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SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket for third time

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(Image: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 rocket from California carrying 64 small satellites into low orbit around the Earth, which the company called the largest-ever “ride share” mission by a US-based rocket.

The mission, dubbed SSO-A, also marked the third voyage to space for the same Falcon 9 rocket — another milestone for SpaceX’s cost-cutting reusable rocket technology.

The Falcon 9 blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10.34am local time, carrying satellites from 34 different companies, government agencies, and universities.

SpaceX said the mission was “one of the most complex and intricate endeavours” for Seattle-based startup Spaceflight, the ride-share company that arranged passage for each satellite maker.

The mission comes days after India fired a rocket carrying 31 satellites from eight different countries into space.

After the launch, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster returned to earth as planned, landing on a ship off the coast of southern California, according to a live video of the flight.

However, the Falcon 9’s payload fairing — an enclosure that protected the satellites during launch — missed a landing net on the barge and ended up in the ocean.

“Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water,” Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive officer, said on Twitter. He said the boat was moving to pick them up.

“Plan is to dry them out & launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim,” Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, said on Twitter.

Hitching a ride on the Falcon rocket was a satellite from Australian Internet of Things (IoT) satellite technology startup Myriota, which will be put into a sun-synchronous orbit and add to the company’s existing constellation.

“We are committed to delivering superior satellite connectivity, and today’s launch is a valuable step in developing our direct-to-orbit communications capability,” co-founder and CTO Dr David Haley said.

“New and existing devices using Myriota technology will benefit, and we’re excited to see the impact across a variety of different sectors.”

Last month, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) announced using Myriota technology to trial ocean drifters that report back to base.

The low-cost drifters allow AIMS to receive data in “near-real time”, the agency said in a statement.

“Because they connect to LEO satellites, they avoid issues like coverage dropouts and connectivity issues that come from using traditional mobile phone networks,” AIMS technology development team leader Melanie Olsen said.

According to Myriota, the drifters monitor location, currents, sea surface water temperatures, and barometric pressure, and, in future, AIMS will be able to get oceanographic data every hour.

In November, SpaceX received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to construct, deploy, and operate in excess of 7,000 satellites at very-low-Earth orbit, which is expected to boost internet connectivity across the globe.

The FCC also granted SpaceX’s request to add the 37.5-42GHz and 47.2-50.2GHz frequency bands to its previously authorised non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) constellation.

The authorisation allows SpaceX to expand its geographic coverage and will give the aerospace startup the green light to support broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users globally.

During the same month, Musk said that there is a 70 percent chance he will go to Mars on the SpaceX Starship and stay there.

“Your probability of dying on Mars is much higher than Earth. Really, the ad for going to Mars would be like the Shackleton’s ad for going to the Antarctic,” he said.

“It’s going to be hard, there’s a good chance of death going on a little can through deep space.”

Starship is the new name for SpaceX’s BFR.

With AAP

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2022 Honda Passport is hitting the rally circuit

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The 2022 Honda Passport is hitting the rally circuit as the Japanese automaker fortifies its motorsports pedigree. And similar to the Honda HPD Ridgeline that competed at the recently concluded Rebelle Rally, the Passport is going rallying with a team of Honda engineers led by suspension test engineer and driver Chris Sladek and chassis design engineer and co-driver Gabriel Nieves. Both men are from Honda’s North American Auto Development Center in East Liberty, Ohio.

Honda recently debuted its redesigned 2022 Passport five-seat crossover SUV, which now gets a more rugged TrailSport variant with chunkier aesthetics, 18-inch wheels, and 8.1-inches of ground clearance. However, the rally version is the brainchild of the Honda Performance Development (HPD) Maxxis Rally racing team. It has 17-inch BRAID Winrace T rally wheels, Maxxis RAZR M/T or RAZR A/T tires, rear differential skid plates, and an aluminum oil pan cover to protect vital underpinnings from impacts and bumps.

Other changes include protective high-density polyethylene panels on the fuel tank, Carbotech XP12 brake pads, and racing-bred brake fluid to offer reliable stopping power. It also has OMP racing seats with six-point competition harnesses, a roll cage, a rally computer, and a fire suppression system. Of course, it gets distinctive exterior livery courtesy of HPD.

The Passport rally car is also lighter than stock with Lexan polycarbonate rear glass and deleted rear seats. Other changes like a hydraulic handbrake are mandatory, while the modified exhaust offers a louder exhaust sound while reducing engine backpressure to improve performance.

Meanwhile, there are no changes under the hood. The 2022 Honda Passport rally car is hitting the rally circuits with a stock 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 engine, a nine-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters, and i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system. “The fact that we didn’t make any modifications to the 2022 Honda Passport’s drivetrain or suspension for such punishing terrain and competition speaks volumes to the capability and performance that comes standard in the Passport,” said driver Chris Sladek.

Honda’s Passport rally truck made its racing debut at the Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR) in Michigan last October 15 to 16. The team finished 22nd out of 42 regional competitors while placing 4th out of six in the Limited 4WD class. The Passport will see more action throughout the 2022 American Rally Association (ARA) series.

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The 2022 Honda Civic Si aims right for the sweet-spot

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Honda promised something hotter from the 11th Gen Civic line, and the 2022 Civic Si is just that. Taking the well-received Civic Sedan, and then pumping in some extra performance, it should bridge the gap between now and the new Civic Type R expected to launch sometime next year – and be more affordable than that car, too.

It’s got some solid underpinnings to start from, with both the Civic Sedan and the Civic Hatchback getting praise for their handling and poise. This new Civic Si, meanwhile, upgrades Honda’s turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine, and then pairs it with a 6-speed manual transmission.

The engine is good for 200 horsepower arriving at 6,000 rpm, with a 6,500 rpm redline. Torque is 192 lb-ft, now arriving between 1,800 and 5,000 rpm; that, Honda points out, is 300 rpm sooner than the outgoing car. The broader power curve and a lighter flywheel should make for a car that responds more rapidly, the automaker promises.

As for the transmission, it’s an improved 6-speed manual with the rev-matching system from the Civic Type R. The result, Honda says, is a better feel and 10-percent shorter throws. You’ll have to like it, mind, since Honda won’t be offering the 2022 Civic Si with an automatic option. Fuel economy comes in at 27 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined.

A helical limited-slip front differential is standard, along with a new Active Sound Control system which boosts the natural engine noise in the cabin. Honda insists it’ll add to, rather than detract from, the overall driving experience. Bigger brakes have been fitted, with 12.3-inch front rotors growing a whole 1.2-inches over the standard Civic Sedan, while the rear rotors grow almost an inch to 11.1-inches total. 235/40R18 all-season performance rubber is standard, with summer tires a factory option.

As with the Sedan and Hatchback, the new Si benefits from the 11th Gen Civic’s stiffer body and longer wheelbase. Honda then adds 8-percent stiffer front springs and 54-percent stiffer rear springs, together with new dampers, reinforced upper front MacPherson struts for better cornering, and thicker front and rear stabilizer bars to cut body roll. The Type R donates compliance bushings, upper arms, and lower B-arms, while steering gets an upgrade courtesy of a stiffer torsion bar.

There are still Normal and Sport drive modes, but an Individual mode has been added. That allows the driver to choose their mix of engine response, steering weight, and instrumentation theme settings.

Outside, there’s a new upper front bumper, a reworked rear bumper with twin oval exhaust tips, a front spoiler, and a gloss black rear spoiler. More gloss black appears on the mirrors and window surrounds, and Honda makes LED lighting front and rear standard, too. 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels – in an Si-specific matte black – are standard, too, and the Blazing Orange Pearl paint is exclusive to the car as well.

Inside, Si-exclusive sport seats with integrated head restraints and more shoulder and lower thigh support are included, along with sport pedals and red contrast stitching. The honeycomb dash panel is carried over, but with red trim now. A 7-inch driver display and 9-inch infotainment touchscreen are standard, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Honda also adds the 12-speaker Bose audio system, and Honda Sensing is standard, too.

Pricing will be confirmed closer to the 2022 Civic Si’s arrival in dealerships later in 2021.

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Toyota Tacozilla inspired by 1970s Chinook campervans to debut at SEMA

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We bet you haven’t heard of the Toyota Chinook campervan, but we’re pretty sure you’ll be looking forward to Toyota’s Tacozilla campervan concept at this year’s SEMA show in November. The Toyota Chinook is a collaboration between the Japanese automaker and American wagon maker Chinook RV. The first Toyota Chinooks entered the market in 1973 and were essentially motorhomes with a pop-up roof built on a long-wheelbase Toyota half-ton truck chassis.

And since it’s a Toyota, Chinook campervans have the same bulletproof reliability as Toyota trucks. The folks at Toyota’s motorsports tech center in Texas created Tacozilla with the Chinook in mind, but it now has a more contemporary design to cope with seriously rugged terrain.

Starting with a Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport manual, the team conceptualized a bed-mounted micro-house with a cab-over design and a stubby rear end to lessen the approach and departure angles, making it effortless to find a suitable camping spot in the wild outdoors. According to project manager Marty Schwerter, Tacozilla will be sleeker, more aerodynamic, and more fuel-efficient than any Toyota Chinook before it, not to mention more off-road capable than ever before.

Toyota claims the camper is tall enough for a six-foot two-inch person to stand while cooking meals in the built-in kitchenette. The home quarters will also have a table, a standard toilet, and a two-person bed. Tacozilla will also come in a unique retro-inspired red, white, and orange livery as those vintage Chinook campervans. “Racecars are cool looking,” added Schwerter. “I want campers to be cool looking, too.”

And while the old Chinooks were motivated by Toyota’s 18R motor, Tacozilla will have a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine with 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The initial rendering also features unique off-road wheels and chunkier Cooper Discoverer all-terrain tires.

Unlike other concepts, the Toyota Tacozilla is as real as it gets. The automaker is working overtime in finishing the prototype just in time for the 2021 SEMA Show this November 2 to 5, 2021. The question is, can we expect Tacozillas at Toyota dealerships soon? If Toyota did it in the early 1970s, we could see no reason it won’t be doing it again. But will Tacozilla be as cool as those retrolicious Chinook camper vans? We’ll have to wait for SEMA to find out.

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