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Razer introduces Studio Edition mobile workstation version of its Blade 15 laptop



Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition

While best known for its gaming hardware, Razer has also dipped its foot into the enterprise space with some offerings like the Blade Pro laptop for mobile creative professionals. After all, it makes sense to cater to the game designers that will be creating the titles that will have gamers buying Razer’s other products. As a sign that it had succeeded in making a mark with the Blade Pro, Razer was listed this summer as one of Nvidia’s partners for its RTX Studio program, which combines its latest and greatest video cards with drivers optimized to work with ray-tracing, AI, and video editing apps for digital content creation.

The laptop promised during Nvidia’s announcement has finally arrived in the form of the Blade 15 Studio Editon, which goes beyond the Blade 15 Advanced in terms of both performance and price. The top Advanced model includes Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q card with 8GB of video RAM (VRAM), along with 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage for a hefty price of $3,299.99. At $3,999.99, the Blade 15 Studio Edition carries an even heftier price, but the bump in specs may be worth it for creative pros.

The upgraded components include the Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000, which doubles the amount of VRAM of the GeForce RTX 2080 and is designed specifically for visual effects applications. The Studio Edition also comes with 32GB of RAM and a terabyte of storage, while retaining the Intel Core i7-9750H six-core processor, 15.6-inch 4K OLED touchscreen display, and the “Mercury White” chassis of the Blade 15 Advanced.

One difference in the display between the Advanced and Studio laptops is that the Studio Edition uses the DCI-P3 color gamut, which is used in digital cinema, instead of the sRGB one. That shouldn’t come as a total surprise given the other upgrades made to the Studio Edition to appeal to content creators working in 4K ultra-high resolution and beyond. The Studio version also weights about 0.25-pound more than the Advanced, though each tips the scales at under 5 pounds. 

[Via Engadget] 

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Rocket Report: SpaceX explains landing failure, More on New Glenn delays



Enlarge / In mid-February a Falcon 9 launch was successful, but the first stage failed to land.


Welcome to Edition 3.35 of the Rocket Report! There is an incredible amount of launch news this week, but I want to start with this: my new book on the origins of SpaceX, Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX, was published this week. Early reviews have been tremendous, and if you’re at all interested in the company, or just want a rollicking story, please check it out.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab unveils plans for larger rocket. This week, the US rocket company said it had plans to go public, as well as develop a “Neutron” rocket capable of launching as much as 8 tons to low Earth orbit. “Rocket Lab solved small launch with Electron. Now we’re unlocking a new category with Neutron,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, in a news release. The company plans an initial launch in 2024 but is only now beginning work on a new engine.

Another space SPAC … The company also said it planned to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, with Vector Acquisition Company. The public offering will allow Rocket Lab to raise the funds needed to accelerate its growth plans, including development of the Neutron vehicle. Ars has interviewed Peter Beck about these plans and will go deeper in a forthcoming article. (submitted by EllPeaTea, platykurtic, and Ken the Bin)

NASA awards Mars ascent rocket contract. The space agency has awarded the Mars Ascent Propulsion System contract to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation as part of its efforts to retrieve rock samples from the surface of Mars. The cost-plus, fixed-fee contract has a potential mission services value of $60.2 million and a maximum potential value of $84.5 million, NASA said.

Much work to do … Coupled with the successful touchdown of the Mars Perseverance rover, this award moves NASA and ESA one step closer to realizing the Mars Sample Return mission. This two-stage rocket will be a critical element in supporting the mission to retrieve and return the samples that the Mars Perseverance rover will collect for return to Earth. There’s still a long way to go, and we shouldn’t expect samples to land on Earth before the end of the 2020. But this is a positive step forward.

The easiest way to keep up with Eric Berger’s space reporting is to sign up for his newsletter, we’ll collect his stories in your inbox.

Astra nabs NASA contracts for TROPICS missions. NASA said it has selected Astra Space to provide launch services for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats, or TROPICS mission. Launches of the constellation of six CubeSats will begin as early as next year.

Eye on the storm … The launch service contract for the TROPICS mission is a firm fixed-price contract valued at $7.95 million, and it will be composed of three separate launches of Astra rockets. The CubeSats will provide rapid-refresh microwave measurements that can be used to determine temperature, pressure, and humidity inside hurricanes as they form and evolve. This is a nice contract win for Astra and will likely bolster the confidence of other potential customers in its launch system. Related: Astra reveals its 100-year plan to SpaceNews. (submitted by Ken the Bin and platykurtic)

India launches its first mission of 2021. On Saturday, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle sent Brazil’s Amazonia-1 Earth observation satellite and 18 smaller payloads into orbit. The mission was hailed as the first dedicated commercial mission of NewSpace India Limited, a Government of India company under the Department of Space, SpaceNews reports.

Getting back on track … The launch is India’s first of a 2021, following a 2020 severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Satish Dhawan Space Center carried out its first (and only) 2020 mission in November with the launch of the EOS-1 Earth observation satellite and nine smaller payloads. India is expected to launch a number of missions in the coming months including the flight of the country’s first geostationary Earth observation satellite. (submitted by platykurtic and Ken the Bin)

SpaceX wins hypersonics heat shield contract. The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded SpaceX an $8.5 million contract to investigate advanced materials and manufacturing techniques for heat shields that protect hypersonic vehicles in flight, SpaceNews reports. An AFRL spokesman said this was a competitive program with multiple bidders.

Re-entry gets hot … Heat protection is a critical technology to shield hypersonic vehicles from the intense heat experienced when flying at more than five times the speed of sound. SpaceX has previously developed advanced heat-shielding systems to protect the Dragon human spaceflight capsule and its next-generation Starship space exploration vehicle. (submitted by Rendgrish)

Starliner launch slips to indefinite. Recently, NASA announced that it was delaying the launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, on an Atlas V rocket, from March 25 to April 2. Now, the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission has been delayed again, with no new date set. In a news release, NASA attributed to the delay to “winter storms in Houston and the recent replacement of avionics boxes.” This set the program back about two weeks.

Launch a couple of months away … The winter storms were no picnic (trust me), but power was restored to most homes and businesses that lost electricity after about three days. NASA cited other factors it is weighing in setting a new date, including “the volume of verification and validation analysis required prior to the test flight and the visiting vehicle schedule at the International Space Station.” Sources said the launch was now likely to occur no earlier than late May. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Relativity Space plans Falcon 9 competitor. Relativity Space, the 3D-printing rocket builder, is making another big bet: developing a fully reusable rocket, designed to match the power and capability of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. Called Terran R, the reusable rocket is “really an obvious evolution” from the company’s Terran 1 rocket, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC.

Not skipping Terran 1 … “I’ve always been a huge fan of reusability. No matter how you look at it, even with 3D printing, and dropping the cost, and [increasing the] automation of a launch vehicle, making it reusable has got to be part of that future,” Ellis added. The company said it is still committed to developing the smaller Terran 1 rocket, which is scheduled for its first flight later this year. (submitted by gavron and Ken the Bin)

SpaceX updates on Falcon 9 landing failure. On February 16, during its sixth mission to orbit, a Falcon 9 rocket first stage successfully delivered its payload of 60 satellites into low Earth orbit. However the booster then failed to make a safe landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Watch out for boot holes … This week, during a news conference for the upcoming Crew-2 mission, SpaceX’s Benji Reed provided an update on what happened. A Merlin rocket engine boot developed a hole and sent hot gas to “where it wasn’t supposed to be,” Reed said, and shut down during first stage flight. There was therefore not enough thrust for landing. The company continues to investigate. (submitted by Ken the Bin, platykurtic, and JohnCarter17)

Cape Canaveral assessing launch weather rules. Spaceflight Now has an interesting article this week on the lengths that US Space Force officials are going to work with companies like SpaceX to accommodate their launch windows and cope with weather. This includes strategies to prepare for two different launch windows on a given day to guard against weather delays.

Some fine forecasting … In an interview with the publication, SpaceX advisor Hans Koenigsmann praised the Space Force officials. He said the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, which tracks launch weather conditions at Cape Canaveral, is “absolutely amazing.” “The level of detail that we get is remarkable, how good the forecast is,” Koenigsmann said. “There are launches where we work the entire time with the weather officer and try to find the right time.” All of this is being done to increase the number of launches the Cape can conduct in a given year. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Next OneWeb launch on track. This week, Roscosmos said the next launch of OneWeb satellites, due to occur later this month, will be the second fully commercial launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia. It is being conducted by European launch-service supplier Arianespace for OneWeb, using the Soyuz launch vehicle.

Scrambling to catch up … The satellites have already arrived at the spaceport for integration with the rocket. The mission will add 36 satellites to the existing OneWeb constellation of 110 satellite. OneWeb is seeking to accelerate the implementation of its satellite Internet service as SpaceX continues launching about 120 Starlink internet satellites a month.

Starship makes its third high-altitude test flight. The Starship prototype dubbed SN10 landed this time, after the previous two flights had failed. For about 10 minutes, it stood there. Suddenly, the vehicle briefly rose upward in a violent explosion and crashed back into the pad. This landing was unquestionably a step forward, as SpaceX engineers seem to have figured out the vexing issues with propellant and Raptor relighting that had scuttled the two previous landing attempts.

But is it enough forward progress? … What we don’t know is how NASA will see this, Ars reports. Will it be deemed a positive? Or as a negative, with the third destruction of a Starship in three flights? This matters as the agency gets closer to a down-select next month for its Human Landing System contract that could see billions of dollars flow to SpaceX for its Starship program—or not. NASA may decide to go with more conventional landers under development by teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics.

NASA vet George Abbey says SLS rocket should be reconsidered. In a policy brief for the Biden administration, Abbey—the former director of Johnson Space Center and an influential, long-time human spaceflight leader—offered an overview of the Space Launch System rocket. The goal of the document was to provide decision-makers “relevant and effective ideas” for supporting to nation’s policy goals.

Launch costs should matter … “In view of the current availability of a significant number of commercial launch vehicles with proven payload capabilities, as well as the industry’s progress in providing a launch vehicle with significantly greater lift capabilities, the Biden administration should reconsider the need for the SLS during its annual budget review,” writes Abbey, who is now a senior fellow in space policy for Rice University.

Some explanation on why New Glenn was delayed. Ars provides a behind-the-scenes report on why New Glenn is now unlikely to launch before 2023 at least. The biggest takeaway is that Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos made the critical decision to leap directly from New Shepard to New Glenn, without an interim step in between. “It’s like if NASA had gone straight from Alan Shepard to the Saturn V rocket, but then also had to make the Saturn V reusable,” one source noted.

Step-by-step, but not always? … The story also discusses the management style of Bob Smith, who became CEO of Blue Origin in 2017 and has been trying to implement a culture transformation from hobby shop to major aerospace corporation. Some employees have struggled with his leadership style and complained that he has acted too slowly. Another factor in the delay is that Blue Origin simply has higher priorities right now, particularly finishing the BE-4 engine for United Launch Alliance and competing for the Human Landing System contract from NASA.

Next three launches

March 8: Falcon 9 | Starlink-20 | Cape Canaveral, Florida | 03:41 UTC

March 12: Long March 7A | XJY-06 02 | Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, China | 13:34 UTC

March 20: Soyuz 2.1a | Ride-share mission including Astroscale ELSA-d mission | Baikonur Cosmodrome | TBD

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Meet Maxwell’s gambling demon—smart enough to quit while it’s ahead



Enlarge / In a new version of the classic 19th century thought experiment, Maxwell’s demon plays the role of a gambler who knows when to quit while it’s ahead.

Aurich Lawson / Getty Images

Entropy (aka the second law of thermodynamics) is a harsh mistress. If you think of the universe as a cosmic casino, the laws of thermodynamics amount to the house edge: you can’t win, you can’t break even, and—barring opening a portal to an alternate universe with different physical laws—you can’t get out of the game. You just have to keep playing, and hopefully come up with successful strategies to minimize your losses as much as possible—and maybe even come out ahead occasionally, at least in the short term.

That’s the essence of a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, updating a classic 19th century thought experiment known as Maxwell’s demon, which provides a potential loophole to subvert the second law—at least temporarily. Now physicists have proposed a gambling version of the demon playing a slot machine, unable to control when the machine pays out (in terms of free energy available for work), but able to choose when to stop playing to maximize its “winnings.” The research might one day lead to improved efficiency of microscopic heat engines and motors.

As we’ve reported previously, around 1870, James Clerk Maxwell envisioned a tiny imp capable of creating order out of disorder in a closed container filled with gas. The imp accomplished this by making heat flow from a cold compartment to a hot one in apparent violation of the second law. The two compartments would be separated by a wall with a shutter covering a pinhole just large enough for a gas molecule to pass through. 

Maxwell’s hypothetical imp would perch atop the dividing wall and open and close the shutter at will. Gas molecules would generally be highly disordered (high entropy), in the sense that they have roughly the same average speed and temperature, and would therefore be close to equilibrium. So there would not be much energy available for “work”—defined in physics as the force over a given distance (W=fd).

Because the atoms that make up the molecules are constantly in motion, there will be small fluctuations over time. Whenever the demon spots a molecule moving a bit faster near the pinhole in the right (cold) compartment, it will open the shutter and let it pass through to the left (hot) compartment. It does the same for any slow-moving gas molecules in the left compartment, allowing them to pass into the colder right compartment. So the molecules in the left compartment get hotter and hotter, while the ones in the right get colder and colder, in an apparent reversal of entropy. Once you have that temperature difference, you basically have a heat pump capable of performing useful work.

Statistically, of course, it’s well nigh impossible to sort and separate billions of single molecules by speed or temperature. In principle, a huge amount of additional energy would be required. Maxwell’s demon supplies that extra energy, so the thought experiment is not a truly closed system, and there’s no violation of the second law.

Physicists have come up with some pretty clever experiments to bring some version of the demon to the laboratory. For instance, Scottish scientists devised an “information ratchet” in 2007 to create a temperature difference in chemical systems that would otherwise be in thermal equilibrium. The following year, University of Oregon researchers devised an ingenious version using laser light to create a box, with two other lasers to serve as a trapdoor barrier and a sorting “demon,” respectively.

In the new thought experiment, the demon repeatedly plays a slot machine that might or might not pay out free energy (gold coins). The demon employs a strategy that allows it to either keep playing for a fixed time period (right) or to decide to stop sooner if the winnings are good (left).
Enlarge / In the new thought experiment, the demon repeatedly plays a slot machine that might or might not pay out free energy (gold coins). The demon employs a strategy that allows it to either keep playing for a fixed time period (right) or to decide to stop sooner if the winnings are good (left).

G. Manzano et al./APS/Alan Stonebraker

Japanese physicists figured out how to coax a nanoscale bead up a spiral staircase in a 2010 paper in Nature, based on the concept of Szilard’s engine. In 2013, German scientists built an experimental equivalent of Maxwell’s demon out of a pair of interacting quantum dots (tiny bits of semiconductors just a few nanometers wide). And in 2018, Penn State physicists rearranged a random array of atoms into organized blocks to create a quantum equivalent of Maxwell’s Demon.

For this latest paper, co-author Gonzalo Manzano of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, and his colleagues wondered if they could devise a strategy that didn’t require the high level of control of the original thought experiment, while still allowing the demon to create that all-important asymmetry to harvest energy for work. In this new version, the microscale demon can only passively observe as the shutter opens and closes automatically—and unpredictably. Depending on whether hot and cold particles are successfully being separated with each opening and closing of the shutter, the demon must choose whether to continue to “play” the game, or stop and start over.

In essence, the demon is gambling on the outcome of a molecular-scale slot machine, deciding after each spin whether to keep playing, or to stop. Each turn incurs a cost in work, akin to the cost of each spin. The gambling demon must determine the best strategy to eke out a temporary net gain in its energy winnings, by exploiting the occasional random fluctuations in the motion of the particles. “One way to develop successful strategies is to stop when things are somehow ‘getting bad’ to avoid major losses,” Manzano told APS Physics.

Scanning electron micrograph shows the device used to implement the gambling demon. The tapered structures on each side are electrodes from which single electrons can jump onto the strip-shaped copper island in between. Each jump is like a gas molecule passing through the demon’s shutter. 
Enlarge / Scanning electron micrograph shows the device used to implement the gambling demon. The tapered structures on each side are electrodes from which single electrons can jump onto the strip-shaped copper island in between. Each jump is like a gas molecule passing through the demon’s shutter. 

G. Manzano et al., 2021

Manzano et al. found that there was no single successful strategy: some “stopping” strategies were successful, and others were not, and even the successful ones only worked in the short term.  Play the game long enough, and entropy always wins out in the end. The authors found that the key to getting a temporary net energy gain for any given run is to ensure that the sequence of opening and closing the shutter breaks time-reversal symmetry (in keeping with the arrow of time that governs our macroscale existence).

This was born out by an experimental nanoelectronic device that the team set up with the help of Aalto University physicist Jukka Pekola, in which single electrons tunnel into a metallic island. As Philip Ball wrote at APS Physics:

[The device] consists of electrodes separated from a metallic island by a gap. When cooled to a fraction of a degree kelvin, individual electrons can jump between the island and the electrodes. A voltage applied to the island controls the chances of jumping and thus acts like a trapdoor. When an electron jumps onto the island, heat extracted from the electrode can be converted into work; conversely, when an electron jumps from the island to an electrode, heat is dissipated.

An approach like the gambling demon might one day improve the performance of micromotors like thermal ratchets. The researchers maintain that their gambling demon should also function in the quantum realm, raising the possibility of quantum devices that can temporarily beat the second law to extract work from random quantum jumps.

DOI: Physical Review Letters, 2021. 10.1103/PhysRevLett.126.080603  (About DOIs).

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Starship goes up. Starship goes down. But is the program moving forward?



So what, exactly, are we to make of the third flight of a full-scale Starship prototype?

If nothing else, Wednesday afternoon’s flight provided several minutes of first-rate entertainment: Rocketship goes up. Rocketship comes down. Rocketship lands. And then, with an incredible plot twist 10 minutes later, rocketship briefly ascends again and then blows up.

It all looked remarkable. Like many of the most inspiring things SpaceX has accomplished over the last decade, this launch, landing, and subsequent explosion looked almost otherworldly. It felt like a peek into the future, a glimpse of something yet unseen, that might yet be.

SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk seemed pleased after the flight. “SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” he tweeted.

So the Starship program is clearly making progress. But is it getting to where it needs to be? Three explosions in three flights are hard to ignore.

What happened

Let’s start with the technical details of Wednesday’s launch. Like the flights of SN8 and SN9, in December and February respectively, SN10 ascended to an altitude of about 10 km. This flight looked smoother than the previous ascents, but that could have been an optical illusion. Like those previous flights, SN10 then executed a belly flop maneuver and began falling toward Earth.

SN10 flight and destruction, from 5 miles away, shot by Trevor Mahlmann.

Unlike the earlier flights, this vehicle had no issues with relighting its Raptor engines. All three ignited as the vehicle neared the ground, and then one was shut off by design. With two engines, the vehicle completed its reorientation to a vertical position. Then, as intended, the vehicle touched down slowly on the landing pad with a single engine.

SpaceX engineers have been experiencing some difficulty with Starship’s stubby landing legs—they’re likely a temporary design fix, and at least some of them must have been crushed on Wednesday. It also looked like Starship may have briefly bounced. But the vehicle touched down, and although leaning, with a bit of a fire at the base, it made it back on the ground in one piece.

For about 10 minutes, it stood there. Suddenly, the vehicle briefly rose upward in violent explosion and crashed back into the pad. SN10 was no more. SpaceX has yet to provide details about what happened and likely won’t. However, informed sources suggested the accident may have been caused by a leaking valve, likely methane fuel. It is notoriously difficult to operate fuel valves at cryogenic temperatures.


SpaceX engineers must be delighted to have figured out the vexing issues with propellant and Raptor relighting that had scuttled the two previous landing attempts. This was a consistent problem with the Falcon 9 program, and its simpler Merlin engine design, in making a successful landing. For a Starship to land after only its third high altitude flight is notable.

SpaceX, too, will take away a lot of meaningful data from this launch, flight, and landing that it can use to refine both the design of Starship as well as its flight software.

What we don’t know is how NASA will see this. Will it be deemed as progress? Or as a negative, with the third destruction of a Starship in three flights? This matters as the agency gets closer to a down-select next month for its Human Landing System contract that could see billions of dollars flow to SpaceX for its Starship program—or not. NASA may decide to go with more conventional landers under development by teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics.

With that said, NASA is not stupid. Starship is undergoing a unique development program, progressing through rapid iterations and taking risks by design. Each failed mission buys down risk for future flights. It’s no accident that SpaceX is building a new Starship every two or three weeks in South Texas. Being hardware-rich means you can move fast, try, fail, try again, and ultimately succeed.

SpaceX first used this method to develop the Falcon 1 rocket, which made it to orbit in 2008 after several failures. And Musk now believes this method offers the straightest path toward getting Starship into orbit late this year or early next. Enough good things happened on Wednesday to believe he may just be right.

Listing image by Trevor Mahlmann

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