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KickSat-2 project launches 105 cracker-sized satellites – TechCrunch

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Move over, Starlink. SpaceX’s global internet play might have caught the world’s attention with its 60-satellite launch last month, but little did we know that it had already been upstaged — at least in terms of sheer numbers. The KickSat-2 project put 105 tiny “femtosats” into space at once months earlier, the culmination of a years-long project begun by a grad student.

KickSat-2 was the second attempt by Zac Manchester, now a professor at Stanford, to test what he believes is an important piece of the coming new space economy: ultra-tiny satellites.

Sure, the four-inch CubeSat standard is small… and craft like Swarm Technologies’ SpaceBEEs are even smaller. But the satellites tested by Manchester are tiny. We’re talking Triscuit size here — perhaps Wheat Thin, or even Cheez-It.

The KickSat project started back in 2011, when Manchester and his colleagues did a Kickstarter to raise funds for about 300 “Sprite” satellites that would be launched to space and deployed on behalf of backers. It was a success, but unfortunately once launched a glitch caused the satellites to burn up before being deployed. Manchester was undeterred and the project continued.

He worked with Cornell University and NASA Ames to redesign the setup, and as part of that he and collaborator Andy Filo collected a prize for their clever 3D-printed deployment mechanism. The Sprites themselves are relatively simple things: essentially an unshielded bit of PCB with a solar panel, antennas and electronics on board to send and receive signals.

The “mothership” launched in November to the ISS, where it sat for several months awaiting an opportunity to be deployed. That opportunity came on March 17: all 105 Sprites were sprung out into low Earth orbit, where they began communicating with each other and (just barely) to ground stations.

Deployment would have looked like this… kind of. Probably a little slower.

This isn’t the start of a semi-permanent thousands-strong constellation, though — the satellites all burned up a few days later, as planned.

“This was mostly a test of deployment and communication systems for the Sprites,” Manchester explained in an email to TechCrunch. The satellites were testing two different signals: “Specially designed CDMA signals that enable hundreds of Sprites to simultaneously communicate with a single ground station at very long range and with very low power,” and “simpler signals for short-range networking between Sprites in orbit.”

The Cygnus spacecraft with the KickSat-2 CubeSat attached — it’s the little gold thing right by where the docking arm is attached.

This proof of concept is an important one — it seems logical and practical to pack dozens or hundreds of these things into future missions, where they can be released into controlled trajectories providing sensing or communications relay capabilities to other spacecraft. And, of course, as we’ve already seen, the smaller and cheaper the spacecraft, the easier it is for people to access space for any reason: scientific, economic or just for the heck of it.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible for swarms of cheap, tiny satellites to one day carry out tasks now done by larger, costlier satellites, making it affordable for just about anyone to put instruments or experiments into orbit,” Manchester said in a Stanford news release. With launch costs dropping, it might not be long before you’ll be able to take ownership of a Sprite of your own.

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With no new Apple monitors, here are the best high-res screens for your Mac

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Enlarge / No larger M1-powered iMac yet.

Apple held its fall event was today, and the stars of the show were the M1 Pro and M1 Max announced for the new MacBook Pros. We even got new AirPods and word on macOS Monterey. But all was quiet on the displays front. Hope for a larger iMac with Apple Silicon to accompany the 24-inch model announced in April was not rewarded, and the Apple Pro Display XDR is still Apple’s only standalone monitor. If you were waiting for today’s event to help you select the next screen to run macOS on, we feel your pain. We can’t force Apple to release new displays, but we can round up some non-Apple PC monitors worth considering if you need something now.

But let’s get something out of the way first. Nothing can really compete with the iMac right now in terms of display resolution and computing power. Every display listed below is a monitor only; there are no all-in-one PCs here.

5K alternatives

One of the greatest advantages the iMac and Pro Display XDR have is their ridiculous pixel count. The iMac has what Apple calls a 4.5K resolution (4480 x 2520). And the Pro Display XDR claims 6K, or 6016 x 3384. Neither resolution is common, and 5K (5120 x 2880) options have more pixels than the iMac (14,745,600 versus 11,289,600 pixels). But pixel density, which affects how sharp the image looks, is determined by each monitor’s size.

LG 27MD5KL-B

LG 27MD5KL-B.

For $1,300, LG’s 27MD5KL-B offers a 5120 x 2880 resolution in a 27-inch screen. Because the iMac has a smaller screen, its pixel density is greater—218.7 pixels per inch (ppi) versus 217.6 ppi—but you’d have to get really close to notice the difference, if you do at all. You’re likely to notice the LG’s slightly larger size (27 inches diagonally versus 23.5 inches) more immediately.

Both the LG 27MD5KL-B and iMac claim up to 500 nits of brightness. Both also claim coverage of the DCI-P3 color space, with the LG said to hit 99 percent. Plus, the monitor works with macOS, so you can tweak monitor settings, like brightness and volume, from macOS.

You get a Thunderbolt 3 port with 94 W Power Delivery, as well as three USB-C (Gen 3) ports rather than the two to four (depending on the configuration) USB 4 ports on the iMac.

MSI Prestige PS341WU

MSI Prestige PS341WU.
Enlarge / MSI Prestige PS341WU.

OK, this isn’t perfect 5K. Because it’s an ultrawide-screen (32:9 aspect ratio), the resolution is different. 5120 x 2160 equals 11,059,200 pixels, so it’s only slightly under the iMac’s count. Pixel density is a lower 163.4 ppi, but the display is also larger than the iMac.

The PS341WU’s 450 nits isn’t quite as bright as the iMac (and way dimmer than the Pro Display). You do, however, get USB-C, DisplayPort, and, unlike with Apple’s displays, HDMI, although that’s limited to a 3840×2160 resolution.

The PS341WU currently goes for $1,000.

LG 34WK95U-W

LG 34WK95U-W.

Like the MSI display above, the LG 34WK95U-W means you sacrifice a bit in resolution (5120 x 2160), but you get an impressive 98 percent coverage of P3 and a slightly higher contrast claim (1,200:1) than the average IPS screen. Again, the screen is a smidgen dimmer than an iMac, but with a screen this large, 450 nits should be plenty for most indoor environments.

The display costs about $1,300, and Thunderbolt 3 makes things more Mac-friendly.

Pixel-heavy ultrawides

If you’re after a lot of pixels, ultrawides are good way to get them while gaining a lot of screen real estate. Pixel density is way lower than the Apple monitors, but you may be willing to sacrifice some of that for an immersive screen.

Samsung 49
Enlarge / Samsung 49″ CRG9.

There are numerous 5120 x 1440 ultrawides available, but if you want to come closer to matching Apple displays’ brightness and color, take a look at the Samsung 49-inch CRG9. It’s massive, which makes its $1,200-ish price more digestible, but that also means the display is harder to find a home for. It claims up to 1,000 nits of brightness and 95 percent of P3. However, there are only HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB-A ports here.

If you can find it, the Philips 499P9H, on the other hand, has a built in USB-C docking station. At a claimed 350 nits, brightness isn’t as high as the aforementioned displays, but its VA panel claims three times the contrast (3,000:1) as the typical IPS panel.

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Apple’s 3rd-generation AirPods arrive next week with a new design, spatial audio

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Enlarge / The third-generation Apple AirPods.

Apple

Today, Apple announced an update to its popular AirPods true wireless earbuds. The new third-generation model features a slightly revamped design that looks more like the higher-end AirPods Pro, with shorter stems and a similar touch-based “force sensor” control scheme built-in. Their charging case takes after the shorter and wider design of the Pro model as well.

The new AirPods retain their usual hard plastic finish and do not have in-ear tips like the AirPods Pro, though Apple says they are now officially IPX4-rated for sweat and water resistance. Apple says the earbuds have six hours of battery life and up to 30 hours when including the charging case. (That’s compared to five and 24 hours, respectively, on the second-gen model.) The included case supports MagSafe and wireless charging, though the earbuds do not feature active noise cancellation or a transparency mode like their pricier siblings.

Though the second-gen AirPods were renowned more for their ease of use than their audio quality, Apple says it has updated them with a redesigned driver and an adaptive EQ feature that automatically tunes your music based on the AirPods’ fit in your ear. The earbuds will also use Apple’s spatial audio tech, which makes audio sound like it is coming from around the user’s head. To help with that, the new AirPods support dynamic head tracking like the AirPods Pro and the over-ear AirPods Max. We’ll have to get our hands on the new model to see how they perform.

The third-gen AirPods cost $179 and are available to order online today, with in-store availability starting October 26. Notably, Apple will continue to sell the existing second-gen AirPods for $129 alongside the new pair.

A list of features found in the third-generation AirPods, courtesy of Apple.
Enlarge / A list of features found in the third-generation AirPods, courtesy of Apple.

Apple

The first AirPods launched in 2016 and promised better wireless stability and ease of use than other Bluetooth headphones, thanks to Apple’s W1 chip. The second generation, which was released in early 2019, featured a new chip called the H1 and offered “Hey Siri” support, lower latency, and longer talk times. Apple then released two higher-end offshoots of the AirPods brand, both with active noise canceling: the in-ear AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

Alongside the launch of the new AirPods, Apple launched a plan for its Apple Music streaming service. The “Voice Plan,” as it’s called, costs $5 per month and gives access to the Apple Music library solely via Siri voice commands (and thus, other Apple devices). Apple says the plan will be available in 17 countries and regions later this fall. It will exist alongside the current individual and family plans, which cost $10 and $15 a month, respectively.

The company also launched a variety of new colors for the HomePod mini. The diminutive smart home speaker will now come in blue, orange, and yellow alongside the traditional white and black. The finishes will be available in November at the same $99 price as before.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Starts at $1,999, ends at $6,099: Here’s what the new MacBook Pros will cost you

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Enlarge / Apple’s new MacBook Pros (and the 13-inch M1 model that’s still hanging around).

The new Apple Silicon-based MacBook Pros are here, and Apple’s presentation on the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips made both chips look like a dramatic improvement over the Intel processors and Intel and AMD GPUs they’ll be replacing.

The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, and the 16-inch model starts at $2,499. Both of those configurations get you an M1 Pro processor, 16GB of memory, and 512GB of storage, and both represent only minor price increases from the MacBook Pros they’re replacing. But things quickly get complicated from there.

Even though Apple technically only announced two new chips today, both the M1 Pro and M1 Max come in an array of different configurations with different numbers of CPU and GPU cores (just like the M1). This is common in chipmaking—if you make an M1 Pro with one or two defective GPU cores, then selling it as a lower-end model is a sensible alternative to just throwing the chip out entirely. But this decision does complicate Apple’s high-level performance numbers slightly, and it means that you’ll still need to choose between multiple processor options when you’re shopping for a new MacBook Pro.

To help demystify this situation a bit and save you some clicking, we’ve pored over Apple’s Store pages for the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros to summarize the cost of all the upgrades. Let’s start by listing the varieties of M1 Pro and M1 Max you can actually buy.

There are three versions of the M1 Pro:

  • 8-core CPU with 6 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores, plus a 14-core GPU. This is the one in the $1,999 version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
  • 10-core CPU with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores, plus a 14-core GPU.
  • 10-core CPU with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores, plus a 16-core GPU. This is the one you get in the $2,499 16-inch MacBook Pro.

And there are two versions of the M1 Max. Upgrading to the M1 Max in either MacBook Pro also requires a $400 upgrade from 16GB of RAM to 32GB of RAM.

  • 10-core CPU with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores, plus a 24-core GPU.
  • 10-core CPU with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores, plus a 32-core GPU.

So here’s what each of those configuration options will cost you. Stepping up from the M1 Pro to the M1 Max is easily the biggest jump, costing at least $900 for the 14-inch Pro and $600 for the 16-inch model:

 14-inch MacBook Pro 16-inch MacBook Pro 
 M1 Pro (8 CPU, 14 GPU, 16GB) $1,999 N/A
 M1 Pro (10 CPU, 14 GPU, 16GB) $2,199 N/A
 M1 Pro (10 CPU, 16 GPU, 16GB) $2,299 $2,499
 M1 Max (10 CPU, 24 GPU, 32GB) $2,899 $3,099
 M1 Max (10 CPU, 32 GPU, 32GB) $3,099 $3,299

If you want to use 64GB of RAM, Apple requires an upgrade to the M1 Max. The upgrade from 32GB to 64GB costs an additional $400 on top of what the M1 Max and 32GB of RAM already cost.

 14-inch MacBook Pro 16-inch MacBook Pro 
 M1 Max (10 CPU, 24 GPU, 32GB) $2,899 $3,099
 M1 Max (10 CPU, 24 GPU, 64GB) $3,299 $3,499
 M1 Max (10 CPU, 32 GPU, 32GB) $3,099 $3,299
 M1 Max (10 CPU, 32 GPU, 64GB) $3,499 $3,699

While the CPU, GPU, and RAM upgrades are all intertwined, storage upgrades are a bit simpler. All of the prices above include a 512GB SSD, and you add the following amounts to any configuration to upgrade from 512GB to any of the following storage tiers:

  • +$200 for 1TB
  • +$600 for 2TB
  • +$1,200 for 4TB
  • +$2,400 for 8TB

A fully maxed-out 14-inch MacBook Pro can cost as much as $5,899 before adding AppleCare or any other software, while the 16-inch model tops out at $6,099.

Apple rarely comments on supply issues, but the new MacBook Pros are going to be hard to get for the foreseeable future—higher-end configurations of the 16-inch Pro with the M1 Max and 32GB or 64GB of RAM are already showing shipping estimates of mid- to late December, though the 14-inch model is holding up a bit better so far. These are Mac shortages we haven’t seen since the days of the 2013 Mac Pro.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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