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SpaceX still pressing ahead with its Air Force lawsuit, despite winning coveted Air Force contract

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SpaceX is still pressing ahead with its lawsuit against the Air Force over rocket development money the company didn’t receive two years ago — despite just winning a more than $300 million contract from the Air Force to launch military satellites during the 2020s. In a new court document, SpaceX is arguing that not getting the funds caused “substantial harm” that still remains.

On August 7th, the Air Force selected two companies — SpaceX and rival United Launch Alliance — as its primary launch providers that will launch the bulk of the Defense Department’s satellites between 2022 and 2026. The two companies beat out Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman in a fierce race to receive these launch contracts, which could ultimately result in billions of dollars of revenue for the companies. Overall, ULA will get 60 percent of the DOD’s launch contracts, while SpaceX will receive 40 percent. Though the exact number of launches isn’t decided yet, the Air Force gave ULA $337 million and SpaceX $316 million to cover the first launches for fiscal year 2022.

It marks a big win for SpaceX, but it seems the company is still salty about an earlier phase of the selection process. Before the Air Force made these selections, the military branch gave out a combined $2 billion in funding to ULA, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman to help speed up development of their rockets and pay for infrastructure costs. Notably, SpaceX was left out of that award, known as the Launch Services Agreements (LSA). SpaceX initially sued in 2019, and the company now claims it is still hurting from the slight. “Although SpaceX’s successful Phase 2 competitive actions have mitigated the harm to SpaceX resulting from the unlawful and flawed LSA award decisions, substantial harm to SpaceX remains,” the company’s attorneys wrote in a new court filing with the United States District Court for Central District of California.

SpaceX is arguing that the awards gave the company’s competitors an unfair advantage in the race and that ULA’s award may give the company a leg up over SpaceX when competing for launch contracts in the future. SpaceX is also arguing that the award gave ULA “an unwarranted advantage that may well have contributed to ULA winning 60% of the Phase 2 launches.”

Ultimately, SpaceX is calling for the Air Force to terminate the award it gave to ULA, a $967 million deal intended to accelerate development of the company’s future rocket, called Vulcan. Both Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman will no longer receive the award money they received since they were not selected as the final launch providers for the Air Force. SpaceX argues that ending the rest of the LSA award “harms no one.”

Of course, ULA disagrees and so does the Air Force, both pointing out the types of vehicles that SpaceX proposed for the program. Initially, SpaceX submitted its future BFR rocket — now known as Starship — to receive development funds through LSA. But when it came time to bid for the final Air Force selection, SpaceX proposed using its current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The Air Force and ULA say that ultimately goes against how the program was supposed to work. “The LSA program is designed to support vehicles that would be bid for Phase 2,” the two wrote in a statement in the filing, adding: “It is unclear how any remedy would work in practice given that SpaceX’s current proposal is incompatible with that requirement and any re-submitted proposals would involve a fundamentally different environment than a pre-Phase 2 submission.”

The Air Force and ULA also disagree with SpaceX’s assertion that ending ULA’s award wouldn’t cause any harm, as it could lead to delays in development of the Vulcan rocket. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman, while out of the competition, also notes in the filing that SpaceX’s argument is moot because the Air Force selected the company as its launch provider, which “largely addresses the principal injury for which Plaintiff is seeking relief from this Court.”

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Too bright to breed

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Night light from coastal cities overpowers natural signals for coral spawning from neighboring reefs.

PHOTO: NOKURO/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Most coral species reproduce through broadcast spawning. For such a strategy to be successful, coordination has had to evolve such that gametes across clones are released simultaneously. Over millennia, lunar cycles have facilitated this coordination, but the recent development of bright artificial light has led to an overpowering of these natural signals. Ayalon et al. tested for the direct impact of different kinds of artificial light on different species of corals. The authors found that multiple lighting types, including cold and warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, led to loss of synchrony and spawning failure. Further, coastal maps of artificial lighting globally suggest that it threatens to interfere with coral reproduction worldwide and that the deployment of LED lights, the blue light of which penetrates deeper into the water column, is likely to make the situation even worse.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.039 (2020).

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

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SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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Erratum for the Report “Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances” by R. Van Klink, D. E. Bowler, K. B. Gongalsky, A. B. Swengel, A. Gentile, J. M. Chase

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S. Rennie, J. Adamson, R. Anderson, C. Andrews, J. Bater, N. Bayfield, K. Beaton, D. Beaumont, S. Benham, V. Bowmaker, C. Britt, R. Brooker, D. Brooks, J. Brunt, G. Common, R. Cooper, S. Corbett, N. Critchley, P. Dennis, J. Dick, B. Dodd, N. Dodd, N. Donovan, J. Easter, M. Flexen, A. Gardiner, D. Hamilton, P. Hargreaves, M. Hatton-Ellis, M. Howe, J. Kahl, M. Lane, S. Langan, D. Lloyd, B. McCarney, Y. McElarney, C. McKenna, S. McMillan, F. Milne, L. Milne, M. Morecroft, M. Murphy, A. Nelson, H. Nicholson, D. Pallett, D. Parry, I. Pearce, G. Pozsgai, A. Riley, R. Rose, S. Schafer, T. Scott, L. Sherrin, C. Shortall, R. Smith, P. Smith, R. Tait, C. Taylor, M. Taylor, M. Thurlow, A. Turner, K. Tyson, H. Watson, M. Whittaker, I. Woiwod, C. Wood, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) Moth Data: 1992-2015, NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (2018); .

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