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Deploy the space harpoon – TechCrunch

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Watch out, starwhales. There’s a new weapon for the interstellar dwellers whom you threaten with your planet-crushing gigaflippers, undergoing testing as we speak. This small-scale version may only be good for removing dangerous orbital debris, but in time it will pierce your hypercarbon hides and irredeemable sun-hearts.

Literally a space harpoon. (Credit: Airbus)

However, it would be irresponsible of me to speculate beyond what is possible today with the technology, so let a summary of the harpoon’s present capabilities suffice.

The space harpoon is part of the RemoveDEBRIS project, a multi-organization European effort to create and test methods of reducing space debris. There are thousands of little pieces of who knows what clogging up our orbital neighborhood, ranging in size from microscopic to potentially catastrophic.

There are as many ways to take down these rogue items as there are sizes and shapes of space junk; perhaps it’s enough to use a laser to edge a small piece down toward orbital decay, but larger items require more hands-on solutions. And seemingly all nautical in origin: RemoveDEBRIS has a net, a sail and a harpoon. No cannon?

You can see how the three items are meant to operate here:

The harpoon is meant for larger targets, for example full-size satellites that have malfunctioned and are drifting from their orbit. A simple mass driver could knock them toward the Earth, but capturing them and controlling descent is a more controlled technique.

While an ordinary harpoon would simply be hurled by the likes of Queequeg or Dagoo, in space it’s a bit different. Sadly it’s impractical to suit up a harpooner for EVA missions. So the whole thing has to be automated. Fortunately the organization is also testing computer vision systems that can identify and track targets. From there it’s just a matter of firing the harpoon at it and reeling it in, which is what the satellite demonstrated today.

This Airbus-designed little item is much like a toggling harpoon, which has a piece that flips out once it pierces the target. Obviously it’s a single-use device, but it’s not particularly large and several could be deployed on different interception orbits at once. Once reeled in, a drag sail (seen in the video above) could be deployed to hasten reentry. The whole thing could be done with little or no propellant, which greatly simplifies operation.

Obviously it’s not yet a threat to the starwhales. But we’ll get there. We’ll get those monsters good one day.

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Years after Google and Apple, Samsung finally gets eSIM working in the US

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Samsung

Samsung is finally starting to support eSIM in the US. XDA Developers reports the first working combo is the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra on T-Mobile. You’ll need an update to enable the feature, but then you’ll be able to throw off the shackles of your ancient plastic SIM card. Samsung flagships began shipping with eSIM starting with the Galaxy S20 in March 2020, but it never got US carrier support. With T-Mobile now supporting the Note 20, hopefully other carriers and models will follow suit.

Samsung has been pretty slow on the eSIM uptake overall. The world’s first eSIM phone was the Google Pixel 2, which launched in 2017 and was quickly supported on Google Fi. Apple started supporting eSIM with the iPhone XS in 2018, and carriers quickly enabled support.

eSIM removes the need for plastic, physical SIM cards that link your phone to your phone bill and get you up and running on the cellular network. Physical SIM cards are one of the many ways carriers cling to outdated technology. In order to be identified for service, carriers demand we reserve space in our phones for a 12×9 mm plastic card that holds 256KB of information. This might have sounded like a good idea in the ’90s when carriers cooked up the SIM card standard. But today, when a similarly sized (15×11 mm) MicroSD card can hold 1TB of data—or about 4.2 million times more data—SIM cards seem laughably out of date.

eSIM, if the mobile industry would just adopt it and abandon SIM cards altogether, would allow for easier carrier switching, since you would only have to download an app to switch service instead of having to buy a physical piece of plastic. It would let manufacturers save space inside a device, since an on-motherboard eSIM chip is much smaller than a SIM card, a SIM card tray, and an ejection system. Eliminating the slot entirely would result in one less place for dust and water ingress, too.

For phones with both eSIM and a physical SIM slot, eSIM often leads to “dual-SIM” support, allowing users to subscribe to two carriers at once. This is good for people who want to juggle multiple numbers or for someone who wants to combine the best coverage of two carriers. This is enabled on the Note 20 on T-Mobile, by the way, which lists “Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) support,” meaning you’ll be on both networks at once.

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Liveblog—All the news from Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event (Tuesday, 4/20 at 1p ET)

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Enlarge / The event invitation that went out to members of the press and Apple’s partners.

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At 10am Pacific time (1pm Eastern) on Tuesday, April 20, Apple will host its first live product launch event since the company’s three-event gauntlet late last year. Tim Cook and co. are expected to put much of the focus on the iPad lineup—but other announcements, like Apple Silicon Macs, are also possible.

As longtime Ars Technica readers expect, we’ll be liveblogging the event and publishing stories about the new announcements as everything unfolds.

If there’s one thing people are confident of going into this event, it’s the fact that Apple will announce new iPad Pro models. Leaks and rumors have claimed that the new iPad Pro will look quite similar to its immediate predecessor but that it will have a faster chip, improved cameras, and (at least in the larger 12.9-inch model) a Mini LED display.

Apple may also be ready to release a new version of the Apple Pencil peripheral; if so, it would be the third iteration of the product. While we don’t expect Macs to be the event’s main focus, Apple may introduce a low-end iMac with the M1 chip, or perhaps other Apple Silicon-equipped Macs.

Other possibilities include an updated Apple TV 4K, the long-delayed Tile competitor (probably called AirTags), or new audio products like a screen-equipped HomePod speaker or a new version of Apple’s wildly popular AirPods wireless earbuds.

It’s also likely that Apple will use the stage this event provides to make the case for its upcoming privacy changes like App Tracking Transparency, which has drawn intense ire from some app developers and advertisers as well as threats of antitrust lawsuits from rivals like Facebook.

Bookmark this page and plan on returning here at 1pm EST on April 20 to see all the latest updates.

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Fitbit announces new style-focused Luxe smartband

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Enlarge / Lifestyle photo of Fitbit Luxe.

Fitbit

Fitbit has just announced its first fashion-focused, bangle-style tracker—the Fitbit Luxe. True to its luxurious name, the stainless-steel Luxe will come in a $200 special edition, styled with Gorjana jewelry as its band (coming in June) but the $150 silicon band version is available for pre-order now.

Both will come with six months of the Fitbit Premium membership (usually $10 a month or $80 per year), which affords users some guided fitness programs, over 200 workout videos, deeper sleep analysis, about 60 nutrition articles and recipes, and other resources to learn about and improve health and wellness. Of course, getting people healthier has always been the name of the game for Fitbit, so with the Luxe, the company is attempting to strike a better balance between style, price, and casual activity tracking.

Sporting an OLED color touchscreen, the Luxe is the company’s first fitness band, not smartwatch, to add this bit of flair and functionality. You can swipe through your latest activity metrics, notifications from your phone (you can receive texts, calls, emails, etc. but cannot reply to them on the band), stress stats, menstrual cycle information, or do guided breath work and start tracking a workout.

The Luxe tracks sleep, offers more than 20 different exercises (some automatically), and boasts 5ATM waterproof resistance for use during swims. If you want GPS tracking, you’ll need to bring your phone along, though, as the Luxe doesn’t have GPS built in. Otherwise, the heart rate monitor, blood oxygen sensor (functionality “coming soon”), gyroscope, and accelerometer will do the rest for your fitness-tracking needs. Skin temperature sensors also help measure your stress levels, along with data from your breathing rate and heart rate variability.

All of this is used to provide context for your fitness, whether it be through measuring your activity minutes for the week, seeing if you’re hitting recommended goals, or letting you know your stress levels and offering you guided meditations from Deepak Chopra, among others, to impact it. The Luxe introduces deeper insights into this with seven-day trends that were previously reserved for Fitbit Premium members, and subscribers will still get longer 30-day trend reports. Logging other health metrics manually, like blood glucose, in the Fitbit app is an option, and such metrics will then be included in your reports.

Like almost every Fitbit, the Luxe is rated for multi-day battery life, up to five days. This should help facilitate its endeavor to be worn casually and not thought about daily. With its light fitness character (perhaps more accurately described as “wellness”-focused), the Luxe is aimed at taking care of the basics and doing so stylishly. It’s not the tracker you’ll want to train with for a half-marathon, but its standard-level activity tracking paired with Fitbit’s well-organized app and wellness insights therein should be enough to satisfy those looking for a more “set it and forget it” (and then check in on and learn from it from time to time) approach to wellness tracking.

If that’s right up your alley, then all you have to do is forget that it looks like a medical bracelet (a very fancy one, especially with optional gorjana metal and leather bracelet-styled bands) and place a preorder on Fitbit’s website. Orders start shipping “this spring” for the Luxe and in June for the Luxe Special Edition.

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