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Chuwi launches Indiegogo campaign for AeroBook 13-inch laptop

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Chuwi AeroBook

Chinese manufacturer Chuwi is no stranger to crowdfunding, having relied on Indiegogo for campaigns to promote its SurBook, HiGame, and other PCs over the last couple of years. Now it’s going back to the well with its new AeroBook, a thin-and-light laptop with a budget friendly price tag that gets even more enticing if you join the early bird deal on Indiegogo.

The AeroBook follows quickly on the heels of the Lapbook SE, a similarly sized notebook that offers more basic specs and a cheaper price tag than the new device. Like the Lapbook SE, the AeroBook offers a 13.3-inch display and 128GB of storage (with options for more), but upgrades from the Lapbook’s Celeron processor to an Intel Core m3 6Y30 chip and is slimmer and lighter (2.8 pounds compared to 3.2 pounds for the Lapbook).

An upgraded design sheds ounces and millimeters by narrowing the bezel around both the full HD screen and the keyboard, allowing the display to fit into a 12-inch chassis. But even the cheaper Lapbook features a laminated IPS display and aluminium magnesium alloy construction, along with a similar eight hours worth of claimed battery life. While the AeroBook comes with a pair of USB 3.0 ports, it lacks a USB-C connection just like the Lapbook.

Chuwi expects the AeroBook to begin shipping in April with a base price tag of $499 — that is, unless you participate in the Indiegogo campaign. As an early bird special, Chuwi is knocking $100 off the price for the first 150 backers, with $120 off a $549 version with twice the storage, and $170 off a 1TB configuration regularly selling for $869. As of this writing, the AeroBook campaign has already exceeded its $35,000 flexible goal with nearly an entire month left.       

[Via Liliputing]  

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Bezos says he is now willing to invest in a Moon lander—here’s why

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Enlarge / Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith (black hat) walks with Jeff Bezos after his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos published an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Monday morning and offered to pay more than $2 billion to get the agency’s Human Landing System program “back on track.” In effect, the founder of Blue Origin and world’s richest person says he will self-invest in a lunar lander because NASA does not have the money to do so.

NASA’s Artemis program aspires to land humans on the Moon by 2024 and establish a sustainable settlement on the surface. As part of this project, the agency is seeking reusable, affordable transportation to the Moon and back. It conducted a competition for a human lander (HLS) and announced in April that it would move forward with SpaceX and its Starship proposal. NASA had wanted two providers for such a lander, but due to low appropriations from Congress, it could afford only one.

Now, three months later, Bezos is offering to make up the difference out of his pocket. “Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2B to get the program back on track right now,” Bezos wrote. “This offer is not a deferral but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up.”

So why is Bezos offering to do this now? Ars hit the phones on Monday morning to get some answers.

Why is this happening now?

The timing of Bezos’ letter does not seem coincidental. He was extraordinarily upset after losing to SpaceX and has launched a multi-pronged strategy to get back into the game.

After the HLS contract decision in April, Blue Origin filed a lengthy protest to the US Government Accountability Office. A ruling is expected within the next several weeks. Blue Origin’s second tactic was to lobby a local US senator, Maria Cantwell of Washington state, to add $10 billion to NASA’s budget to pay for Blue Origin’s lander. Although the Senate passed the addition, the House said no, and it seems to have been a dead end.

So now, Bezos is turning to his third tactic after NASA’s decision on the lander award. In this case, he seems to be saying, “OK, maybe I could just pay for this myself.”

Why didn’t Blue Origin win the HLS contract, anyway?

Blue Origin put together an all-star team for the lander competition, partnering with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. This “National Team” then proposed a three-stage lander that met NASA’s specifications for the Artemis program. The problem is that this proposal was expensive and sought about twice as much money as the $2.9 billion award SpaceX received.

In this proposal, Bezos made a critical error. NASA wanted to see companies self-invest in their hardware. The space agency wanted to be a customer for these landers, but not the only customer. “I think they realized it’s why they lost,” one politically connected source told Ars. “Meaning they did not invest properly.” So Bezos’ letter offers a mea culpa.

Isn’t it a bit late in the game?

It sure seems so. The time to state how much skin you’re willing to put into the game is during the bidding process, not after the winners have been named.

For example, under the terms of its contract award, SpaceX will receive $2.9 billion from NASA. In return, a senior company official told Ars, SpaceX plans to invest about $6 billion to develop Starship and test the launch and landing technology. We are already seeing this with the frenetic Starship activity in South Texas. So when NASA was selecting proposals, it knew it was getting a two-for-one return on its money.

Now, Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos have said they’re willing to self-invest. In effect, they’ve asked for a do-over.

So will NASA and Congress bite?

NASA’s course on lunar lander procurement will be determined by the Government Accountability Office ruling. If the GAO dismisses Blue Origin’s protest, NASA will proceed with the award to SpaceX. With the $2.9 billion, SpaceX will develop Starship and perform a “demonstration” landing on the Moon as early as 2024. NASA has asked Congress for more money afterward to have a competition for follow-on missions. This would allow the space agency to have two lander providers, which is something pretty much everyone agrees is a good idea.

If the GAO upholds Blue Origin’s protest—which is possible but not likely—NASA would need to re-do the competition. This would put the Artemis Moon program on hold.

The real question is what Congress will do, and that seems to be the real audience for Bezos’ letter. Notably, Bezos references jobs in many Congressional districts, which is the love language of legislators. NASA’s decision to select SpaceX, Bezos wrote, “also eliminated the benefits of utilizing the broad and capable supply base of the National Team (as opposed to funding the vertically integrated SpaceX approach).”

My sense is that this offer from Bezos will spur Congress to fund NASA’s idea of a Lunar Exploration Transportation Services program as an on-ramp for lunar lander vendors. Additional funding would allow NASA to buy routine astronaut transportation services throughout the Artemis program from two providers—SpaceX and Blue Origin’s National Team. We may see this funding in the final Fiscal Year 2022 budget appropriations later this year.

What’s the good news?

It’s positive to see Jeff Bezos taking an active interest in Blue Origin and putting his immense wealth behind the company. Multiple sources told Ars that Bezos was really disconnected from Blue Origin in 2020, and that hurt the company. For one thing, the approval rating of Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith is a painfully low 18 percent on Glassdoor.

With this letter, Bezos appears to be acknowledging that it was a mistake not to self-invest in the Human Landing System contract. Moreover, he is taking steps to rectify that mistake. If nothing else, that has to send a positive message to his employees.

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Red planet has a big core, complex crust

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Enlarge / Some seismic waves bounce off Mars’ core before reaching the InSight lander.

We’ve learned a lot about our planet’s interior simply by tracking how the seismic energy released by earthquakes moves through or reflects off the different layers present beneath Earth’s surface. For over a Martian year, we’ve had a seismograph on Mars in the hope that it would help us to figure out the red planet’s interior.

But Mars is relatively quiet seismically, and we’ve only got a single seismograph instead of an entire network. Still, with records of a handful of significant marsquakes, we now have some sense of what Mars’ interior looks like. And a set of new studies indicates that it’s pretty weird, with a large, light core and an unexpectedly warm crust.

It’s complicated

Working out the structure of a planet involves reading seismic waves, which come in two categories: shear and compressional (S and P, in geological parlance). Depending on the location of the earthquake (or marsquake), the waves may arrive directly. But many others bounce off the surface of the planet before reaching the receiver, sometimes multiple times. So P waves will be followed by PP waves, and later by PPP waves. The US Geological Survey has a great diagram of the complexity this can produce, which we’ve included at right.

But that’s far from the end of the complications. The speed of the waves, and thus the time gaps between P and PP and PPP signals, will vary based on the material the waves are traveling through. The composition, density, and even temperature of the material can all make a difference in the speed at which seismic signals move through the planet. These properties often differ dramatically between specific layers of the planet, such as the solid crust and the semi-molten mantle. These differences will refract some of the seismic waves, bending their path through the planet’s interior. Other waves will reflect off the boundary between internal layers.

All of that makes reconstruction of the interior from seismic events complicated; there are generally more than one combination of properties like distance, materials, and temperatures that are compatible with the seismic signals produced by an event. On Earth, this isn’t a problem. We have a huge collection of seismographs that allows us to zero in on the most likely interpretation of the signals. And we have lots of individual events, which allow us to identify the typical behavior of our planet’s interior.

On Mars, none of that is true. We have a grand total of one seismograph, and so even distance estimates are iffy at best. And we have very little sense of the internal temperature of the planet. There are points in reading the studies that almost feel like they’re mourning the absence of data from the failed attempt to have InSight take Mars’ internal temperature.

Mars also turns out to be very seismically quiet. There were no marsquakes with a magnitude above 4.0, and there weren’t many of any magnitude. All told, fewer than a dozen events stood out clearly from the background noise at InSight’s landing site. So, you should view the results in these papers as an initial model of Mars’ interior: they’re likely to be refined as more data comes in and may even be revised considerably.

What’s there

We have a good sense of what the outermost Martian crust looks like, given that we’ve obtained plenty of meteorites that originated on Mars, studied it from orbit, and landed hardware on it. Based on seismic waves, however, one of those studies suggest that the outer crust only extends to about 10 km beneath the planet’s surface at the InSight landing site. But there’s a lower crust, which extends down the mantle, which this study suggests starts at about 50 km deep.

The first result is in keeping with a second study, which shows a boundary somewhere between six and 11 km down. But it shows a second boundary somewhere between 15 and 25 km, which is much higher than the first. Still, it also sees some indication of a third boundary somewhere between 27 and 47 km—a figure that’s consistent with the 50 kilometer figure in the first paper. So really, the big difference between the two is about how many layers of crust are present.

The things both these studies agree on is that the crust is warmer than expected. This implies that there are more radioactive elements present than we would have predicted based on what we know about the surface composition. Why that’s the case is unclear, and the amount of excess radioactivity also depends on the exact thickness of the crust. Again, having a measure of the heat flow through the crust, as was originally intended, could have made a big difference here.

The final paper goes deep and looks for the boundary between Mars’ mantle and its core. The result is a radius just north of 1,800 km. This is unexpectedly large: it’s over half the radius of the entire planet. One of the consequences of the large core is that, to be compatible with the planet’s overall density, the core has to be lighter than expected (it’s also liquid). That implies the presence of lighter elements. Sulfur is the most reasonable candidate, but Mars isn’t expected to have enough sulfur to account for it all. So carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen can probably be found in the core as well.

One consequence of this is that the pressures at the outer edge of the core will be lower, meaning that Mars couldn’t have formed a mineral that helps trap heat in the core like Earth. This may have caused the planet to lose the heat left over from its formation more rapidly.

What’s to come

InSight has seen its mission extended, so we’ll continue to get more data from future marsquakes. While the initial data is compatible with a variety of potential conditions—the error bars on the density, temperature, and thickness of various layers are large—further data should help narrow things down.

But the large, liquid core turns out to be rather unfortunate in terms of InSight’s landing location. The core itself casts a seismic “shadow” across Mars, blocking waves from marsquakes on the opposite side of the planet from the seismograph. The larger the core, the more of the planet that’s invisible to InSight. And, unfortunately, that shadow includes the Tharsis region, which contains Mars’ largest volcanoes and is thought to have been active relatively recently.

Not being able to “see” Tharsis means we’re likely to register fewer marsquakes in total. Still, as long as the hardware holds up, we’re likely to have a steadily growing collection of data that will gradually give us a clearer picture of the red planet’s composition and evolution—something that will help us understand planet formation both within and outside of our Solar System.

Science, 2021. Papers linked from: 10.1126/science.abj8914  (About DOIs).

Listing image by Chris Bickel/Science

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Nuclear power’s reliability is dropping as extreme weather increases

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Enlarge / Cooling water is only one factor that limits the productivity of nuclear power plants.

With extreme weather causing power failures in California and Texas, it’s increasingly clear that the existing power infrastructure isn’t designed for these new conditions. Past research has shown that nuclear power plants are no exception, with rising temperatures creating cooling problems for them. Now, a comprehensive analysis looking at a broader range of climate events shows that it’s not just hot weather that puts these plants at risk—it’s the full range of climate disturbances.

Heat has been one of the most direct threats, as higher temperatures mean that the natural cooling sources (rivers, oceans, lakes) are becoming less efficient heat sinks. However, this new analysis shows that hurricanes and typhoons have become the leading causes of nuclear outages, at least in North America and South and East Asia. Precautionary shutdowns for storms are routine, and so this finding is perhaps not so surprising. But other factors—like the clogging of cooling intake pipes by unusually abundant jellyfish populations—are a bit less obvious.

Overall this latest analysis calculates that the frequency of climate-related nuclear plant outages is almost eight times higher than it was in the 1990s. The analysis also estimates that the global nuclear fleet will lose up 1.4 percent—about 36 TWh—of its energy production in the next 40 years, and up to 2.4 percent, or 61 TWh, by 2081-2100.

Heat, storms, drought

The author analyzed publicly available databases from the International Atomic Energy Agency to identify all climate-linked shutdowns (partial and complete) of the world’s 408 operational reactors. Unplanned outages are generally very well documented, and available data made it possible to calculate trends in the frequency of outages that were linked to environmental causes over the past 30 years. The author also used more detailed data from the last decade (2010 – 2019) to provide one of the first analyses of which types of climate events have had the most impact on nuclear power.

While the paper doesn’t directly link the reported events to climate change, the findings do show an overall increase in the number of outages due to a range of climate events.

The two main categories of climate disruptions broke down into thermal disruptions (heat, drought, and wildfire) and storms (including hurricanes, typhoons, lightning, and flooding). In the case of heat and drought, the main problem is the lack of cool enough water—or in the case of drought, enough water at all—to cool the reactor. However, there were also a number of outages due to ecological responses to warmer weather; for example, larger than usual jellyfish populations have blocked the intake pipes on some reactors.

Storms and wildfires, on the other hand, caused a range of problems, including structural damage, precautionary preemptive shutdowns, reduced operations, and employee evacuations. In the timeframe of 2010 to 2019, the leading causes of outages were hurricanes and typhoons in most parts of the world, although heat was still the leading factor in Western Europe (France in particular). While these represented the most frequent causes, the analysis also showed that droughts were the source of the longest disruptions, and thus the largest power losses.

The author calculated that the average frequency of climate-linked outages went from 0.2 outages per year in the 1990s to 1.5 outages in the timeframe of 2010 to 2019. A retrospective analysis further showed that for every 1°C rise in temperature (above the average temperature between 1951 and 1980), the energy output of the global fleet fell about 0.5 percent.

Retrofitting for extreme weather

This analysis also shows that climate-associated outages have become the leading cause of disruptions to nuclear power production—other causes of outages have only increased 50 percent in the same timeframe. Projecting into the future, the author calculates that, if no mitigation measures are put into place, the disruptions will continue to increase through the rest of this century.

“All energy technologies, including renewables, will be significantly affected by climate change,” writes Professor Jacapo Buongiorno, who was not involved in the study, in an email to Ars. Buongiorno is the Tepco Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) and he co-chaired the MIT study on The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon Constrained World. “The results are not surprising—nuclear plants can experience unplanned outages due to severe events (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes) or heat waves, the frequency of which is increasing.”

Although there is relatively little research on the topic of climate effects on nuclear power specifically, some projects are already underway to adapt nuclear plants to the changing climate. For example, the US Department of Energy recently invested in a project researching methods to reduce the amount of water needed by nuclear facilities (e.g. advanced dry cooling).

“Existing nuclear plants are already among the most resilient assets of our energy infrastructure,” writes Buongiorno. “The current fleet is adapting to rising sea levels (for those plants located in areas at potential risk of flood) and the increasing intensity of storms. New nuclear reactor technologies will be even more resilient, as in many instances that are being designed to be dry cooled (i.e. not using river/ocean water for rejecting heat to the ambient) as well as capable of operating in ‘island mode,’ i.e. disconnected from the grid and ready to restart before other large power plants in the event of a blackout.”

Other nuclear technologies, such as pebble-bed, molten salt, and advanced small modulator reactors, may also provide more climate-resistant solutions, but these are all still under development. In general, the strict regulations in place for nuclear reactors make it particularly difficult to incorporate newer technologies. Even as these technologies become available, it will likely require further reactor downtime to install new components. So, at least in the short term, even nuclear power will likely contribute to the increasing frequency of climate-related power shortages.

Nature Energy, 2021.  DOI: 10.1038/s41560-021-00849-y

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