Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

World’s Largest Plane Makes First Flight Over California

The world’s largest aircraft took off over the Mojave Desert in California Saturday, the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems Corp., started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market.

The white airplane called Roc, which has a wingspan the length of an American football field and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage, took to the air shortly before 7 a.m. Pacific time (1400 GMT) and stayed aloft for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port as a crowd of hundreds of people cheered.

First flight ‘fantastic’

“What a fantastic first flight,” Stratolaunch Chief Executive Officer Jean Floyd said in a statement posted to the company’s website.

“Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems,” Floyd said. “We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”

The plane is designed to drop rockets and other space vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds at an altitude of 35,000 feet and has been billed by the company as making satellite deployment as “easy as booking an airline flight.”

Saturday’s flight, which saw the plane reach a maximum speed of 189 mph and altitudes of 17,000 feet, was meant to test its performance and handling qualities, according to Stratolaunch.

Demand for satellite deployment

Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, announced in 2011 that he had formed the privately funded Stratolaunch.

The company seeks to cash in on higher demand in coming years for vessels that can put satellites in orbit, competing in the United States with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Stratolaunch has said that it intends to launch its first rockets from the Roc in 2020 at the earliest. Allen died in October 2018 while suffering from non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, just months after the plane’s development was unveiled.

“We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement,” said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. “The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

World’s Largest Plane Makes First Flight Over California

The world’s largest aircraft took off over the Mojave Desert in California Saturday, the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems Corp., started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market.

The white airplane called Roc, which has a wingspan the length of an American football field and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage, took to the air shortly before 7 a.m. Pacific time (1400 GMT) and stayed aloft for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port as a crowd of hundreds of people cheered.

First flight ‘fantastic’

“What a fantastic first flight,” Stratolaunch Chief Executive Officer Jean Floyd said in a statement posted to the company’s website.

“Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems,” Floyd said. “We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”

The plane is designed to drop rockets and other space vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds at an altitude of 35,000 feet and has been billed by the company as making satellite deployment as “easy as booking an airline flight.”

Saturday’s flight, which saw the plane reach a maximum speed of 189 mph and altitudes of 17,000 feet, was meant to test its performance and handling qualities, according to Stratolaunch.

Demand for satellite deployment

Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, announced in 2011 that he had formed the privately funded Stratolaunch.

The company seeks to cash in on higher demand in coming years for vessels that can put satellites in orbit, competing in the United States with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Stratolaunch has said that it intends to launch its first rockets from the Roc in 2020 at the earliest. Allen died in October 2018 while suffering from non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, just months after the plane’s development was unveiled.

“We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement,” said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. “The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Trump Vows to Win 5G Race

In the race to beat China in the fifth generation of wireless technology, known as 5G, U.S. President Donald Trump is announcing the largest-ever auction of radio frequencies and a $20 billion fund to build a rural fiber-optics backbone.

“We cannot allow any other country to outcompete the United States in this powerful industry of the future,” Trump said in the White House Roosevelt Room, flanked by a group of telecommunications tower climbers and farmers. “The race to 5G is a race that we must win.”

Starting Dec. 10, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will begin auctioning three chunks of millimeter-wave frequencies (upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz) for cellphone companies to use.

Some Trump allies had tried to persuade him to effectively nationalize this technology as a matter of national security.

Trump acknowledged that he considered such a plan — opposed by the FCC and others — but ultimately backed away from it.

“We don’t want to do that. It wouldn’t be nearly as good, nearly as fast,” Trump said.

“The idea of state-designed and -operated 5G networks in the U.S. makes no sense on its own terms. A competitive, lightly regulated market is the hallmark of the U.S. system. This has delivered success in 4G and will encourage investment and innovation in 5G,” London-based Gabriel Brown, a principal analyst at telecommunications research firm Heavy Reading, told VOA.

“It also makes no sense in relation to competition with China — these are different markets in different phases of development.”

Riley Walters, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, agreed, saying the “private sector is the most efficient way to distribute 5G capabilities, even if it’s not at the pace nationalization proponents would like to see. Deregulation should help cut the costs for domestic developers to move up their time horizon.”

Connecting America

5G — with speeds 100 times faster than the current 4G mobile internet — will allow the emergence of everything from so-called smart cities and farms to self-driving cars.

“We want Americans to be the first to benefit from this new digital revolution while protecting our innovators and our citizens,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We don’t want rural Americans to be left behind.”

The $20.7 million Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, to come from existing FCC subsidy coffers, is intended to connect up to 4 million American homes over the next decade.

The expensive fiber rollout is seen as essential for carrying wireless network communications back to internet hubs.

“Intervention at this level will encourage private investment and accelerate coverage in these hard-to-reach areas — the economic and social benefits of rural coverage make it worth intervening to help make the market work,” Brown said.

“Creating a national fund to support these innovators is a great idea,” said Prakash Sangam, the founder of Tantra Analyst, which is involved in marketing and business development of wireless technology. “I also suggest that the U.S. government intervene and facilitate the resolution of conflicts between American technology companies so that they collaborate and effectively compete against the companies sponsored by foreign governments.” 

Security concerns

One challenge is the lack of U.S. manufacturers of 5G network equipment, an arena where China’s Huawei and ZTE are set to dominate.

Trump’s 5G goals are in conflict with the Federal Trade Commission’s stance on Qualcomm, the world’s largest chipmaker. The FTC has sued the American company over anti-competitive pricing, according to technology analyst Patrick Morehead.

“Qualcomm is the country’s only hope for 5G and 6G leadership and with the FTC about to potentially hobble it, the U.S. will never be a leader, China will,” predicted Morehead, a former industry executive.

A State Department senior official on Wednesday said the security concerns about Huawei and ZTE extend to all companies headquartered in China, contending they are effectively “under direction” of the Chinese Communist Party.

“It’s very important to distinguish how Western democracies operate relative to their private sector companies and vendors, and how the Chinese government operates with its companies,” said Ambassador Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy.

Strayer and other officials have warned that Huawei and ZTE could give China’s intelligence services secret access to sensitive communications networks and the ability to send commands to disrupt communications.

Trump did not mention the Chinese companies in his remarks Friday, but he said America’s 5G networks will “have to be guarded from the enemy.”

Riley, at the Heritage Foundation, told VOA that the United States “can still limit the proliferation of imports that have a security concern, but it will be hard for U.S. companies to compete in price in external markets.”

South Korea last week switched on its nationwide 5G network. South Korea-based Samsung is offering itself as a global alternative to Chinese equipment manufacturers, but it still lags Huawei and ZTE, as well as Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia.

Wireless companies operating in the United States, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, are deploying 5G this year, but widespread service for the majority of Americans could still be a decade away.

The radio spectrum coming up for auction will have very limited range, meaning small cell antennas will have to be mounted on about every fourth utility pole along streets, making 5G practical only in central business districts and other congested locations, such as stadiums, convention centers and shopping malls.

Lower frequencies, which are being licensed for 5G in several other countries, would need fewer cell sites, but that spectrum in the United States is held by satellite operators who are reluctant to give it up. 

“There are proposals to free some of it for fixed wireless, and the mobile industry wants it for 5G,” Brown said.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Facebook Spends $22.6 Million on Security for Zuckerberg

Facebook Inc. more than doubled the money it spent on Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s security in 2018 to $22.6 million, a regulatory filing showed Friday.

Zuckerberg has drawn a base salary of $1 for the past three years, and his “other” compensation was listed at $22.6 million, most of which was for his personal security.

Nearly $20 million went toward security for Zuckerberg and his family, up from about $9 million the year prior. Zuckerberg also received $2.6 million for personal use of private jets, which the company said was part of his overall security program.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg took home $23.7 million in 2018 compared to $25.2 million last year.

Facebook has in the past few years faced public outcry over its role in Russia’s alleged influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has come under fire following revelations that Cambridge Analytica obtained personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without consent. 

Russia fines Facebook $47

On Friday, a Russian court fined Facebook for failing to tell authorities where it stores Russian user data, Russian news agency reported.

The court fined Facebook 3,000 rubles ($47) for not providing the information in line with legislation that requires social media companies to store user data on servers located in Russia.

The only tools Moscow currently has to enforce its data rules are fines that often amount to very small sums or blocking the offending online services, an option fraught with technical difficulties.

Facebook shakes up its board

Separately, Facebook said Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings would vacate his seat on the social media company’s board and not be nominated for re-election.

Hastings’ departure comes as the Menlo Park-based company beefs up its push into videos. Hastings has served on Facebook’s board since 2011.

The company also said it would nominate PayPal’s senior vice president of core markets, Peggy Alford, to its board in place of University of North Carolina President Emeritus Erskine Bowles, who will also not be re-nominated.

Facebook shares closed at $179.07 Friday evening.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket, Lands All 3 Boosters

SpaceX launched its second supersized rocket and for the first time landed all three boosters Thursday, a year after sending up a sports car on the initial test flight.

The new and improved Falcon Heavy thundered into the early evening sky with a communication satellite called Arabsat, the rocket’s first paying customer. The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines firing at liftoff — nine per booster.

Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX landed two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral, side by side, just like it did for the rocket’s debut last year. The core booster landed two minutes later on an ocean platform hundreds of miles offshore. That’s the only part of the first mission that missed.

“What an amazing day,” a SpaceX flight commentator exclaimed. “Three for three boosters today on Falcon Heavy, what an amazing accomplishment.”

​Launch from Apollo pad

The Falcon Heavy soared from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, using the same pad that shot Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago and later space shuttle crews.

Prime viewing spots were packed with tourists and locals eager to catch not just the launch but the rare and dramatic return of twin boosters, accompanied by sonic booms. The roads were also jammed for Wednesday night’s launch attempt, which was scuttled by high wind.

Because this was an upgraded version of the rocket with unproven changes, SpaceX chief Elon Musk cautioned in advance things might go wrong. But everything went exceedingly well. SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Southern California cheered every launch milestone and especially the three touchdowns.

“The Falcons have landed,” Musk said in a tweet that included pictures of all three boosters.

Tesla Roadster still in orbit

Musk put his own Tesla convertible on last year’s demo. The red Roadster, with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, likely still at the wheel, remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.

The Roadster is thought to be on the other side of the sun from us right now, about three-quarters of the way around its first solar orbit, said Jon Giorgini, a senior analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

A couple dozen ground telescopes kept tabs on the car during its first several days in space, but it gradually faded from view as it headed out toward the orbit of Mars, Giorgini added.

The Roadster could still look much the same as it did for the Feb. 6, 2018, launch, just not as shiny with perhaps some chips and flakes from the extreme temperature swings, according to Giorgini. It will take decades if not centuries for solar radiation to cause it to decompose, he said.

Air Force mission next

SpaceX plans to launch its next Falcon Heavy later this year on a mission for the U.S. Air Force. The boosters for that flight may be recycled from this one.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine last month suggested possibly using a Falcon Heavy, and another company’s big rocket, to get the space agency’s Orion capsule around the moon, minus a crew, in 2020. But the preferred method remains NASA’s own Space Launch System mega rocket, if it can be ready by then.

Bridenstine said everything is on the space table as NASA strives to meet the White House’s goal of landing astronauts back on the moon by 2024.

NASA’s Saturn V rockets, used for the Apollo moon shots, are the all-time launch leaders so far in size and might.

SpaceX typically launches Falcon 9 rockets. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of those single rockets strapped together.

Until SpaceX came along, boosters were discarded in the ocean after satellite launches. The company is intent on driving down launch costs by recycling rocket parts.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket, Lands All 3 Boosters

SpaceX launched its second supersized rocket and for the first time landed all three boosters Thursday, a year after sending up a sports car on the initial test flight.

The new and improved Falcon Heavy thundered into the early evening sky with a communication satellite called Arabsat, the rocket’s first paying customer. The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today, with 27 engines firing at liftoff — nine per booster.

Eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX landed two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral, side by side, just like it did for the rocket’s debut last year. The core booster landed two minutes later on an ocean platform hundreds of miles offshore. That’s the only part of the first mission that missed.

“What an amazing day,” a SpaceX flight commentator exclaimed. “Three for three boosters today on Falcon Heavy, what an amazing accomplishment.”

​Launch from Apollo pad

The Falcon Heavy soared from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, using the same pad that shot Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago and later space shuttle crews.

Prime viewing spots were packed with tourists and locals eager to catch not just the launch but the rare and dramatic return of twin boosters, accompanied by sonic booms. The roads were also jammed for Wednesday night’s launch attempt, which was scuttled by high wind.

Because this was an upgraded version of the rocket with unproven changes, SpaceX chief Elon Musk cautioned in advance things might go wrong. But everything went exceedingly well. SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Southern California cheered every launch milestone and especially the three touchdowns.

“The Falcons have landed,” Musk said in a tweet that included pictures of all three boosters.

Tesla Roadster still in orbit

Musk put his own Tesla convertible on last year’s demo. The red Roadster, with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, likely still at the wheel, remains in a solar orbit stretching just past Mars.

The Roadster is thought to be on the other side of the sun from us right now, about three-quarters of the way around its first solar orbit, said Jon Giorgini, a senior analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

A couple dozen ground telescopes kept tabs on the car during its first several days in space, but it gradually faded from view as it headed out toward the orbit of Mars, Giorgini added.

The Roadster could still look much the same as it did for the Feb. 6, 2018, launch, just not as shiny with perhaps some chips and flakes from the extreme temperature swings, according to Giorgini. It will take decades if not centuries for solar radiation to cause it to decompose, he said.

Air Force mission next

SpaceX plans to launch its next Falcon Heavy later this year on a mission for the U.S. Air Force. The boosters for that flight may be recycled from this one.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine last month suggested possibly using a Falcon Heavy, and another company’s big rocket, to get the space agency’s Orion capsule around the moon, minus a crew, in 2020. But the preferred method remains NASA’s own Space Launch System mega rocket, if it can be ready by then.

Bridenstine said everything is on the space table as NASA strives to meet the White House’s goal of landing astronauts back on the moon by 2024.

NASA’s Saturn V rockets, used for the Apollo moon shots, are the all-time launch leaders so far in size and might.

SpaceX typically launches Falcon 9 rockets. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of those single rockets strapped together.

Until SpaceX came along, boosters were discarded in the ocean after satellite launches. The company is intent on driving down launch costs by recycling rocket parts.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Official Voices Broad Concerns Over China-Based Companies

Lin Feng contributed to this report

WASHINGTON — A senior official in the U.S. Department of State said Wednesday the security concerns the government has raised related to Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE extend to all companies headquartered in China, saying they are effectively “under direction” of the Chinese Communist Party.

“It’s very important to distinguish how Western democracies operate relative to their private sector companies and vendors, and how the Chinese government operates with its companies,” Ambassador Robert L. Strayer, deputy assistant secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy, said during a conference call with reporters. 

Chinese companies don’t have the ability to mount a legal challenge to directives from the government, he said. 

“They don’t have the ability to go to court,” he said. “They’re basically under direction — what we call extra-judicial command — of the Communist Party of China … to take actions, when requested by the government. There’s not the same rule of law that we consider a part of our daily lives and all of our business dealings in Western democracies.”

Strayer has been the point person in the Trump administration’s effort to block Chinese firms, and Huawei in particular, from participating in the global rollout of 5G mobile communications technology, insisting that Chinese law requires the companies to cooperate with Beijing’s intelligence services. 

Strayer and other officials have warned that Chinese telecommunications firms could give Beijing intelligence services secret “back-door” access to sensitive communications networks, or that in a crisis, they could disrupt communications on command.

His comments were among the administration’s most comprehensive justification for trying to block Huawei’s entry into the U.S. and European 5G markets.

The push has included warnings that the United States may restrict the kind of intelligence it shares, even with close allies, if Washington is not satisfied that communications networks are secure.

To this point, the U.S. has failed to produce hard evidence of Huawei or ZTE engaging in espionage for the Chinese government. However, both firms have been charged with theft of intellectual property from rival companies, and Huawei has been charged with conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Huawei and ZTE have consistently denied they ever have or will act as an arm of Chinese intelligence services. 

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s 74-year-old founder and president, recently told the BBC that to do so would be economic suicide.

“Our sales revenues are now hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said. “We are not going to risk the disgust of our country and our customers all over the world because of something like that. We will lose all our business. I’m not going to take that risk.”

Samm Sacks, cybersecurity policy and China digital economy fellow at the New America Foundation, said, “The reality is the Communist Party of China uses the law selectively as an instrument as it sees fit.”

“What does worry me is this hypothetical situation of what Huawei would be employed to do by the Chinese government,” she told VOA. “I think we have to look at what Huawei as a commercial company needing to succeed in global markets have in its interest. And I’d say right now, it’s not in its interests to use those vulnerabilities. But that could change in another scenario.”

The U.S. effort so far has achieved only limited success in its efforts to get allies to impose blanket restrictions on the use of equipment made by Huawei and ZTE in cutting edge, high-speed, next-generation infrastructure. However, Strayer said that as countries around the world begin looking closely at the risks, he believes an eventual ban on the two firms’ products is inevitable.

He cited a recent analysis of Huawei equipment by government investigators in the United Kingdom, which found myriad security flaws and engineering deficiencies in devices meant to support the rollout of 5G in that country. In Germany, he said, a set of strict security standards under consideration would amount to a de facto ban on Chinese-made 5G equipment.

The proposed German standards would require that telecommunications systems “be sourced from trustworthy suppliers whose compliance with national security regulations and provisions for the secrecy of telecommunications and for data protection is assured.”

Given the legal requirement that Chinese companies assist the intelligence services —and keep that assistance secret — “It’s hard to see how Chinese technology would meet that standard for protection of data,” he said.

Strayer said the U.S. is encouraging all countries to consider similar regulations.

“We have encouraged countries to adopt risk-based security frameworks,” Strayer said. “And we think that a rigorous application of those frameworks, if they include supply chain security risk and the consideration of the relationship between a 5G vendor and their government, will lead, inevitably, to the banning of Huawei and  ZTE.”

In his remarks Wednesday, Strayer focused on the issue of 5G infrastructure, but at times broadened his critique of Chinese government policies to encompass all firms based in China that deal with sensitive technology.

“We think it’s very important that countries deploying 5G networks consider the relationship between a foreign government, where a vendor is headquartered, and the companies themselves and that country,” he said. “When we look at the Chinese laws, relative to intelligence and national security, those allow the Chinese government to direct the actions of companies for their national interest of China, as well as require that companies to maintain secrecy, about the actions they’ve taken at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party.”

He also echoed a common complaint from Western countries that Chinese government policies provide advantages to domestic firms that give them an unfair competitive advantage when they move into international markets. 

“The Chinese government, through state-owned banks and other sources, has provided in some cases zero percent interest, 20-year loan offers, which are not commercially reasonable,” he said. “That kind of unfair playing field is not one that Western technology should have to compete with. It should be a level playing field for technology vendors.”

In addition, he said, government-supported “cross subsidization” allows Chinese firms another avenue by which they can undercut the prices of Western firms. 

“They can get large profits on what they sell into the Chinese market, which they largely have under their control through the government, and then use those subsidies to then offer lower prices in our markets in the West.”

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!