Hackaday links: June 19, 2022

Hackaday links: June 19, 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope has had a long and sometimes painful journey from its first conception to its eventual arrival at the L2 Lagrange point and subsequent commissioning. Except for the soft launch and rollout sequence, things have rarely gone well for the telescope, which has endured just about every bureaucratic, scientific, and technical indignity imaginable during its development. But now it’s time to see what this thing can do – almost. NASA has announced that July 12 will be “Image Release Day”, which will serve as Webb’s public debut. NASA’s relative radio silence on Webb since the mirror alignment was completed — aside from the recent micrometeoroid collision, of course — suggests the space agency has been busy with “first light” projects. So there’s good reason to hope that the first images Webb releases will be quite spectacular. Footage will drop at 10:30 a.m. EDT, so mark your calendars and prepare to be amazed. With a bit of luck.

Apparently, sitting in the middle of the ocean on a boat, even one built like a luxury hotel, can get pretty boring. That’s the tacit admission of cruise operator Royal Caribbean, which is seriously interested in getting Starlink satellite service on its cruise ship fleet. So much so that they are partnering with Starlink and asking the Federal Communications Commission to expedite the process of approving Starlink for use on moving vehicles. The FCC currently prohibits this use case, which we find a bit surprising given that Starlink land customers are supposed to be able to pay extra for “VR mode”, which allows them to move their terminal around. There’s a fine line between using the service at multiple stops along a route and just using it on the move, so maybe Royal Caribbean will get their wish. Personally, the addition of internet connectivity seems like the last thing that would really entice us aboard a cruise liner, but hey, whatever floats on your boat.

So you’ve managed to buy a new car – a neat trick considering the tumbleweed-strewn wasteland that most car lots look like these days – and you’ve managed to fill up the gas tank. What’s the next step in your journey to hospice? Why not sport a digital license plate on your new vehicle for just $25 more per month? The company that makes these plates, Reviver, says their offerings are approved for vehicles registered in California, Arizona, and now Michigan, and are legal for use in all states. They appear to be based on e-Ink technology which means you just get a monochrome rendering of the state license plate – which in the case of the standard Arizona plate is a bit shame. Reviver claims there are all sorts of benefits to paying a monthly fee for one of their plates, such as GPS-enabled telematics for tracking a stolen vehicle. We’d say the plate itself is more susceptible to theft, and while we don’t encourage that, we look forward to the inevitable teardowns when these things hit the aftermarket.

We’ve been skeptical of the future of electric planes, mainly because we doubt battery technology will ever achieve a power-to-weight ratio that will make something like an electric jet plane practical. But watching this video might make us rethink that position. The aircraft is built by Lilium and shows the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft making its first in-flight transition. The seven-passenger aircraft, which sports 36 electrically ducted fans in movable flaps on the trailing edge of its wings and front canards, takes off vertically but then transitions smoothly into forward flight with lift generated solely by its wings. It’s quite graceful and the plane itself is beautiful. The company says it will carry a full load of passengers 175 km using its VTOL capabilities, or a bit further if it can land without using thrust vectoring. An electric plane like this could make “Uber Air” technically possible, and it could have a huge impact on regional passenger travel and air cargo.

And finally, our friend Alberto Caballero shared a preprint of an article he was working on that, depending on how you look at it, might just serve as nightmare fuel. Titled “Estimating the Prevalence of Malevolent Extraterrestrial Civilizations,” the paper aims to assess the relative risk of Active SETI efforts, which seek to “reach out and touch someone” in the galaxy. Given that 100% of the galaxy’s known civilizations are unambiguously malevolent, and at least occasionally, it would seem that the odds of us announcing the galactic child villains are quite high. But Alberto, an astronomer who leads the Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project and came to the Hack Chat a while ago, calculates that being invaded by malevolent aliens is about 100 times less than the likelihood of Earth being hit by a Chicxulub quality impactor. Phew! The details behind this conclusion are interesting, and the article is worth reading to see how he arrived at this conclusion.

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