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Tech wrap: Space X warning; China vs VPNs; Facebook news fees; robot probes Fukushima (+ video)

Bulldog Bulletin

Jul, 20 2017, 9:37 AM

In today's Bulldog wrapup of the latest science and technology news:

The details:

SpaceX's chief said Wednesday that the first launch of its big new rocket is risky and stands "a real good chance" of failure.

Founder Elon Musk told a space station research conference Wednesday that he wants to set realistic expectations for the flight later this year from Cape Canaveral. The Falcon Heavy will have three boosters instead of one, and 27 engines instead of nine, all of which must ignite simultaneously. No one will be aboard the initial flights. When it comes time to add people, Musk said, "no question, whoever's on the first flight, brave."

SpaceX plans to fly two paying customers to the moon late next year, using a Falcon Heavy.

While the moon may not be in Musk's personal travel plans, he said in response to a question that he'd like to ride one of his smaller Falcon rockets to the International Space Station in maybe three or four years. SpaceX plans to start ferrying NASA astronauts to the orbiting outpost, using Falcon 9 rockets and enhanced Dragon capsules, by the middle of next year. SpaceX now uses the Dragon capsule to deliver supplies to the space station.

"All right, we'll put you on the manifest," said NASA's space station program manager Kirk Shireman.

Speaking for over an hour at the Washington conference, Musk encouraged people to go to Cape Canaveral for the Falcon Heavy launch. "It's guaranteed to be exciting," he promised, getting a big laugh.

China is tightening control over foreign companies' internet use in a move some worry might disrupt their operations or jeopardize trade secrets as part of a crackdown on technology that allows web surfers to evade Beijing's online censorship.

In a letter to corporate customers seen by The Associated Press, the biggest Chinese internet service provider says virtual private networks, which create encrypted links between computers and can be used to see sites blocked by Beijing's web filters, will be permitted only to connect to a company's headquarters abroad. The letter from state-owned China Telecom Ltd. says VPN users are barred from linking to other sites outside China, a change that might block access to news, social media or business services that are obscured by its "Great Firewall."

The letter repeats an announcement from January that only VPNs approved by Chinese authorities are allowed. That has prompted fears of possible loss of trade secrets or information about customers or employees among companies that question the reliability of Chinese encryption services and whether authorities might read messages.

Regulators announced a crackdown in January to stamp out use of VPNs to circumvent web censorship.

Authorities have tried to reassure companies they won't be affected, but if the rules in the China Telecom letter are enforced, they could hamper activity ranging from gathering information for business deals to employees working on business trips.

Facebook is working on a way for news organizations to charge readers for articles they share and read on the social network.

Facebook's head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said the current plan is to require payments after reading 10 articles from a publisher through Facebook. Brown said at a conference in New York on Tuesday that news organizations have been calling for subscription capabilities.

Currently, Facebook's Instant Articles feature, which load faster compared with going to the mobile web, are free, even if they would be behind a paywall on the web.

Facebook confirmed Brown's remarks, which were reported by the business website The Street.

In a separate statement to The Associated Press, Brown said Facebook is in early talks with publishers on "how we might better support subscription business models."

An underwater robot entered a badly damaged reactor at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant Wednesday, capturing images of the harsh impact of its meltdown, including key structures that were torn and knocked out of place.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the robot, nicknamed "the Little Sunfish," successfully completed the day's work inside the primary containment vessel of the Unit 3 reactor at Fukushima, which was destroyed by a massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

[ VIDEO: Watch an update at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cw7c5cuI28 ]

TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto praised the work, saying the robot captured views of the underwater damage that had not been previously seen. However, the images contained no obvious sign of the melted nuclear fuel that researchers hope to locate, he said.

The robot was left inside the reactor near a structure called the pedestal, and is expected to go deeper inside for a fuller investigation Friday in hopes of finding the melted fuel.

"The damage to the structures was caused by the melted fuel or its heat," Kimoto told a late-night news conference held nine hours after the probe ended its exploration earlier in the day.

The robot, about the size of a loaf of bread, is equipped with lights, maneuvers with five propellers and collects data with two cameras and a dosimeter. It is controlled remotely by a group of four operators.





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