started with the partnership between LIGO and Virgo, which operates a detector near Pisa, Italy,” said Stanley Whitcomb, LIGO chief scientist.

“With LIGO-India added to the network, we will not only detect more sources, we will dramatically increase the number of sources that can be pinpointed so that they can be studied using other types of telescopes,” he said.

Smart Skin May Transform Medicine, Robotics

Smart Skin May Transform Medicine, Robotics

Using items found in a typical household, researchers have created multi-sensor artificial skin that is capable of sensing pressure, temperature, humidity, proximity, pH and air flow.

The artificial skin can respond to external stimuli and could have important applications in medicine and robotics.

The flexible, paper-based skin is layered onto a post-it note, with paper, aluminium foil, lint-free wipes, and pencil lines acting as sensing components.

Being made of recyclable materials, this paper skin presents a large number of sensory functions in a cheap and environmentally friendly way.

“Democratisation of electronics will be key in the future for its continued growth,” said Professor Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, senior author of the research published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

“In that regard, a skin-type sensory platform made with recyclable materials only demonstrates the power of human imagination,” said Hussain.

“This is the first time a singular platform shows multi-sensory functionalities close to that of natural skin. Additionally they are being read or monitored simultaneously like our own skin,” Hussain added.

Pluto’s Largest Moon Likely Fractured by Sub-Surface Ocean: Nasa

Pluto's Largest Moon Likely Fractured by Sub-Surface Ocean: Nasa

Images from the New Horizon space probe suggest that Pluto’s moon Charon once had a sub-surface ocean that has since frozen and expanded, causing the surface to stretch and fracture, Nasa said Friday.

Charon’s surface was photographed by the New Horizons’s Lorri (Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera as the spacecraft flew past the moon in July 2015 at a distance of 48,900 miles (78,700 kilometers).

The detailed pictures show a system of “pull-apart” tectonic faults on the moon’s equator.

These faults and fractures run “at least 1,100 miles (about 1,800 kilometers) long and in places there are chasms 4.5 miles (7.5 kilometers) deep. By comparison, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 kilometers) long and just over a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep,” Nasa said.

The chasms are the longest ever observed in the solar system, Nasa said.

Charon’s outer layer today is mainly water ice. But millions of years ago, when Charon was young, scientists believe that layer was kept warm “by heat provided by the decay of radioactive elements, as well as Charon’s own internal heat of formation.”

The moon could have been warm enough to cause the water ice to melt deep down, creating a subsurface ocean.

“But as Charon cooled over time, this ocean would have frozen and expanded (as happens when water freezes), lifting the outermost layers of the moon and producing the massive chasms we see today,”Nasa said.

Pluto, a dwarf planet in the far reaches of the solar system some 3.6 billion miles (5.8 billion kilometers) away from the sun, has five moons. Charon, with a diameter about half that of Pluto, is the largest of them.

Other moons in the solar system that are closer to the sun still have liquid oceans under their surface.

Experts believe that oceans on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and on two of Saturn’s moons, Ganymede and Enceladus, are the best places in the solar system to look for microbial life forms.

Star System With Longest-Lasting Stellar Eclipse Discovered

Star System With Longest-Lasting Stellar Eclipse Discovered

Scientists have discovered a new star system where every 69 years the bigger star disappears in a near-total eclipse that lasts for three and a half years, setting a record for the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest period between eclipses in a binary system.

The newly-discovered system, known only by its astronomical catalogue number TYC 2505-672-1, is a binary star system nearly 10,000 light years from the Earth.

The next eclipse in the system will occur in the year 2080, researchers said.

“It’s the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest orbit for an eclipsing binary ever found, by far,” said first author Joey Rodriguez, a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University in the US.

The previous record holder is Epsilon Aurigae, a giant star that is eclipsed by its companion every 27 years for periods ranging from 640 to 730 days.

“Epsilon Aurigae is much closer – about 2,200 light years from Earth – and brighter, which has allowed astronomers to study it extensively,” said Rodriguez.

The leading explanation is that Epsilon Aurigae consists of a yellow giant star orbited by a normal star slightly bigger than the sun embedded in a thick disk of dust and gas oriented nearly edge on when viewed from the Earth.

“One of the great challenges in astronomy is that some of the most important phenomena occur on astronomical timescales, yet astronomers are generally limited to much shorter human timescales,”said co-author Keivan Stassun, professor at Vanderbilt.

“Here we have a rare opportunity to study a phenomenon that plays out over many decades and provides a window into the types of environments around stars that could represent planetary building blocks at the very end of a star system’s life,” said Stassun.

The new system is similar to the one at Epsilon Aurigae, with some important differences, researchers said.

It appears to consist of a pair of red giant stars, one of which has been stripped down to a relatively small core and surrounded by an extremely large disk of material that produces the extended eclipse.

“About the only way to get these really long eclipse times is with an extended disk of opaque material. Nothing else is big enough to block out a star for months at a time,” Rodriguez said.

TYC-2505-672-1 is so distant that the amount of data the astronomers could extract from the images was limited.

However, they were able to estimate the surface temperature of the companion star and found that it is about 2,000 degrees Celsius hotter than the surface of the Sun.

In order to produce the 69-year interval between eclipses, the astronomers calculate that they must be orbiting at an extremely large distance, about 20 astronomical units, which is approximately the distance between the Sun and Uranus.

The study was published in the Astronomical Journal.

Nasa’s WFIRST Telescope to Unravel Secrets of Dark Energy, Dark Matter

Nasa's WFIRST Telescope to Unravel Secrets of Dark Energy, Dark Matter

In a fresh attempt to unlock the secrets of the universe, Nasa has announced to build a new, wider telescope that will have a view 100 times bigger than that of Hubble Space Telescope.

Called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), it will help researchers unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter and explore the evolution of the universe.

Slated to be launched in the mid-2020s, the observatory will also discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.

WFIRST is the agency’s next major astrophysics observatory, following the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

“WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.

“This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterise planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter,” he explained in a statement.

The observatory will survey large regions of the sky in near-infrared light to answer fundamental questions about the structure and evolution of the universe and expand our knowledge of planets beyond our solar system – known as exoplanets.

It will carry a Wide Field Instrument for surveys, and a Coronagraph Instrument designed to block the glare of individual stars and reveal the faint light of planets orbiting around them.

By blocking the light of the host star, the Coronagraph Instrument will enable detailed measurements of the chemical makeup of planetary atmospheres.

Comparing these data across many worlds will allow scientists to better understand the origin and physics of these atmospheres, and search for chemical signs of environments suitable for life.

“WFIRST is designed to address science areas identified as top priorities by the astronomical community,” added Paul Hertz, director of Nasa’s astrophysics division.

The telescope’s sensitivity and wide view will enable a large-scale search for exoplanets by monitoring the brightness of millions of stars in the crowded central region of our galaxy.

By measuring the distances of thousands of supernovae, astronomers can map in detail how cosmic expansion has increased with time.

WFIRST also can precisely measure the shapes, positions and distances of millions of galaxies to track the distribution and growth of cosmic structures, including galaxy clusters and the dark matter accompanying them.

The observatory will begin operations after travelling to a gravitational balance point known as “Earth-Sun L2” which is located about one million miles from Earth in a direction directly opposite the Sun,Nasa said.

Russia Plans Return to Mars, Moon Despite Money Woes

Russia Plans Return to Mars, Moon Despite Money Woes

Visitors are rare these days to the museum of Russia’s Space Research Institute in Moscow even though it holds gems like the model of the Soviet Lunokhod, the first ever space rover to land on the Moon, in 1970.

While the Cold War space race fired such cutting-edge projects, Russia’s planetary exploration has stalled for the past three decades until now.

Under an ambitious plan with the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists have new hope of again sending missions to the Moon and to Mars.

“The last decade was truly difficult for us,” the institute’s director Lev Zeleny told AFP.

Among the biggest blunders was the tragic Phobos-Grunt probe, which in 2011 failed to reach its planned course to one of the moons of Mars and crashed back to Earth over the Pacific Ocean.

“But now the programme is entering a new stage for this decade.”

Next month, a Russian Proton rocket is scheduled to launch the first of two missions under ExoMars, a joint venture with the ESA, to snoop out possible life, past or present, to the red planet.

Zeleny’s hopes are high that this will return Moscow to its glory days of space exploration if the project actually gets off the ground.

In the first mission, an orbital spacecraft will search for traces of methane in the atmosphere of Mars possible evidence of biological activity.

For the second part in 2018, Russian engineers are to build a complex landing system to drop an ESA-built Martian rover to the planet’s surface, a platform not only to ensure a soft landing but also to serve as “a science lab in itself” for inspecting the landing site, said Zeleny.

“If we manage this, it will be a major breakthrough,” he said.

Financial limbo
The ambitious plan, however, has caused jitters among some observers and is dismissed as a pipe dream by others.

In January, the ESA already warned that the 2018 mission could be delayed due to cash flow problems.

With the economic crisis, the Russian government is likewise pressed to make budget cuts and space exploration is far from one of its priorities.

The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is itself in financial limbo but went ahead and announced its programme for the next decade in January, though the plan has yet to be confirmed, said Igor Marinin, editor of Space News magazine.

“Now there is no plan, so there is no financing and Roscosmos is taking out loans just to pay salaries,” he told AFP. “For this reason, I’m sceptical, and I don’t think we will make a good landing platform in the time that’s left.”

Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov last month admitted that Russia “does not have financial capabilities for advanced space projects.”

He also complained that it was difficult to import some critical components, a problem caused by Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

While sanctions “are not fatal,” conceded Zeleny, they “are rather like an ant crawling under your collar they tickle and distract you.”

Beyond the money issues, sceptics note that Russia has not carried out a Mars landing since the 1970s and a failure could destroy ESA’s rover.

This would be disastrous since the ExoMars-2018 rover is “the most expensive European planetary spacecraft under development for almost two decades,” said Anatoly Zak, the editor of, a website that tracks the country’s space industry.

But if the landing does succeed, “it could serve as a model for the future cooperation with Europe in deep-space exploration,” Zak said.

Zeleny has far-reaching plans for such cooperation, notably resuming Moon exploration which largely stopped in 1976 when the US and the Soviets focussed on other parts of space.

He said Russia wants to help set up an international research base on the planet, where the absence of atmosphere or radio noise create perfect conditions for astronomers.

It hopes to launch a first mission by 2019 to explore the Moon’s south pole, seen as a potential spot to set up a system of telescopes that humans would fly in and out to adjust in shifts. This would be “much like people working in the Arctic in Russia,” said Zeleny, adding that some sort of “lunar dugouts” would have to be constructed to protect the moon visitors from cosmic rays.

Called Luna-25, the project would be the first such probe since Russia’s Luna-24 discovered water on the Moon in 1976 and will pick up on the famous Soviet Luna series that was the first to land a spacecraft on the moon, in 1959.

Only the US landed men on the Moon, the first in 1969, and ended its programme with the Apollo 17 space flight in 1972.

Back then, no expense was spared in the space race and “scientists reaped many benefits from the competition,” Zeleny said.

But now the only way forward is to collaborate.

Zeleny said his institute recently resumed discussions with US colleagues about a joint mission to send “a long-term” landing craft to Venus, a project on hold since 2013 due to political frictions over Ukraine.

“Scientists have long been interested in this cooperation, but now it’s finally supported by Roscosmos and Nasa,” Zeleny said.

Virgin Galactic to Roll Out New Space Tourism Rocket Plane

Virgin Galactic to Roll Out New Space Tourism Rocket Plane

Virgin Galactic will roll out a new version of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket Friday as it prepares to return to flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original, killed one of its pilots and set back the nascent industry.

The space line founded by Sir Richard Branson will unveil the craft at California’s Mojave Air & Space Port, where it was assembled.

SpaceShipTwo is designed to be flown by a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a high-speed suborbital flight to the fringes of space. At an altitude above 62 miles, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the Earth below.

After years of development, Virgin Galactic appeared to be nearing the goal of turning ordinary civilians into astronauts when the first SpaceShipTwo broke apart on Oct. 31, 2014, during its fourth rocket-powered flight. Wreckage fell to the Mojave Desert floor.

The investigation found that co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely unlocked the so-called feathering system that is intended to slow and stabilize the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere. Alsbury was killed, but pilot Peter Siebold, although seriously injured, parachuted to safety.

The “feathers” – a term derived from the design of a badminton shuttlecock – are tail structures that extend rearward from each wingtip. They are designed to swivel upward at an angle to create drag, preventing a buildup of speed and heat, and then rotate back down to normal flying position as the craft descends into the thickening atmosphere.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that Scaled Composites, a company that was developing SpaceShipTwo with Virgin Galactic and was responsible for its test program, should have had systems to compensate for human error. The NTSB chairman, Christopher Hart, said it wasn’t a matter of shortcuts but of not considering a crew member would make the mistake that occurred.

Virgin Galactic subsequently assumed full responsibility to complete the test program.

The company stressed in a statement Thursday its commitment to testing from the level of individual parts on up to the complete craft.

“Our team’s job is to plan out not just the obvious tests but also the strange and inventive ones, to conduct those tests, and to use the data from those tests to re-examine everything about our vehicle to ensure we can take the next step forward,” it said.

The company did not project a timeline for actually carrying space tourists, noting that “our new vehicle will remain on the ground for a while after her unveiling, as we run her through full-vehicle tests of her electrical systems and all of her moving parts.”

SpaceShipTwo is the successor to SpaceShipOne, the winged rocket plane that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 by demonstrating a reusable spacecraft capable of carrying three people could make two flights within two weeks to at an altitude of least 62 miles.

The prize announced in 1996 was intended to spur the development of private manned spaceflight in the same way the Orteig Prize offered in 1919 fostered trans-Atlantic aviation. Charles Lindbergh won that prize with his nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927.

Like SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft beneath the wing of a mother ship – a special jet aircraft that releases it at an altitude of about 45,000 feet. After gliding for a few moments, SpaceShipTwo’s pilots ignite the rocket engine to send the craft hurtling toward space.

After reaching the top of its suborbital trajectory, the spacecraft begins falling back toward Earth and glides to a landing on a runway.