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launches tablets

TCL launches 2 new tablets, a smartwatch and the world’s first ‘zero eye strain’ display – CNET

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TCL

After launching a new line of phones at IFA last year, TCL is sticking to its strategy of slapping its own label on more gadgets: This time to its tablets.

The Chinese electronics manufacturer unveiled the TCL 10 TabMax and the TCL 10 TabMid at the annual tech conference in Berlin, signalling a commitment to ramp up its portfolio of its own-brand consumer electronics. The Android-equipped tablet line is planned for an international release starting next quarter, according to the company. It’s also launching a smartwatch for older people and next-gen earbuds.

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Although TCL is a new name in the tablet category, the publicly listed company has a history of designing, manufacturing and marketing tablets for other brands: TCL has produced tablets carrying the Alcatel name and is one of British telecom carrier Vodafone’s largest tablet suppliers.

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TCL

Touted as a “productivity powerhouse”, the higher-end TabMax 10 brings with it features including an 8,000-mAh battery, a sizeable high-res screen (FHD plus, 10.36 inches), a 13-megapixel main camera and a stylus. It also has a Kids Mode feature that allows parents to monitor their kids’ activities and personalize access to content. The TCL 10 TabMax, which will be available in 4G and Wi-Fi only models, will cost 249 euros (which converts to about $290, £220 or AU$400) and 299 euros respectively. The base TCL 10 TabMid will cost 229 euros. 

TCL was founded in the 1990s, but it’s expanded from its TV-making origins in recent years. With its new tablets and a range of TCL-branded devices, it hopes to establish itself as integrated consumer electronics company like South Korean giants, Samsung or LG. In 2019, TCL launched a mid-range handset, called the TCL Plex, at the Berlin tech conference, but the Chinese company has made no secret of its ambitions to become a serious contender in 5G and foldable phones category.

Along with the slew of new gadgets, the company introduced an improved display technology, known as TCL Nxtpaper, which is designed to mirror the experience of reading on paper. TCL claims it’s the world’s first “zero eye strain” display, saying it has more contrast and offers more efficiency than a traditional LCD screen. The company says the screens will be thinner when deployed to devices and will be up to 65% more energy efficient than LCDs. For this tech, TCL says it paired a reflective screen to repurpose natural light.

Key specs: TCL TabMid vs TabMax



TCL 10 TabMid TCL 10 TabMax
Display size, resolution 8-inch; 1200×1290 pixels 10.36-inch; FHD plus, 2000 x 1200 pixels
Weight 325 grams TBC
Dimensions (Millimeters) 209.4×125.2×8.55mm 247.8×157.56×7.65mm
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10
Camera 8-megapixel 13-megapixel 
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel 8-megapixel
Processor Snapdragon 665 Mali-G72 MP3 800MHz; Octa-Core (4 x Cortex-A73 2.0GHz, 4 x Cortex-A53 2.0GHz)
Storage 64GB 64GB
RAM 4GB 4GB
Expandable storage Yes, up to 256 GB (microSD card) Yes, up to 256GB (microSD card)
Battery 5,500 mAh 8,000 mAh

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launches Microsoft

Microsoft launches a deepfake detector tool ahead of US election – TechCrunch

Microsoft has added to the slowly growing pile of technologies aimed at spotting synthetic media (aka deepfakes) with the launch of a tool for analyzing videos and still photos to generate a manipulation score.

The tool, called Video Authenticator, provides what Microsoft calls “a percentage chance, or confidence score” that the media has been artificially manipulated.

“In the case of a video, it can provide this percentage in real-time on each frame as the video plays,” it writes in a blog post announcing the tech. “It works by detecting the blending boundary of the deepfake and subtle fading or greyscale elements that might not be detectable by the human eye.”

If a piece of online content looks real but ‘smells’ wrong chances are it’s a high tech manipulation trying to pass as real — perhaps with a malicious intent to misinform people.

And while plenty of deepfakes are created with a very different intent — to be funny or entertaining — taken out of context such synthetic media can still take on a life of its own as it spreads, meaning it can also end up tricking unsuspecting viewers.

While AI tech is used to generate realistic deepfakes, identifying visual disinformation using technology is still a hard problem — and a critically thinking mind remains the best tool for spotting high tech BS.

Nonetheless, technologists continue to work on deepfake spotters — including this latest offering from Microsoft.

Although its blog post warns the tech may offer only passing utility in the AI-fuelled disinformation arms race: “The fact that [deepfakes are] generated by AI that can continue to learn makes it inevitable that they will beat conventional detection technology. However, in the short run, such as the upcoming U.S. election, advanced detection technologies can be a useful tool to help discerning users identify deepfakes.”

This summer a competition kicked off by Facebook to develop a deepfake detector served up results that were better than guessing — but only just in the case of a data-set the researchers hadn’t had prior access to.

Microsoft, meanwhile, says its Video Authenticator tool was created using a public dataset from Face Forensic++ and tested on the DeepFake Detection Challenge Dataset, which it notes are “both leading models for training and testing deepfake detection technologies”.

It’s partnering with the San Francisco-based AI Foundation to make the tool available to organizations involved in the democratic process this year — including news outlets and political campaigns.

“Video Authenticator will initially be available only through RD2020 [Reality Defender 2020], which will guide organizations through the limitations and ethical considerations inherent in any deepfake detection technology. Campaigns and journalists interested in learning more can contact RD2020 here,” Microsoft adds.

The tool has been developed by its R&D division, Microsoft Research, in coordination with its Responsible AI team and an internal advisory body on AI, Ethics and Effects in Engineering and Research Committee — as part of a wider program Microsoft is running aimed at defending democracy from threats posed by disinformation.

“We expect that methods for generating synthetic media will continue to grow in sophistication,” it continues. “As all AI detection methods have rates of failure, we have to understand and be ready to respond to deepfakes that slip through detection methods. Thus, in the longer term, we must seek stronger methods for maintaining and certifying the authenticity of news articles and other media. There are few tools today to help assure readers that the media they’re seeing online came from a trusted source and that it wasn’t altered.”

On the latter front, Microsoft has also announced a system that will enable content producers to add digital hashes and certificates to media that remain in their metadata as the content travels online — providing a reference point for authenticity.

The second component of the system is a reader tool, which can be deployed as a browser extension, for checking certificates and matching the hashes to offer the viewer what Microsoft calls “a high degree of accuracy” that a particular piece of content is authentic/hasn’t been changed.

The certification will also provide the viewer with details about who produced the media.

Microsoft is hoping this digital watermarking authenticity system will end up underpinning a Trusted News Initiative announced last year by UK publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC — specifically for a verification component, called Project Origin, which is led by a coalition of the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, Microsoft and The New York Times.

It says the digital watermarking tech will be tested by Project Origin with the aim of developing it into a standard that can be adopted broadly.

“The Trusted News Initiative, which includes a range of publishers and social media companies, has also agreed to engage with this technology. In the months ahead, we hope to broaden work in this area to even more technology companies, news publishers and social media companies,” Microsoft adds.

While work on technologies to identify deepfakes continues, its blog post also emphasizes the importance of media literacy — flagging a partnership with the University of Washington, Sensity and USA Today aimed at boosting critical thinking ahead of the US election.

This partnership has launched a Spot the Deepfake Quiz for voters in the US to “learn about synthetic media, develop critical media literacy skills and gain awareness of the impact of synthetic media on democracy”, as it puts it.

The interactive quiz will be distributed across web and social media properties owned by USA Today, Microsoft and the University of Washington and through social media advertising, per the blog post.

The tech giant also notes that it’s supporting a public service announcement (PSA) campaign in the US encouraging people to take a “reflective pause” and check to make sure information comes from a reputable news organization before they share or promote it on social media ahead of the upcoming election.

“The PSA campaign will help people better understand the harm misinformation and disinformation have on our democracy and the importance of taking the time to identify, share and consume reliable information. The ads will run across radio stations in the United States in September and October,” it adds.

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Instagram launches

Instagram launches QR codes globally, letting people open a profile from any camera app – The Verge

Instagram is bringing QR codes to the app. Users can now generate QR codes that’ll be scannable from any supporting, third-party camera apps. It first launched the product in Japan last year. The idea is that businesses can print their QR code and have customers scan it to open their Instagram account easily. From there, people can see store hours, buy items, or just follow the account.

To generate your QR code, go to the settings menu on your profile and tap QR code. You might still see Nametag there, but eventually, it’ll become QR code. You can then save or share the image. Instagram previously deployed a similar system called Nametags, which were internal QR-like codes that could only be scanned from the Instagram camera. It’s now deprecating the feature entirely.

Multiple other apps employ their own QR-like system, including Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Spotify. (Only Twitter supports actual QR codes.) But with the pandemic, it’s unsurprising to see Instagram embrace the more open QR system. Restaurants have begun leaving QR codes out instead of their physical menus, and other businesses request that people scan a QR code to load their website. While Nametags might have worked for this purpose, QR codes make it easier for people to scan and make them less reliant on taking out the Instagram camera to access information.

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launches SpaceX

SpaceX launches first batch of Starlink satellites wearing sun visors – CNET

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A previous night time Starlink launch, on June 3. Today’s looked like this too, we promise.


SpaceX

Under the cover of darkness early Friday morning, SpaceX launched its ninth operational flight of the broadband-capable Starlink satellites. The launch suffered three delays reaching back to late June because of weather and extra technical checkouts. The long-time-coming-launch achieved lift-off at approximately 1:12 a.m. ET (10:12 p.m. PT), when the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket ascended in a blaze of fire and smoke from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 

The first stage of the rocket booster returned to Earth and completed a perfect landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic. SpaceX also noted it will attempt to catch the rocket’s fairing halves, as they did during the ANASIS-II launch on July 20. 

The mission’s payload included two rideshare satellites and the first batch of SpaceX’s broadband satellites equipped with a sunshade to reduce their brightness, which has been a sore point for many stargazers

Since Elon Musk’s company began launching the small satellites over a year ago, astronomers and other observers have been surprised and even disturbed by the amount of sunlight the orbiting routers reflect, often interfering with scientific observations.   

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Musk and SpaceX have been working with major astronomical organizations on the problem and have pledged to fix the issue as they ramp up plans to launch tens of thousands of the satellites in the coming years. Initially, SpaceX tried launching a so-called “darksat,” which was essentially a Starlink satellite with a dark coating, but the results from this approach were mixed. Next the company developed and tested a deployable sunshade that it calls VisorSat.

One VisorSat-equipped satellite was launched earlier this month to test the new tech and the next launch will carry the first batch of satellites to be fully shaded. It has yet to reach its orbit, according to SpaceX, but that hasn’t stopped the company from launching the next batch with the same visor.

You can rewatch the launch below or at CNET’s YouTube channel:

It’s been quite the week for SpaceX. On Sunday, the Crew Dragon returned to Earth from the International Space Station, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. In addition, the SN5 Starship prototype completed a short “hop” at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The thermos-shaped prototype, a precursor to a potential Mars-bound spaceship, launched 500 feet into the air and nailed the landing, leading Musk to quip “Mars is looking real.”

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Instagram launches

Instagram launches Reels, a replacement for TikTok – PhoneArena

Short-form video app TikTok has 41 days to complete a deal with Microsoft or any other U.S. company or else President Donald Trump has said that he will ban the app in the U.S. That’s because TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China and a law in the country allows the communist government to order tech firms to collect intelligence from consumers and companies in the states and send it to Beijing. This is the same reason why outfits like Huawei and ZTE are considered national security threats in the states.

Just yesterday

NPR reported that twenty separate lawsuits accusing TikTok of capturing information about users’ facial characteristics, locations, and close contacts were merged into one class-action suit. The plaintiffs are minors who use the app and the suit states that the personal data collected by TikTok is sent to servers in China. ByteDance says that the servers it uses for TikTok are located in the U.S. with backups in Singapore. Experts for the plaintiffs said in the filing that personal data collected by TikTok is “under the control of third-parties who cooperate with the Chinese government. Such information reveals TikTok users’ precise physical location, including possibly indoor locations within buildings, and TikTok users’ apps that possibly reveal mental or physical health, religious views, political views, and sexual orientation.”

Instagram unveils Reels

With talk of a possible ban, many of the 100 million TikTok users in the U.S. have been looking for a new app to record their lip-syncing, dancing, singing, comedy bits, and protests. One app called Clash launched months early so that it could sign up TikTok members worried about losing the app to a ban.

Today, Instagram announced the launch of its short-form video feature called Reels. Instagram says, “Reels invites you to create fun videos to share with your friends or anyone on Instagram. Record and edit 15-second multi-clip videos with audio, effects, and new creative tools. You can share reels with your followers on Feed, and, if you have a public account, make them available to the wider Instagram community through a new space in Explore. Reels in Explore offers anyone the chance to become a creator on Instagram and reach new audiences on a global stage.”

To use Reels, open Instagram and touch the camera icon in the upper left of the screen. On the bottom of the page, tap the Reels tab to get started. On the left side of the screen, you’ll see icons for Audio, Speed, Effects, and Timer. With the Audio setting, you can search for a song from Instagram’s music library or use your own by creating a reel with original music. If you share an original song on Reels, you will get credit for it. And your musical creation can be used by others by selecting “Use Audio” from your Reel.

With AR Effects you can pick one from Instagram’s effect gallery which also includes effects made by creators all over the planet. This will allow you to create multiple-clips with different effects. If you are recording a Reel, you can record it hands-free by tapping on Timer and Countdown. A 3-2-1 countdown will alert you when your device has started recording.

Perhaps one of the most important features on Reels is Align. This allows you to line up objects from your previous clips to help you record seamless transitions for outfit changes and more. And Speed lets you speed up audio and video. Reels can be recorded one at a time or all at once. Instagram says, “Record the first clip by pressing and holding the capture button. You’ll see a progress indicator at the top of the screen as you record. Stop recording to end each clip.”

If you have a public account, your Reel can be shared in Explore or over your feed. If you use a private account, only your followers will be able to view your content from your feed. Original audio can’t be shared with this setting and others cannot share your Reels with others who don’t follow you. And a Reel can also be shared like a Story which means that it will disappear after 24 hours.

“Reels in Explore showcases the best of trending culture on Instagram. Discover an entertaining selection of reels made by anyone on Instagram, in a vertical feed customized for you. If you love a Reel, you can easily like, comment or share it with your friends. You’ll also see some Reels with a “Featured” label. If your Reel is featured in Explore, you’ll receive a notification. Featured Reels are a selection of public Reels chosen by Instagram to help you discover original content we hope will entertain and inspire you.

Reels gives people new ways to express themselves, discover more of what they love on Instagram, and help anyone with the ambition of becoming a creator take center stage.”



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launches SpaceX

SpaceX launches and lands prototype of its Mars rocket Starship in key short flight test – CNBC

SpaceX’s prototype Starship launches in a short first flight test at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX

The fifth prototype of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket passed its most critical test yet, taking off and landing in a short flight on Tuesday at the company’s facility in Texas.

Starship prototype Serial Number 5, standing at about 100 feet tall, launched gradually and rose to about 500 feet above the ground before returning back to land on a concrete area near the launchpad. 

“Progress is accelerating,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the flight.

SpaceX’s prototype Starship launches in a short first flight test at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX

SpaceX has a fleet of rockets that it uses to launch satellites and astronauts, anchored by its Falcon 9 series that has launched 87 times — and landed its booster after 48 of those launches. But Starship represents the company’s aim to make obsolete even the cost-saving advances of its Falcon 9 rockets. While Falcon 9 rockets are partially reusable, Musk’s goal is to make Starship fully reusable — envisioning a rocket that is more akin to a commercial airplane, with short turnaround times between flights where the only major cost is fuel.

Musk last year unveiled the Starship prototype, built of stainless steel and dwarfing the company’s existing spacecraft. SpaceX is developing Starship with the goal of launching as many as 100 people at a time on missions to the moon and Mars.

SpaceX’s Starship prototype SN5 on the company’s landing pad after completing its flight test.

SpaceX

After SpaceX in May launched a pair of NASA astronauts in its first crewed mission, Musk pivoted the company’s attention, declaring that the top SpaceX priority is now development of Starship. Musk said in an email obtained by CNBC that Starship’s program must accelerate “dramatically and immediately,”

SpaceX released video of the flight test captured by an aerial drone, as well as a camera underneath the rocket that showed the Raptor engine and the legs deploy for landing.

President Donald Trump also shared video of SpaceX’s SN5 flight, although he appeared to confuse the company with NASA in a tweet.

Although it wasn’t a NASA test, leaders of the agency were notably paying attention to the SpaceX flight. NASA associate administrator Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen offered his congratulations to Musk’s company on the successful flight.

Starship is one of SpaceX’s ambitious programs, for which the company has raised about $3.5 billion in private capital to fund. But after a successful test flight a year ago completed by a previous iteration, known as Starhopper, the Starship program suffered several explosive setbacks in development. Those setbacks are part of Musk’s motivation for asking more of SpaceX’s about 8,000 employees to spend more time in Texas, even offering use of the company’s private jet if people are willing to move from the company’s facilities in California and Florida.

The extraordinary relocation offer underlines how crucial Musk sees the Starship project. SpaceX is already bidding for NASA contracts with Starship, most recently winning $135 million to compete against Jeff Bezos‘ Blue Origin to deliver astronauts to the Moon. The company’s Boca Chica team is already working nearly around the clock but Musk wants more, urging SpaceX employees to help Starship development progress even more quickly.

A look at the Raptor engine underneath SpaceX’s prototype Starship rocket and the small legs that deployed for landing.

SpaceX

Musk revealed in a series of tweets what the next steps for Starship’s development will be. He said the company will conduct “several short hops to smooth out launch process” before adding more pieces to the rocket for high altitude flights. Additionally, the stubby legs underneath the rocket won’t remain as Musk said the next version will be about “60% longer,” with later iterations being “much wider & taller.”

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Instagram launches

Instagram launches Reels, its attempt to keep you off TikTok – The Verge

Instagram Reels

Image: Instagram

‘No two products are exactly alike, and ours are not either’

With TikTok’s future uncertain, Instagram is hoping to lure some creators away with the rollout of a direct competitor, Reels, which is launching in more than 50 countries today, including the US, UK, Japan, and Australia, on both iOS and Android.

Similar to TikTok, Reels lets people create short-form videos set to music that can be shared with friends and followers and discovered while browsing the app. It’s the newest opportunity for Instagram to bring in users, increase the amount of time people spend in the app every day, and establish itself as a video entertainment platform.

Reels allows people to record videos up to 15 seconds long and add popular music, as well as an array of filters and effects, over top of them. For creators looking to use Instagram Reels as a new way to build a following, Instagram has revamped its Explore page to create a specific landing spot for Reels at the top of the screen that people can vertically scroll through — similar to TikTok’s “For You Page.”

Both private and public options are available. If you want to become the next Charli D’Amelio, having a public profile will allow your Reels to be widely discovered. For people who want to share with friends, Reels created under private accounts will only post to a person’s Feed and Stories. The feature lives entirely inside of Instagram; it’s not a new app.

The launch of Reels comes as TikTok faces a potential ban in the United States by President Donald Trump or a possible partial acquisition by Microsoft. ByteDance also said Sunday that Facebook was among the troubles in its path, accusing the company of plagiarizing its product with Instagram Reels. Robby Stein, Instagram’s product director, said that while TikTok popularized the short video format, the two products are different.

“I think TikTok deserves a ton of credit for popularizing formats in this space, and it’s just great work,” Stein told The Verge. “But at the end of the day, no two products are exactly alike, and ours are not either.”

That’s a familiar line to people who remember when Instagram first launched Stories in 2016, and the company was accused of creating a Snapchat clone. Stein said that his team received “very similar feedback when we launched Stories.” But Instagram Stories quickly surpassed Snapchat in daily users and has continued to be a massively successful product. That history of success is one of the strongest reasons for Instagram’s team to think it can pull Reels off. TikTok did it first, but maybe Instagram can do it better.

Part of that strategy is focusing on what Stein believes Instagram does best: creating easy-to-use technology for whoever wants to make a video. When opening Instagram to make a Reel, people will be able to slide to a new section of the camera that comes with an assortment of tools. Reels can be recorded either all at once or as a series of clips, or people can upload videos from their photo gallery. The camera’s new features are similar to TikTok’s, with options to mess with the speed, apply special effects, set a timer, and add audio.

Instagram’s product team is “really positioning Instagram camera around a few core formats,” according to Stein. Stories is designed as more of a social feature — quick little snippets people want to share with their followers. Reels is designed with entertainment in mind, an area that Instagram wants to really focus on. Part of that focus includes the redesign of Instagram’s Explore page. More than 50 percent of people use Instagram’s Explore page in a month, Stein said, and now there’ll be a dedicated hub for Reels. This is essentially Reels’ equivalent of the “For You Page” on TikTok, a place for creators to possibly go viral or find new followers.

“We’re going big with entertainment and [making Explore] the permanent place for you to go lean back, relax, and be inspired every day,” Stein said. “It’s our hope that with this format we have a new chapter of entertainment on Instagram.”

Reels’ biggest difference from TikTok is its tie-ins to the overarching Instagram ecosystem, Stein says. People can send Reels to their friends directly on Instagram and they can use Instagram-specific AR filters and tools — everything that people want to do is part of an existing network.

TikTok and Instagram are more than camera products, though. They’re communities for established and burgeoning creators. Stein said the company’s main goal is to “support the entire creator ecosystem,” including giving creators the ability to scale their reach on the platform and adding new tools to make their videos pop. For now, though, Instagram won’t be paying popular creators for their videos, as TikTok has started to offer.

Instagram already allows for influencers and creators to earn revenue through brand deals and sponsored posts, but Instagram doesn’t directly pay people for content. TikTok didn’t either until very recently. The company announced last month that it’s starting a $200 million fund in the US to pay top creators for their videos. TikTok is hoping to expand that fund north of $1 billion. The message is simple: we want you to stay on TikTok and create for TikTok, and we’re going to pay you to do it. Stein had “nothing to share” for now about direct payments to creators, but he stressed that allowing people to monetize is important.

There are a few other features that Reels will not have at launch. People won’t be able to “duet” with each other — a core TikTok feature that lets people interact with, build upon, and remix videos. Instagram also won’t allow people to upload songs directly into the app’s system. Musicians looking to use the app as a place to make a song go viral “can add original audio by just recording and that can live on later,” Stein said, adding that “other people could use it and remix it,” but the actual song can’t be uploaded directly.

Reels isn’t its own world like TikTok is or Vine was. It’s another thing to do on Instagram and another way to find entertainment beyond scrolling through Stories and our Feeds. That lack of focus might seem like a weakness, but Stein sees it differently. “I think one of the really fun parts of this,” he says, “is it’s just another format on Instagram.”

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launches Perseverance

NASA launches Perseverance rover on mission to Mars – CBS News


NASA launches Perseverance rover on mission to Mars – YouTube








































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China launches

China launches ambitious attempt to land rover on Mars – NBCNews.com

BEIJING — China launched its most ambitious Mars mission yet on Thursday in a bold attempt to join the United States in successfully landing a spacecraft on the red planet.

Engines blazing orange, a Long March-5 carrier rocket took off under clear skies around 12:40 p.m. from Hainan Island, south of China’s mainland. Hundreds of space enthusiasts cried out excitedly on a beach across the bay from the launch site.

“This is a kind of hope, a kind of strength,” said Li Dapeng, co-founder of the China branch of the Mars Society, an international enthusiast group. He wore a Mars Society T shirt, and was there with his wife, 11-year-old son and 2,000 others on the beach to watch the launch.

A security guard is silhouetted near a display depicting rovers on Mars during an exhibition in Beijing on July 23, 2020. Ng Han Guan / AP

Launch commander Zhang Xueyu announced to cheers in the control room that the rocket was flying normally about 45 minutes later. “The Mars rover has accurately entered the scheduled orbit,” he said in brief remarks shown live on state broadcaster CCTV.

China’s space agency said that the rocket carried the probe for 36 minutes before successfully placing it on the looping path that will take it beyond Earth’s orbit and eventually into Mars’ more distant orbit around the sun.

Liu Tongjie, spokesman for the mission, said in a press briefing that the launch was a “key step of China marching towards farther deep space.” He said that China’s aim wasn’t to compete with other countries, but to peacefully explore the universe.

It marked the second flight to Mars this week, after a United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off on a rocket from Japan on Monday. And the U.S. is aiming to launch Perseverance, its most sophisticated Mars rover ever, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next week.

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“It’s amazing that another nation has launched the case for Mars,” said Dr. Katarina Miljkovic, a planetary scientist at Curtin University in Australia, adding that the world was no longer in a space race. “It’s more like this marathon of space that we all want to be running.”

China’s tandem spacecraft — with both an orbiter and a rover — will take seven months to reach Mars, like the others. If all goes well, Tianwen-1, or “quest for heavenly truth,” will look for underground water, if it’s present, as well as evidence of possible ancient life.

This isn’t China’s first attempt at Mars. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter accompanying a Russian mission was lost when the spacecraft failed to get out of Earth’s orbit after launching from Kazakhstan, eventually burning up in the atmosphere.

This time, China is going at it alone. It also is fast-tracking, launching an orbiter and rover on the same mission instead of stringing them out.

China’s secretive space program has developed rapidly in recent decades. Yang Liwei became the first Chinese astronaut in 2003, and last year, Chang’e-4 became the first spacecraft from any country to land on the far side of the moon.

Conquering Mars would put China in an elite club.

“There is a whole lot of prestige riding on this,” said Dean Cheng, an expert on Chinese aerospace programs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

The launch was “gutsy,” said Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The next challenge is for the probe to be “still working when it gets to Mars and survives entry and landing.”

Landing on Mars is notoriously difficult. Only the U.S. has successfully landed a spacecraft on Martian soil, doing it eight times since 1976. NASA’s InSight and Curiosity rovers still operate today. Six other spacecraft are exploring Mars from orbit: three American, two European and one from India.

Unlike the two other Mars missions launching this month, China has tightly controlled information about the program — even withholding any name for its rover. National security concerns led the U.S. to curb cooperation between NASA and China’s space program.

In an article published earlier this month in Nature Astronomy, mission chief engineer Wan Weixing said Tianwen-1 would slip into orbit around Mars in February and look for a landing site on Utopia Planitia — a plain where NASA has detected possible evidence of underground ice. Wan died in May from cancer.

The landing would then be attempted in April or May, according to the article. If all goes well, the 240-kilogram (530-pound) golf cart-sized, solar-powered rover is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.

There is uncertainty even after the rover lands on Mars, said Liu Tongjie. “For instance, if there is a sand storm, it needs to modify its mode of work to prevent sands falling on solar panel, which will affect its ability to get energy,” he said.

Though small compared to America’s hulking, car-sized 1,025-kilogram (2,260-pound) Perseverance, it’s almost twice as big as the two rovers China has sent to the moon in 2013 and 2019. Perseverance is expected to operate for at least two years.

This Mars-launching season — which occurs every 26 months when Earth and Mars are at their closest — is especially busy.

The UAE spacecraft Amal, or Hope, which will orbit Mars but not land, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. NASA’s Perseverance rover is up next.

“At no other time in our history have we seen anything like what is unfolding with these three unique missions to Mars. Each of them is a science and engineering marvel,” the Space Foundation’s chief executive officer Thomas Zelibor said in an online panel discussion earlier this week.

China’s road to Mars hit a few bumps: A Long March-5 rocket, nicknamed “Fat 5” because of its bulky shape, failed to launch earlier this year. The coronavirus pandemic forced scientists to work from home. In March, when instruments needed to be transported from Beijing to Shanghai, three team members drove 12 hours to deliver them.

While China is joining the U.S., Russia and Europe in creating a satellite-based global navigation system, experts say it isn’t trying to overtake the U.S. lead in space exploration.

Instead, Cheng of the Heritage Foundation said China is in a “slow race” with Japan and India to establish itself as Asia’s space power.

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UAE successfully launches Arab world’s first Mars mission – CNN


UAE successfully launches Arab world’s first Mars mission – YouTube







































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