Here’s your first look at Boom Supersonic’s faster-than-sound XB-1 demonstrator aircraft

Boom Supersonic is closer than ever to its goal of introducing supersonic commercial aviation back to the global stage — the Colorado-based startup unveiled the final design of its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft today. This is a fully functional prototype airplane, which will help the company test out the flight capabilities and systems that will eventually make its Overture supersonic commercial passenger aircraft a reality.

XB-1 is a scaled-down version of what Overture will be, lacking the passenger cabin that will offer business-class style amenities to commercial passengers. It does have a cockpit for the test pilots who will help Boom put its design through its paces beginning in 2021. It measures 71-feet long, and its propulsion is provided by three GE-made J85-15 engines that together provide 12,000 lbs of thrust. There are standard cockpit windows, but because of the extreme angle of the nose required for aerodynamics, there’s also an HD video camera and cockpit display to provide pilots with a virtual view out the front of the plane for maximum visibility.

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The frame of the XB-1 is made of carbon-composite, which is designed for light weight while also offering very high tensile strength and rigidity, as well as an ability to withstand the high temperatures generated by traveling at supersonic speeds (even in the relatively friction-free environs of higher altitudes). Boom also kept pilot comfort in mind when creating the XB-1, optimizing for economics via user testing spanning “hundreds of hours.”

Boom plans to test XB-1 at Mojave Air and Space Port, located in Mojave, California. As mentioned, the goal now is to get that underway next year — but Boom will begin on its ground testing program immediately. Meanwhile, Boom will continue developing Overture simultaneously, working on wind tunnel tests and other elements of aircraft validation in order to help move toward the target of getting that commercial jet in the air for 2025.

Later today, Boom is hosting a virtual rollout event at its headquarters, with a Q&A to be hosted by Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl. You can check that out live at Boom’s site starting at 11 AM MT (1 PM ET/10 AM PT).

Apple brings Health Records to iPhone in the UK and Canada

Apple has added support for the Health Records feature of its Health app on iPhones in two new markets – the UK and Canada. The electronic medical records feature originally debuted in the U.S. in 2018, and the company says that it’s now supported by over 500 institutions across that country. At its debut in its two new markets, it’ll be supported by three hospitals in Canada and two in the UK, but obviously the plan is to expand support to more over time.

Apple’s EHR feature was created with its commitment to user privacy in mind. In practice, that means that any information transferred between a user’s iPhone and their healthcare provider is encrypted, and the data is transmitted directly, with no intermediary sever storage. Also, Apple Health Records data on a user’s device is fully encrypted and locally stored, unlock able only via a user’s individual passcode, as well as Touch ID or Face ID for devices that support those.

Health Records on iPhone requires institutional support, but can provide a high degree of individual ownership of health data, as well as a means of making sure that data is portable and can follow a patient to integrate with a variety of care facilities and providers. Many efforts have been made to unify and standardize EHR systems in different parts of the world, but few have gained widespread support. Apple’s has the advantage of working broadly with devices that make up roughly half the mobile representation in markets where it’s available, and a user-friendly, clear and concise design.

SpaceX awarded contract to help develop U.S. missile-tracking satellite network

SpaceX has secured a contract valued at just shy of $150 million by the U.S. Space Development Agency, a branch of the U.S. military that is tasked with building out America’s space-based defense capabilities. The contract covers creation and delivery of “space vehicles,” aka actual satellites, that will form a constellation offering global coverage of advance missile warning and tracking.

Alongside SpaceX, the SDA also granted a contract for the same capabilities valued at nearly $200 million for L3Harris. That company is a U.S-based defense contracted and tech co formed by the merger of Harris and L3 last year, combining the two legacy contractors to create one of the top 10 largest defense companies globally. It’s no surprise that L3Harris would be tapped for this work, but SpaceX’s award is definitely a new extension of the company’s business.

These satellites will apparently resemble the Starlink satellites that SpaceX has already been deploying to make up its own broadband internet constellation (although with different payloads, of course). Starlink is designed as a low-Earth orbit constellation that can achieve global coverage through volume and redundancy, providing benefits in terms of cost and coverage when compared to traditional geostationary satellites.

The U.S. has repeatedly expressed an interest in building out space-based defense resources that use small satellites, citing advantages in terms of speed of deployment, as well as responsiveness and the ability to build in redundancy that could be useful in case of attacks on any resources by potential enemy actors.

If SpaceX becomes a more frequent provider not only of launch services, but also of spacecraft including satellites, it could open up plenty of new lucrative long-term revenue opportunities, particular when it comes to defense and national security contracts.

Scribe Therapeutics launches a platform for engineering CRISPR-based therapeutics

A new company called Scribe Therapeutics founded by two former members of CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s UC Berkely genetics lab (alongside Doudna herself) launched on Tuesday, debuting a platform designed specifically to help develop and engineer new thereapeutics based on CRISPR for addressing specific diseases, with permanent treatments in patients.

Doudna is part of the leadership team behind Scribe, but it’s primarily led by CEO and co-founder Benjamin Oakes, along with VP of Platform Brett T. Staahl. Oakes and Staahl shared time at Doudna’s lab, with Oakes as a student while Staahl was a postdoc. Staahl’s interest was specifically in how gene editing, and CRISPR in particular, could be used to help treat Huntington’s disease – while Oakes, who originally set out to be a practicing medical doctor, realized early on he actually wanted to do more with solving the underlying causes of disease, and changed tack to pursue genome editing.

“I set out on this journey to understand how we could, and how we could best actually solve those underlying problems of disease,” Oakes explained in an interview. That led to him pursuing research in Zinc-Finger Nuclease (ZFN)-based genome editing – a precursor technique to CRISPR that was far less specific and much more work-intensive and time consuming. Doudna’s groundbreaking paper on CRISPR was published in 2012, and Oakes immediately saw the potential, so he joined her lab at Berkeley.

Meanwhile, Staahl was looking at treatment for disorders that specifically lead to neural degeneration – something that had not previously been part of Doudna’s lab’s research prior to him joining.

“He spent several years in the lab, developing strategies for neurons, and really trying to bring that technology to a point where it could be deployed as a real treatment for neurodegenerative disease, with Huntington’s as a model,” Doudna told me. “So Ben and Brett met up, they came from very different backgrounds, they had really different scientific training originally, but they hit it off. And they saw a really exciting opportunity to use the kind of technology development that Ben had been doing, and that he was very keen on continuing, and to focus it on this challenge of neurodegeneration.”

The result is Scribe Therapeutics, which has already raised $20 million in a Series A funding round (plus some small amount of earlier seed financing contributed by the founders) led by Andreessen Horowitz . Scribe has been at work on their solution since 2018, but remained mostly quiet about their progress until Oakes felt confident that what they’re presenting is a real, viable technology that can be used to produce therapeutics now. Representative of that progress, the company is also announcing a new collaboration with large drugmaker Biogen, Inc. to collaborate on CRISPR-based medecines for treating neurological diseases, and specifically Amyotriophic Lateral Sclerosis.

That deal is valued at $15 million in upfront commitments, with as much as $400 million or more in milestone payouts to follow, as well as royalties attached to any shipping therapeutics that result. Oakes says it’s a testament to the maturity of their platform that they were able to secure this partnership. But Scribe will also be pursuing development of its own therapeutics in-house, while partnering where it makes sense – a strategy Oakes says is in service of addressing the greatest number of possible disease treatments the startup can manage. And while it’s already generating revenue, and Oakes says he’s in no rush to secure additional funding, he does believe that ultimately they will seek out additional investment in order to help ensure they can treat as many potential conditions as possible, as quickly and safely as possible.

As for the fundamental science behind Scribe, their advantage lies in the work they’ve done to adapt a molecule called CRISPR-CasX, which is a bit smaller than Cas9 and not derived from pathogen molecules, both of which make it better-suited to therapeutics. Scribe has spent the past year-and-a-half turning CasX into the basis of a platform that works better than any CRISPR protein that exists for delivery via adeno-associated virus (the current state-of-the-art in gene therapy delivery), as well as engineering it for greater specificity.

“We built Scribe specifically to do that, to build an engineering core focused exclusively on making the most advanced the very best therapeutic genome editing molecules that we could,” Oakes said.

SpaceX successfully launches another Starlink mission, with over 700 satellites launched to date

SpaceX has launched yet another flight of 60 of its Starlink broadband internet satellites. The launch took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:29 AM EDT (4:29 AM PDT) this morning, after having been delayed three times earlier due to scrubs – twice because of weather, and one because of an unusual sensor reading. This is the 12 Starlink mission to date, and it means that over 700 of the SpaceX satellites have now been launched.

The mission included reuse of a Falcon 9 booster stage that had previously flown on two separate missions, including the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch that carried SpaceX’s first human crew – NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. SpaceX successfully recovered the booster with a controlled landing on its ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship at sea for this mission, too. A recovery of the fairing halves using different recovery ships was also attempted – with one half caught by a ship as planned, while the second missed and fell into the Ocean, but SpaceX will also attempt to fish that part out.

SpaceX is currently in private beta testing of Starlink, optimizing for latency and connection. The company says that it has achieved downlink speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, with very low latency as well. It intends to broaden the beta to the public beginning later this year.

The deployment of these Starlink satellites is set for a little while from now, at which point we’ll confirm a good orbital insertion and update this post.

Spacebit books a second trip to the Moon via NASA’s commercial lunar payload program

UK-based robotic rover startup Spacebit has booked a second payload delivery to the Moon, aboard the Nova-C lander that Intuitive Machines is planning to send in 2021 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Spacebit already has a berth aboard the Astrobotic Peregrine lander that’s set to go to the Moon in July 2021, flying atop a Vulcan Centaur rocket, and so this would follow quickly on the heels of that mission, with a current mission timeframe of October 2021 to deliver the Intuitive Machines lander via a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Spacebit’s Asagumo 4-legged walking rover is set to fly on that first CLPS mission (which NASA created to source commercial partners for delivering experiments and payloads to the Moon along with over private cargo ahead of its Artemis crewed Moon missions). For this second Nova-C lander launch, Spacebit is preparing a wheeled rover that will carry a small NASA scientific module. Both the wheeled and the walking rover are designed to help assess what kind of resources are available on the surface of the Moon, with the aim of providing support for the Artemis program.

This will provide Spacebit with multiple opportunities to assess the makeup of the regolith (the equivalent of soil for other planets), which is its primary goal with these missions. The different rover designs will also mean it can better assess which is more amenable to the task. The 4-legged design is intended to make the walking rover better able to deal with uneven surfaces, allowing it to potentially even explore lava flow tubes and other cave-like areas that could be suitable for natural shelter and future lunar habitat creation.

Camera that will film a spacewalk in VR delivered to the International Space Station

One of the payloads aboard the International Space Station resupply mission that launched last Friday will provide a new perspective on one of the most enervating human experiences — the spacewalk. It’s a custom-made, 3D camera designed to capture content in 360-degrees while in space, and it will be used to film a spacewalk in immersive, cinematic VR for the first time ever on an upcoming ISS astronaut mission.

The camera is the result of a collaboration between Felix & Paul Studios, Time Studios and in-space technology expert Nanoracks. It will ultimately be used to capture the footage that will then be used to produce a culminating episode of a series called “Space Explorers: The ISS Series.” To do that, it’ll be mounted on Nanoracks’ Kaber MicroSatellite deployer device, which will provide it with power, and allow it to be controlled via the Canadarm2 robotic arm that the ISS uses for manipulating external cargo. The team behind this says that the Canadian-made robot arm will essentially be used like a crane on a film set to capture the spacewalk of two ISS astronauts.

In terms of specs, the VR camera includes nine 4K sensors, which can then stitch together a fully immersive 360-degree final image that’s rendered at 8K resolution. The camera, a Z-Cam V1 Pro, has been modified by Nanoracks using their expertise in creating equipment that can operate in and withstand the harsh environment of space — meaning it isn’t all that bothered by vacuum, UV radiation, ionizing radiation, plasma, wildly varying extreme temps that can go from -250 degrees Fahrenheit to +250 depending on sun exposure, and more. The enclosure for the camera is hermitically sealed, includes an aluminum radiation shield, and has both an active heating and passive cooling system, rendering it capable of surviving exposure to space for a full week.

The spacewalk will ultimately be aired via the Oculus Store, and you can already see the first two Space Explorers episodes there right now if you have a compatible VR headset.

Corsair’s TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 dock offers the right expandability in a well-designed package

Gaming peripheral expert Corsair has released a new Thunderbolt 3 docking station that boasts a number of useful ports, paired with aesthetics that should fit in perfectly with any of Apple’s Space Gray hardware kit. The TBT100 dock offers plenty of expandability for making your Mac the center of a temporary work-from-home office, or can provide great convenience and connection options even for more powerful desktop computer setups.

The basics

The Corsair TBT100 offers a full complement of ports powered via a single Thunderbolt 3 cable from your computer, along with a dedicated power adapter. For display, there are 2 HDMI 2.0 ports capable of 4K 60Hz output, with HDR color rendering. There are two USB 3.2 Type-C ports, one in front and one in back, as well as two USB 3.1 Type-A ports (both in back) that can all connect to both charge devices and provide data connections. A Gigabit Ethernet port provides networking, while a 3.5mm jack offers both headphone out and microphone in. There’s also an SDXC card reader that supports UHS-II speeds.

The TBT100 offers 85W power delivery via its lone Thunderbolt 3 cable for connected host notebooks, and can smart charge devices at up to 15W via the USB-C ports, or up to 7.5W via the USB-A connections.

Design and features

This is definitely one of the better-looking Thunderbolt 3 docks out there. It’s a category where it’s hard for design to stand out, since these generally all look roughly the same – metallic and plastic rectangles with a combinations of ports located front and back. Corsair’s dock doesn’t venture too far from this standard look, but the touches it adds like the gray aluminum finish and the way the aluminum continues around the rounded corners makes it a more attractive desktop addition than most.

The port arrangement is also well-conceived. Up front, there’s one USB-C port (handy for quickly plugging in a mobile device for a charge), the SD card reader (really useful for frequent use) and the 3.5 mm jack (ditto for commonly relocated items like headsets). Everything else is around back, letting you put more regularly connected cables in prime location for routing them to make them a more invisible part of your desktop setup.

Corsair’s choice to go with HDMI ports is also probably the best option on balance for most users. Many alternatives have gone with DisplayPort, but your average consumer these days is much more likely to have HDMI cables and HDMI-capable displays, and the spec still supports 4K resolution as well as HDR to get the most image quality out of any modern connected TV or monitor.

Bottom line

There are many flavors of Thunderbolt 3 docks, but the Corsair TBT100 offers a pretty perfect blend of connectivity, design and convenience relative to the pack. At $259.99, the price of the dock is also not too expensive, though it’s not cheap either. But if you’re looking for a reliable, permanent solution to a lack of connections for your home setup, this is the one to get.

Watch SpaceX launch a GPS satellite for the US Space Force live

SpaceX is set to launch a GPS-III satellite for the U.S. Space Force using a Falcon 9 rocket, with a target launch time of 9:43 PM EDT (6:43 PM PDT). That opens a 15-minute launch window, and so far weather is looking relatively good, which will hopefully help SpaceX end a recent string of launch scrubs, including one earlier this week for a reset Starlink mission.

The Falcon 9 used for this launch is a rarity these days — a brand new vehicle, including a booster being used for the first time. The attempt will include a landing of that first stage aboard SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s a good reason that SpaceX isn’t flying a previously flown booster for this one: The company’s contract with the Space Force stipulates that it can only use new, non-refurbished vehicles for National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions. But they recently announced an updated agreement that will allow SpaceX to use reflown first stages on future flights.

The webcast above will start around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, so at around 9:28 PM EDT (6:28 PM PDT).

Elon Musk says an update for its Starship spacecraft development program is coming in 3 weeks

SpaceX will provide an update about what’s happening with their Starship spacecraft in roughly three weeks, according to CEO and founder Elon Musk. Starship is a next-generation, fully reusable spacecraft that the company is developing with the aim of replacing all of their launch vehicles, including Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, for mission both to Earth orbit, and beyond to the Moon and eventually Mars.

Starship has been making rapid progress in recent weeks as SpaceX assembled multiple prototypes at once at its Texas-based development facility. Starship SN6 has completed a hop test, as did SN5 before it, climbing to 150 meters (just under 500 feet) before descending again for a controlled landing. SN8 is now preparing for a higher-altitude flight, and Musk teased that at its update in a few weeks, the company will be presenting a “V1.0” prototype that will actually be the vehicle to finally perform a test flight to orbit.

SpaceX has a lot riding on Starship – including potential contracts for Moon landing missions for crewed flights from NASA in the future as part of the Artemis program. It was one of three companies selected by the agency to bid on those contracts, alongside Blue Origin’s industry-spanning team and Dynetics.

Meanwhile, Musk also said that the SpaceX Starlink internet service is technically reachable in the Brownsville area where Starship is being developed in Texas, but that it will be around three months before the connection quality will actually be good from that far south in the U.S.