Tech News

Mars probe captures groundbreaking image of planet’s discrete aurora

It isn’t only the USA and China that are exploring Mars. The UAE has captured new images of the red planet’s discrete aurora, which could deepen our understanding of the interactions between solar radiation, Mars’ magnetic fields, and the planetary atmosphere.

Up front:  The images were taken by the Mars Hope Probe’s EMUS (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer) instrument, and show a ghostly glow known as the discrete aurora.

The pictures fully characterize the discrete aurora phenomenon in Mars’ atmosphere for the first time in history. Scientists believe they could challenge the notion that large scale solar events are needed to drive Mars auroral events

The implications for our understanding of Mars’ atmospheric and magnetospheric science are tremendous and provide new support to the theory that solar storms are not necessary to drive Mars‘ aurora,” said Hessa Al Matroushi, the Emirates Mars Mission’s science lead.

Credit: Emirates Mars Mission
Tech News

A groundbreaking satellite just rescued another from its death orbit

Two satellites docking, while still in space, sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, but that’s just what Northrop Grumman has done to extend the lifespan of one of Intelsat’s TV satellites. IS-10-02 may not have an interesting name but it’s certainly important to Intelsat, being responsible for part of the company’s satellite TV service across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South America.

Problem is, satellites don’t last forever, but servicing them has traditionally been off the table. Providers are generally forced to launch a fresh satellite instead, which is both expensive and leaves more space junk to accumulate in orbit around Earth. That’s already led to concerns that projects like the International Space Station could be at increasing risk of tech-trash collisions.

What Intelsat and Northrop Grumman did instead was launch a second satellite, which docked with IS-10-02 to provide life-extension services. Known as the Mission Extension Vehicle-2, or MEV-2, it basically docks with a satellite that’s reaching the end of its onboard fuel supply, and then uses its own thrusters and fuel to maintain the geostationary orbit. In the image below, taken by MEV-2, you can see the Intelsat satellite as the two came together.

It’s the second time the two companies have used the system. Back in February 2020, MEV-1 docked with Intelsat IS-901: the first time two commercial satellites had achieved that milestone. However that time, both IS-901 and MEV-1 met outside of the Intelsat satellite’s usual geosynchronous orbit. That involved IS-901 rising to an orbit roughly 180 miles higher, where it met with MEV-1.

This time around, MEV-2 met with IS-10-02 without the Intelsat satellite needing to divert. That’s in important point, since it took about three months for IS-901 to extend its orbit the first time around, forcing Intelsat to transition TV customers onto another satellite.

The two Mission Extension Vehicles each have fuel for around fifteen years of service. Northrop Grumman’s agreements with Intelsat is for five years acting as propulsion and altitude control for each of the TV satellites; after that, the MEVs will detach and move on to supply those services to other clients.

In the pipeline, meanwhile, are other variations on the theme. Mission Extension Pods, for example, will be smaller and cheaper versions, only capable of delivering orbit control. They’ll be installed by the MRV, or Mission Robotic Vehicles, shown in the render above, which will be able to not only handle orbital adjustments but also install new hardware to satellites already deployed. Northrop Grumman expects to launch the first MRV and MEPs in 2024.

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Microsoft exclusively licenses OpenAI’s groundbreaking GPT-3 text generation model

Microsoft’s ongoing partnership with San Francisco-based artificial intelligence research company OpenAI now includes a new exclusive license on the AI firm’s groundbreaking GPT-3 language model, an auto-generating text program that’s emerged as the most sophisticated of its kind in the industry.

The two companies have been entwined for years through OpenAI’s use of the Azure cloud computing platform, with Azure being how OpenAI accesses the vast computing resources it needs to train many of its models. Last year, Microsoft made a major $1 billion investment to become OpenAI’s exclusive cloud provider, a deal that now involves being the exclusive licensee for GPT-3.

OpenAI released GPT-3, the third iteration of its ever-growing language model, in July, and the program and its prior iterations have helped create some of the most fascinating AI language experiments to date. It’s also inspired vigorous debate around the ethics of powerful AI programs that may be used for more nefarious purposes, with OpenAI initially refusing to publish research about the model for fear it would be misused.

“Unlike most AI systems which are designed for one use-case, OpenAI’s API today provides a general-purpose ‘text in, text out’ interface, allowing users to try it on virtually any English language task. GPT-3 is the most powerful model behind the API today, with 175 billion parameters,” OpenAI explains in a blog post about its partnership with Microsoft.

“We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” writes Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott in the company’s blog post announcing the deal. “Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI says, “the deal has no impact on continued access to the GPT-3 model through OpenAI’s API, and existing and future users of it will continue building applications with our API as usual,” which does raise some interesting questions about what exactly Microsoft has acquired here. A Microsoft spokesperson tells The Verge that its exclusive license gives it unique access to the underlying code of GPT-3, which contains technical advancements it hopes to integrate into its products and services.

So while other companies and researchers may be able to access GPT-3 through OpenAI’s API, only Microsoft will reap the benefits of getting to make use of all the AI advancements that went into making it such a sophisticated program. It’s not clear what that will look like right now, but what is clear is that Microsoft sees immense value in OpenAI’s work and likely wants to be the first (and, in this case, only) company to take its largely experimental research work and translate it into real-world product advancements.

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