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OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit – TechCrunch

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Update: Launch and deployment successful!

After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, OneWeb is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. You can watch it live at OneWeb’s site here.

OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — SoftBank is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca-Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm and Airbus have all chipped in.

The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow.

Sound familiar? Of course, SpaceX’s side project, Starlink, has similar ambitions, with an even greater number of satellites planned, and Swarm is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and beam satellite connections directly to ordinary phones. And they’ve all launched satellites already!

The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC.

OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating — it has been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.”

At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel told the Financial times last month.

The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021.

Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward.

A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly.

Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

You can watch the launch at OneWeb’s site here.

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This enthusiast’s keyboard and trackball used to launch nuclear missiles

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There’s no telling what you’ll find on eBay—like an old keyboard and trackball originally dedicated to firing off nuclear missiles.

As detailed Tuesday by YouTube channel Pointless Tinkering, an enthusiast bought the keyboard off eBay simply because it “looked awesome” and had “some interesting buttons” saying things like “TRANSMIT,” “ABORT,” and “INITIATE.”

The keyboard and trackball were part of a larger control system for a nuclear missile silo command center. More specifically, the peripherals were part of a console used to launch Minuteman III missiles in the ’80s as part of the US Air Force’s Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) program.

As explained by the Cold War history site Nuclear Companion and cited by Pointless Tinkering, “There is one stunning difference between REACT and the old Command Data Buffer (CDB). While the CDB had two separated workstations, in REACT, both crew are side by side. In other words, they operate in a single console with keyboard and trackball included.”

The keyboard has reed switches, which use magnets to actuate. Other parts include an Intel MD82510/B chip as a serial controller, an Intel 8051-family microcontroller, and RS422 communication chips.

After grabbing the keyboard and trackball from eBay and learning about their history, the enthusiast went to work, armed with tools like an Arduino Pro Micro (which eventually got fried) and a programmer for the microcontroller, which he acquired through Dromeda Research. He also repaired the trackball that stopped working after purchase and got both the keyboard and trackball to work with modern computers with a USB port.

“All that reverse engineering led to me creating this little interface, which has the Arduino Micro, which can emulate a mouse and a keyboard,” the owner said. There’s even custom software for the keyboard.

Of course, there’s no RGB lighting, but some keys actually do have LEDs.

Not quite RGB.

Pointless Tinkering also highlighted a “BIT key” that seems to reset the keyboard.

According to the video, both the keyboard and trackball work like regular PC peripherals, save for the Ctrl, Alt, and down keys, making the Nuclear Keyboard, as the video dubbed it, “very hard to use as a normal, daily driver keyboard.”

Pointless Tinkering said he would try to address any issues that pop up in a follow-up video. Despite its flaws, the Nuclear Keyboard is still a fascinating testament to the power of old tech and fresh minds.

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Luna Display lets you wirelessly use a Mac as second Windows monitor

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Enlarge / A 24-inch iMac used as display for a Windows 11-based Lenovo Thinkpad.

Sometimes you just need more screen space. You can always buy a portable monitor, but what if you could just use the systems already in your home—whether they run Windows or macOS?

Luna Display is a product by Astropad that lets you turn an iPad into a wireless second display. The $130 offering uses a dongle and works with Windows PCs and Macs. Its “headless” mode turns the iPad into the main display for a Mac Mini or Mac Pro.

Luna Display’s 5.1 update, announced this week, adds even more possibilities. The dongle can now be used with any Apple machine—not just an iPad—to provide a second display for your Windows PC or Mac.

An iMac used as wireless display for a MacBook.
Enlarge / An iMac used as wireless display for a MacBook.

You’re not limited to Apple’s desktops or laptops, either; Luna Display now supports adding a 4K or 5K screen to your PC as a second display. That means you could attach the 24-inch iMac with a 4.5K (4480×2520) resolution or a 27-inch iMac with a 5K (5120×2880) resolution to your Windows or Mac PC.

There are some caveats, though. If you plan to connect a 4K or 5K Mac, the machine has to be running at least macOS Big Sur. Any 5K screen connected to your Windows PC will be limited to a 30 Hz refresh rate, which is half the refreshes per second than what’s typical (60 Hz). If you’re using a Mac with Big Sur or later, the refresh rate is increased to 45 Hz. And if you’re “only” connecting a 4K screen, your refresh rate will be 60 Hz, whether the display is connected to a Windows or Apple system.

Other additions with the Luna Display 5.1 update include support for Apple’s Magic Keyboard and trackpad with a Luna Display-connected iPad. Again, this feature works whether the iPad is connected to a Mac or PC.

Note that to use Luna Display in general, you must have a system with Windows 10 64-bit, Build 1809 or later, or macOS 10.11 El Capitan or later as your main PC. The iPad must run iOS 12.1 or later, and you need either 802.11n Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection.

With Apple and Windows historically living in such separate camps, it’s nice to see a product bring more platform agnosticism for those who aren’t completely committed to one side.

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Microsoft restores individual “default browser” setting in Windows 11 preview

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Aurich Lawson

It’s been a rough week for Microsoft’s Edge browser in the court of public opinion as users grumbled about the addition of a controversial “buy now, pay later” financing feature and another layer of pop-up messages that tries to dissuade users from installing Google Chrome. But Microsoft isn’t totally unresponsive to user criticism when it comes to Edge—the latest Dev channel Windows Insider build of Windows 11 restores a button in the Settings app for setting your default browser, something that existed in Windows 10 but is missing from the current stable version of Windows 11.

The change, originally spotted by developer Rafael Rivera, adds the default browser button to the top of the Settings app when you navigate to any browser in the “Default apps” section. The button automatically changes the default app for opening http, https, .htm, and .html files and links instead of making users change each of these associations manually (or relying on browser makers to build that capability into their browsers themselves).

For all the other file types that Microsoft Edge can handle, including PDFs, SVG files, and others, you’ll still need to change those associations manually and one at a time. But this is already how the default browser button worked in Windows 10, so it at least represents a reversion to the pre-Windows 11 status quo rather than a new hurdle to jump over.

Features being tested in the Dev channel builds of Windows are usually destined for the operating system’s next major servicing update, which for Windows 11 will happen sometime in the fall of 2022. Recent builds have begun to address some common complaints about Windows 11’s user interface changes, including tweaks to the Start menu and taskbar.

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