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How much higher could proposed tariffs against China push laptop prices?

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A new report has attempted to quantify just how much proposed tariffs against Chinese imported goods could raise prices on electronic devices, with the results concluding that you could wind up paying an additional $100 or more on your next laptop.

The report was commissioned by the Consumer Technology Association, which obviously has a vested interest in how the Trump administration’s proposal (tariffs up to 25 percent that would affect many tech items) would impact its members’ bottom lines. Nonetheless, its central premise — that phones, laptops, drones, and video game consoles would face price increases due to the proposed tariffs — doesn’t require much of a stretch of the imagination to envision, given how many of these products either come from China or are built with Chinese-sourced components.

One notable finding from the report is that prices for laptops would likely increase across the board, not just for systems directly imported from China. While those notebooks would see the biggest increase — an estimated 21-percent jump in the price for Chinese imported laptops and tablets — the report believes that prices for all models would rise 19 percent. This is a bit more extreme than the report’s estimates for cell phones, where it thinks Chinese import prices would increase 22 percent, but overall price would “only” rise 14 percent.

The report calculates that the price of an average laptop would rise roughly $120 if the proposed tariffs were enacted, pushing the average laptop cost to over $600 for U.S. consumers. As a result of the tariffs, laptop and tablet purchases would decline by 35 percent, according to the report. Manufacturing in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Mexico would be the biggest beneficiary of what would be a major salvo in the U.S.-China trade war, and in fact the Taiwanese tech industry is apparently already feeling the effects of the proposed tariffs.  

The accuracy of the report’s findings could be put to the test when and if the administration goes through with the tariffs, but one of its conclusions would still seem indisputable: Despite the tariffs, China would remain the largest importer of laptops and tablets into the U.S., commanding 80 percent of the market. The Chinese economy would definitely be hurt by the proposed tariffs, but it seems like the wallets of American consumers looking to buy a new laptop could be hurt just as much.

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Walmart, CVS face trial for putting sham homeopathic products next to real meds

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Pharmacy giants CVS and Walmart will have to face trials over claims that placing ineffective homeopathic products alongside legitimate over-the-counter medicines on store shelves deceives consumers into thinking that the pseudoscientific products are akin to evidence-based, Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs.

The claims come from the nonprofit organization Center for Inquiry (CFI), which filed nearly identical lawsuits against CVS and Walmart in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to try to boot homeopathic products from pharmacy aisles for good. CFI claimed that deceptive placement of the water-based products violated the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA).

Two lower courts initially dismissed the lawsuits. But, in a unanimous ruling last week, a panel of three judges for the District of Columbia’s highest court overturned the dismissals in a consolidated appeal, allowing the trials to move forward.

CFI may need more evidence to prevail during the trial, Senior Judge Phyllis Thompson wrote on behalf of the panel. “But, at this juncture, we cannot say that it is implausible that a reasonable consumer might understand [CVS and Walgreen’s] placement of homeopathic products alongside science-based medicines as a representation that the homeopathic products are efficacious or are equivalent alternatives to the FDA-approved over-the-counter drugs alongside which they are displayed.”

Dangerous dilutions

As longtime Ars readers know, homeopathy is a debunked pseudoscience that dabbles with toxic substances intended to be diluted into oblivion. The practice rests on two nonsensical concepts: that a toxic substance that produces the same symptoms as a disease can be used to cure that disease (like cures like); and that the therapeutic potency of a substance increases with more and more ritualistic dilution, even far beyond the point at which not a single atom of the starting substance remains (the law of infinitesimals). In fact, some homeopaths believe that water molecules can have “memory” of substances.

At best, homeopathic products are watery placebos. At worst, they’re poorly diluted toxic potions. The latter isn’t just a hypothetical. In 2017, the FDA confirmed elevated levels of the toxic substance belladonna (deadly nightshade) in homeopathic teething products intended for infants. The FDA’s finding followed reports of 10 infant deaths and more than 400 illnesses connected to the products.

A homeopathic product lurking on a CVS shelf near alongside real medicines.
Enlarge / A homeopathic product lurking on a CVS shelf near alongside real medicines.

CFI

As such, consumer and advocacy groups, such as the CFI, have long railed against the sale of homeopathic products. And the CFI doesn’t mince words. “Homeopathy is bunk,” the organization wrote regarding its lawsuit against Walmart. “All evidence demonstrates that it doesn’t work at any level above that of a placebo. And it can’t work, unless every understanding of science we have is incorrect.” But, placed alongside legitimate medicines in pharmacy aisles, like those in Walmart and CVS,  they are “peddled to an unsuspecting public as a cure for everything from ear aches to asthma.”

In the two lower DC courts, the claim that the products’ placement in stores could mislead consumers about their efficacy gave judges pause. The judges argued that the placement on shelves with real medicine didn’t “constitute an actionable ‘representation’ as to efficacy” in regard to violating the CPPA.

But the appeals court judges disagreed. They noted that courts in the past have found that such non-verbal cues and imagery may indeed be considered misleading to consumers. For one example, they pointed to a 2017 case in which obsolete motor oils were sold on the same store shelf as non-obsolete motor oils. When the defendants tried to have the case tossed for “failure to recite a cognizable deceptive practice,” the federal district court dismissed the motion, suggesting that it considered the product placement a potentially deceptive practice. That was even despite the fact that the obsolete motor oils carried a warning on their back labels that said the oil “is not suitable for use in most gasoline powered automotive engines built after 1988.”

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After an amazing run at Mars, India says its orbiter has no more fuel

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Enlarge / Full-disk image of Mars captured by the Mars Orbiter Mission.

ISRO

Despite its modest overall achievements, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission is one of the more notable successes of the modern spaceflight era. Launched in 2013, it was the first Mars mission built by an Asian country to reach orbit around the red planet—only the United States, Soviet Union, and European Space Agency had done so before.

And perhaps most importantly, India proved that a durable, capable Mars spacecraft could be developed on a shoestring budget. Instead of costing hundreds of millions of dollars, the Mars mission was developed for only about $25 million, through a process described by Indian officials as “frugal engineering.”

But all good things come to an end, and this weekend the Indian space agency, ISRO, announced that the mission was “non-recoverable.” The update came following a one-day meeting to discuss the spacecraft and whether it could be salvaged after communication was lost with the vehicle in April during a long eclipse when Mars moved between the orbiter and the Sun.

“During the national meet, ISRO deliberated that the propellant must have been exhausted, and therefore, the desired attitude pointing could not be achieved for sustained power generation,” the space agency said in an update posted Monday. “It was declared that the spacecraft is non-recoverable, and attended its end-of-life. The mission will be ever-regarded as a remarkable technological and scientific feat in the history of planetary exploration.”

The orbiter most definitely exceeded expectations. Originally designed for a lifetime of six months, it returned data back to Earth for nearly eight years.

Among its scientific contributions were regular images of the full disk of Mars, in color, due to the spacecraft’s elliptical orbit. Most spacecraft in orbit around Mars spend their time relatively near the planet, looking straight down at the surface. The Mars Orbiter Mission also provided valuable data about the thin Martian atmosphere and observed dust storms. Indian officials said more than 7,200 users have registered to freely download data collected by the mission.

During the meeting, scientists and engineers discussed the challenge of surviving increasingly long eclipse periods of up to seven hours. Much of the spacecraft’s onboard propellant had to be expended five years ago to reposition the vehicle to survive these eclipses and ensure enough sunlight was reaching its solar panels.

Following the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission, India committed more resources to lunar and Martian missions. The country is planning several missions to the lunar surface, with the eventual goal of returning samples. Another Mars orbiter is planned within the next few years, to be followed by a rover during the second half of the 2020s.

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With orbital launch, Firefly takes an early lead in the 1-ton rocket race

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Enlarge / Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket is seen on the pad ahead of the “To The Black” mission.

Firefly

Since SpaceX reached orbit for the first time in 2008 with the Falcon 1 rocket, a handful of other companies such as Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit have developed and successfully launched small, liquid fueled rockets. But all of these boosters, including the Falcon 1, could lift, at most, a few hundred kilograms into low Earth orbit.

A newer generation of companies, however, has decided that their first rockets should be larger, capable of lifting about 1 metric ton, or a little bit more, to orbit. Officials with these companies have said that, in their view of the market, the micro-launchers just don’t have enough lift capacity to meet the needs of today’s satellite customers.

So these companies—such as Firefly Aerospace, Relativity Space, and ABL Space Systems in the United States, and Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg in Europe—have pushed to develop a larger rocket as their first vehicle. And this weekend, the first of these companies, Firefly, reached orbit with its Alpha rocket.

Need to execute

Powered by four Reaver engines, the Alpha rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 12:01 am local time (07:01 UTC) on Saturday, delivering several small payloads into low Earth orbit after relighting its upper stage. This success followed an initial launch attempt in September 2021, where one of the four Reaver engines failed during ascent.

In an interview shortly before Saturday’s launch attempt, Firefly chief executive Bill Weber told Ars that the company was ready to break out not just as a launch company, but as a provider of spaceflight services. “Firefly is at the point where the only thing holding them back is execution,” Weber said.

This is why Saturday’s flight was critical. Firefly has a number of programs in development, including the ambitious “Blue Ghost” lunar lander that could fly to the Moon as early as 2023. The company is also developing an in-space reusable transport vehicle to go between Earth and the Moon, as well as other orbits. Finally, the company is working on the “Miranda” rocket engine, which will be used by Northrop Grumman for its Antares rocket, as well as a brand-new medium-lift vehicle the companies are jointly developing.

“Firefly needs maturity and scale to achieve its potential,” said Weber, who became the company’s new CEO earlier this year. He became the company’s permanent leader after co-founder Tom Markusic stepped down as chief executive in June. As of Alpha’s first flight, Firefly has about 800 employees, many of them at its headquarters in Texas, near Austin.

A crowded field

While Firefly has big plans for in-space services and the Moon, the biggest near-term challenge is moving Alpha from development into operations. Weber said the company will strive to launch another Alpha this year, before flying six times in 2023. Firefly aims to reach a cadence of one launch a month by the year 2024.

Weber said there is significant demand for launch services in the 1-plus ton class, especially for proven vehicles. The key in this competition will be getting into the market early with a safe and reliable rocket.

“Just as there are eyes on us, there will be eyes on the rest of the market as well,” he said. “We have to make sure we take care of things that Firefly can control. Regardless of what happens with Relativity or ABL, if we are successful in reaching orbit, then our business is going to be just fine. Firefly’s plan does not require others to fail, it requires us to succeed.”

Highlights from the “To The Black” mission.

The company’s partnership with Northrop Grumman is also notable, given that the major defense contractor had its choice of US rocket companies. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Northrop needed to find a new provider of engines for its Antares vehicle, which launches cargo to the International Space Station for NASA. It announced a partnership with Firefly this spring.

The new Antares 330 rocket will use seven Miranda engines and significantly increase the payload capacity of the existing Antares launch vehicle, which can lift about 8 metric tons to low Earth orbit. Firefly plans to hot fire test the Miranda engine for the first time during the first half of 2023 and is confident in the design because it is based on a scaled-up version of the now flight-proven Reaver engine.

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