Quotulatiousness

August 7, 2015

Hacking a Tesla Model S

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Register, John Leyden talks about the recent revelation that the Tesla Model S has known hacking vulnerabilities:

Security researchers have uncovered six fresh vulnerabilities with the Tesla S.

Kevin Mahaffey, CTO of mobile security firm Lookout, and Cloudflare’s principal security researcher Marc Rogers, discovered the flaws after physically examining a vehicle before working with Elon Musk’s firm to resolve security bugs in the electric automobile.

The vulnerabilities allowed the researchers to gain root (administrator) access to the Model S infotainment systems.

With access to these systems, they were able to remotely lock and unlock the car, control the radio and screens, display any content on the screens (changing map displays and the speedometer), open and close the trunk/boot, and turn off the car systems.

When turning off the car systems, Mahaffey and Rogers discovered that, if the car was below five miles per hour (8km/hr) or idling they were able to apply the emergency hand brake, a minor issue in practice.

If the car was going at any speed the technique could be used to cut power to the car while still allowing the driver to safely brake and steer. Consumer’s safety was still preserved even in cases, like the hand-brake issue, where the system ran foul of bugs.

Despite uncovering half a dozen security bugs the two researcher nonetheless came away impressed by Tesla’s infosec policies and procedures as well as its fail-safe engineering approach.

“Tesla takes a software-first approach to its cars, so it’s no surprise that it has key security features in place that minimised and contained the risk of the discovered vulnerabilities,” the researchers explain.

July 21, 2015

A strut failure is the preliminary cause of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch failure

Filed under: Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Alan Boyle on the preliminary findings of telemetry analysis of the failed SpaceX Falcon 9 launch last month:

The June 28 loss of the Falcon, plus SpaceX’s robotic Dragon capsule and more than two and a half tons of cargo, will set back the company’s launch schedule by at least a few months and is likely to result in hundreds of millions of lost revenue, Musk told reporters.

SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket is grounded pending the conclusion of the company’s investigation and the Federal Aviation Administration’s signoff. Also, the debut of its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle will have to be put off until next spring, Musk said.

He said that the strut assembly would be redesigned and readjusted before the Falcon flies again, and that SpaceX would readjust its attitude as well.

“This is the first time we’ve had a failure in seven years, so to some degree the company became complacent,” Musk told reporters. “When you’ve only ever seen success, you don’t fear failure quite as much.”

Musk emphasized that the focus on a faulty strut was only a preliminary rather than a definitive determination of the cause, but here’s how he and SpaceX’s investigators think it went down, based on an analysis of data from 3,000 channels of telemetry: One of the steel struts holding down a bottle of helium inside the Falcon’s second-stage liquid-oxygen tank assembly broke loose during the first couple of minutes of flight. The helium is supposed to be released in a controlled fashion to keep the liquid oxygen under stable pressure, and the struts connected to the bottles are supposed to withstand 10,000 pounds of force.

But on June 28, something went wrong when the stress on the struts amounted to only 2,000 pounds. “It failed at five times below its nominal strength, which is pretty crazy,” Musk said.

July 2, 2015

A bad day for the space program

Filed under: Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In National Review, Taylor Dinerman discusses the bad news from SpaceX and what it means for the space program:

June 28 was Elon Musk’s 44th birthday, and he had hoped to celebrate with a successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It would be carrying a Dragon capsule full of supplies for the International Space Station (ISS), under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract he signed with NASA back in 2006.

Musk had also hoped that once the Dragon capsule was well on its way to the space station, the Falcon’s first stage would return to Earth’s surface for a powered landing on a barge off the coast of Florida. A successful flight would have been a major step toward building a reusable launch vehicle, which could radically reduce the cost of getting payloads into orbit.

Instead, the Falcon 9 exploded a few minutes after leaving the launch pad.

It has been a rough time recently for ISS logistics. In October an Antares rocket launched from Virginia by Orbital Sciences blew up, and in April a Russian Progress supply capsule was lost when its Soyuz launcher malfunctioned. NASA says that there are enough supplies onboard the ISS to last until October. If this summer’s planned launch of a Japanese HTV supply capsule goes wrong, things could get dicey.

June 30, 2015

Elon Musk – high tech messiah or grasping crony capitalist?

Sean Noble says that the subsidies Elon Musk’s high-tech Tesla and Solar City firms are much higher than he implies:

Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City head Elon Musk lashed out at the Los Angeles Times following an article that totaled up all the government support that his three-headed corporate-welfare monster receives. The number the Times reported was nearly $5 billion in combined support for his companies, including subsidies for those who purchase Musk’s products, such as the high-priced solar panels of Solar City and the supercars of Tesla.

Musk responded by arguing, “If I cared about subsidies, I would have entered the oil and gas industry.” He further asserted that his competitors in the oil-and-gas industry haul in 1,000 times more in subsidies in a single year than his companies have received in total. Such statements reveal that Musk seems to care as little for facts as he purports to care about the taxpayer dollars propping up his various businesses.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the most recent data available regarding energy subsidies provided by the federal government. The data, covering the year 2013, broke down total taxpayer subsidies across the different sectors of the energy industry. While fossil fuels did enjoy some government support through various direct expenditures, tax credits, and R&D programs, the data stands in sharp contrast to Musk’s claims.

Data from the EIA report, combined with numbers from an anti-oil advocacy group regarding state-level government support, reveals that total state and federal support for the oil-and-gas industry is no more than $5.5 billion each year. As stated, Musk’s companies combine for $5 billion in subsidies, a number that he has yet to dispute. Clearly, the difference is much smaller than Musk’s outlandish 1,000-to-one claim.

April 22, 2015

SpaceX Launch You Up (Uptown Funk Parody)

Filed under: Media, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Apr 2015

THIS VIDEO IS A PARODY OF THE ORIGINAL “UPTOWN FUNK” by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars and does not infringe on the copyright of Sony Music Entertainment (SME).

This video was created by fans of SpaceX and does not reflect the views of SpaceX or its partners.

You Elon MUST share this SpaceX music video, and help promote the future of science and space exploration! #GoBold (Lyrics at the bottom!)

H/T to Boing Boing for the link.

November 21, 2014

Elon Musk’s constant nagging worry

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

In the Washington Post, Justin Moyer talks about Elon Musk’s concern about runaway artificial intelligence:

Elon Musk — the futurist behind PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX — has been caught criticizing artificial intelligence again.

“The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe,” Musk wrote in a comment since deleted from the Web site Edge.org, but confirmed to Re/Code by his representatives. “10 years at most.”

The very future of Earth, Musk said, was at risk.

“The leading AI companies have taken great steps to ensure safety,” he wrote. “The recognize the danger, but believe that they can shape and control the digital superintelligences and prevent bad ones from escaping into the Internet. That remains to be seen.”

Musk seemed to sense that these comments might seem a little weird coming from a Fortune 1000 chief executive officer.

“This is not a case of crying wolf about something I don’t understand,” he wrote. “I am not alone in thinking we should be worried.”

Unfortunately, Musk didn’t explain how humanity might be compromised by “digital superintelligences,” “Terminator”-style.

He never does. Yet Musk has been holding forth on-and-off about the apocalypse artificial intelligence might bring for much of the past year.

September 17, 2014

Creating jobs, good. Creating subsidized jobs, not so good.

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:33

Gregg Easterbrook on the difference between ordinary jobs and government subsidized job creation:

Elon Musk Recharges His Bank Account: Tesla’s agreement with Nevada to build a battery factory is expected to create about 6,000 jobs in exchange for $1.25 billion in tax favors. That’s about $208,000 per job. More jobs are always good. But typical Nevada residents with a median household income of $54,000 per year will be taxed to create very expensive jobs for others. Volkswagen is expanding its manufacturing in Tennessee, which is good. But the state has agreed to about $300 million in subsidies for the expansion, which will create about 2,000 jobs — that’s $150,000 per new job, much of the money coming from Tennessee residents who can only dream of autoworkers’ wages. The median household income in Tennessee is $44,140, about a third of the tax subsidies per new Volkswagen job. The Tesla handout was approved by the Democratic state legislature of Nevada; Tennessee’s Republican-controlled state government approved the Volkswagen corporate welfare deal.

At least it’s a bargain compared to federally subsidized solar jobs. A Nevada solar project — state that is home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Barack Obama’s closest ally on Capitol Hill — cost $10.8 million in subsidies per job created. Local public interest groups noticed the extreme subsidy while the national media did not.

This cheeky website monitors giveaways state by state.

August 27, 2014

Disappointingly, SpaceX plays the crony capitalist game with Texas politicians

Filed under: Business, Government, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll have picked up that I’m a fan of SpaceX and other non-governmental organizations in the space race. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Elon Musk is a hero, but I’ve generally been happy about his company’s successes in bringing more private enterprise into the launch business. However, as Lachlan Markay explains in some detail, Elon Musk is not above taking government funds to do things he’d be doing anyway, just like crony capitalists in the rest of the government-industrial complex:

Shortly before a private spaceflight company’s test rocket exploded over southern Texas last weekend, state lawmakers announced millions in subsidies to get the company to continue launching rockets in the Lone Star State.

Space Exploration Technologies, commonly known as SpaceX, will receive more than $15 million in public financing to build a launch pad in Cameron County, near the Mexican border.

The subsidies came after SpaceX’s founder, billionaire tech mogul and pop technologist Elon Musk, made campaign contributions to key state lawmakers and hired lobbyists with ties to Austin.

SpaceX is one of a number of innovative and disruptive startups that, though lauded by some free marketeers for making government-run markets more competitive, are finding themselves drawn to political advocacy, whether out of shrewdness or necessity.

Of the more than $15 million in incentives for a SpaceX launch facility in Brownsville, Texas, announced this month, $13 million will come from the state’s Spaceport Trust Fund.

Initially created in 2002, the fund began to wind down together with the idea of commercial spaceflight. But with the ascendancy of SpaceX and similar companies, Texas looked to secure its place as a destination for commercial spaceflight operations.

Musk took notice. A prolific political donor, he began pouring money into the campaigns of key state lawmakers. On November 7, 2012, he donated $1,000 to state representative Rene Oliveira (D). Two weeks later, he gave state senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D) $2,000.

The next month, the Associated Press reported that Lucio and Oliveira were working to secure state backing for a potential SpaceX launch pad in Brownsville.

As Drew M. says at Ace of Spades H.Q., it’s not like this is a new thing for businesses or for politicians, it’s just disappointing:

I’m not naive to think this sort of stuff hasn’t gone on forever and will go on forever, it’s simply human nature. That’s why making government at levels as small as possible is so important.

What does continue to surprise me when it shouldn’t is how cheap it is to buy politicians. Remember Team GOP’s hero, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s longtime aide who accepted $20-30K in gifts from Jack Abrahmof in return to ensuring the felon’s clients received millions in government money?

When you think about it it’s really no surprise that politicians sell themselves so cheaply. Unlike honorable whores who sell their own bodies, politicians sell other people’s money. Plus, they make it up in volume.

This bi-partisan rush to hand out everyone’s money for their own gain is part of why I’m drifting away from conservatism and towards libertarianism. Screw them all.

May 1, 2014

SpaceX and the successful re-entry experiment

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:58

Amanda Wills talks about the most recent SpaceX achievement:

When SpaceX launched its Dragon supply mission to the International Space Station on April 18, it tried something revolutionary after the spacecraft was safely in orbit.

Behind the scenes, CEO Elon Musk and his team had been testing the reusability of this rocket. On that Friday, the team returned part of it to Earth for the first time in history. Once Dragon was in space, the first stage separated and re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. As the helium-filled rocket slowed, it extended four 25-foot-long landing legs and used its thrusters to briefly hover over the Atlantic Ocean before plopping down ever so gently onto its surface.

Musk and his team pulled it off — a huge feat considering that the chance of success was only around 30% to 40%. The SpaceX team recovered the raw video from the camera that was on board Falcon 9, and software engineers have spent the last week trying to repair the footage, which was taken just before splashdown.

[…]

The team was able to bring back the first stage. The rocket was clearly vertical — an important detail in testing reusable rockets — and the soft landing was successful. However, the weather wasn’t cooperative that day and the stage was destroyed by rough waves. Fortunately, Musk said his team was able to recover bits of the rocket.

August 2, 2013

Forbes talks to Warren Ellis

Filed under: Books, Media, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Warren Ellis has a new novella out (that I haven’t read yet) and talks to Alex Knapp about the new work and other topics:

In Dead Pig Collector, the process of disposing of a body is fairly well detailed. How much research did you do for that?

Four or five hours. Believe it or not, a lot of people seem to spend time talking on the internet about getting rid of bodies. And now they’re all on PRISM-generated watchlists. And so am I.

One of the things that’s fascinating about your work is that it explores subcultures that seem like fantasy, but very much exist in real life. I know, for example, a lot of the cultures you explored in Crooked Little Vein are horribly true. What interests you about them?

I think one of the bigger lessons the internet has taught us is that “niche” or “subculture” are a lot bigger than anyone ever thought. And, frankly, if it’s on the internet, the biggest and widest communication and information system in the world, then it’s not really a subculture any more. If it’s accessible by hundreds of millions of people, then it’s as mainstream as it gets. More people visit body modification websites than watch some tv shows, and yet we think of television as the most mainstream, monocultural thing in the world. How can you not be interested in them? They are the shape of the world to come.

[…]

Also infused in a lot of your work is what appears to me anyway to be a deep and abiding love of space travel. What is it about space that fascinates you so much?

Space is the place. We currently keep all our breeding pairs in the same place, which is kind of a stupid way to run a species. Also, it’s full of stuff we haven’t seen yet, which should be impetus enough to go and look.

What do you think about the current state of space travel, especially now with China and now private companies getting into the mix?

I find it all sadly boring. I mean, yes, the Chinese programme looks awfully promising, but it’s just re-running the prime NASA years in fast-forward — doing things we already did, all over again, in a compressed timeframe, with what is probably fairly similar technology. I’m interested to see what they do once they attain the Moon. And, again, the private stuff — Virgin is just finding a new way to replicate Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital lob. That said, Elon Musk’s projects are getting more interesting by the day. I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t have a full-on James Bond villain long-game scheme. Wouldn’t that be great? Right up until, you know, the orbital death ray platforms.

October 17, 2012

Elon Musk drops hints about next SpaceX development direction

Filed under: Space — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Zach Rosenberg reports on the next big thing we can expect from SpaceX:

Launcher developer SpaceX has promised a new engine for a new rocket, larger than the Falcon 9 that NASA expects to become a mainstay of its Earth orbit operations.

Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who successfully parlayed the fortune he earned founding PayPal into launch systems developer SpaceX, said the new engine would not be based on the 160,000lb-thrust (712kN) Merlin 1 series that powers Falcon 9.

Musk said the new rocket, which he calls MCT, will be “several times” as powerful as the 1 Merlin series, and won’t use Merlin’s RP-1 fuel. Beyond adding that it will have “a very big core size”, he declined to elaborate, promising more details in “between one and three years”.

Musk declined to say what ‘MCT’ stands for, and declined to answer further questions on the project.

December 12, 2011

SpaceX Dragon to dock with ISS in February

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:31

Lewis Page on the recent announcement from NASA and SpaceX:

NASA has announced that — all being well — the first mission to the International Space Station by a privately built and operated spacecraft will lift off on February 7. The craft will be a Dragon capsule launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, both made and handled by techbiz visionary Elon Musk’s new company SpaceX.

“We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory,” said NASA honcho William Gerstenmaier in tinned quotes announcing the planned date. However he didn’t stick his neck out, adding cautiously:

“There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success.”

May 30, 2011

NASA’s changing goals for Orion

Filed under: Politics, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:56

The ever-sarcastic Lewis Page looks at how NASA has been trying to reposition their planned Orion spaceship:

NASA has declared that its pork-tastic Orion moonship — whose primary mission disappeared with President Obama’s decision that there will be no manned US return to the Moon — is now to be a “deep space transportation system”, suggesting that the agency plans to send it on missions beyond Earth orbit.

It remains unclear how the newly-renamed Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will travel into space, when it will do so and what its destination might be — though a near-Earth asteroid is a likely possibility. A major reason for Orion’s continued survival appears to be ignoble porkbarrel politics — but there is a tantalising possibility that it might fly beyond Earth orbit in the relatively near future.

What Page calls NASA’s “pork map” shows why the MPCV has strong, bi-partisan political support regardless of its actual utility for the space program:

Regardless of the political support, however, the most likely view of US federal government finances indicates that Orion/MPCV won’t be viable in the proposed timeframe. There’s a non-governmental choice, however:

Famous geekbiz-kingpin Elon Musk and his upstart rocket company SpaceX have come from nowhere in just eight years to successfully test-fly their brand new and very cheap Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, already apparently quite capable of performing the ISS supply mission. Only a few years ago, many in NASA and the established industry were arguing that this would never happen.

It’s also no secret that Musk and SpaceX are working on a new Merlin 2 rocket engine, much bigger than the current Merlin 1 which propels the Falcon 9. A multicore heavy lifter based on Merlin 2 would be in the 100-tonne-plus realm required to mount a Mars mission, and will surely be the cheapest offering competing at the 2015 heavy lift Mars-rocket decision.

April 21, 2011

Elon’s Dragon may “land on Mars”

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:35

While you’re talking up your own private space venture, you can probably be excused for a bit of boasting:

Famous upstart startup rocket company SpaceX, bankrolled and helmed by renowned internet nerdwealth hecamillionaire Elon Musk, has once again sent its goalposts racing ahead of its rapidly-advancing corporate reality.

The plucky challenger has stated that its “Dragon” capsule is not merely capable of delivering supplies to the International Space Station: it is — potentially — also capable of carrying astronauts to the space station and back down to Earth again.

In a statement released yesterday, Musk and SpaceX also make the bold claim that the Dragon, once fitted with modifications that the company is now developing under NASA contract, would also be able to land “almost anywhere on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy, overcoming the limitation of a winged architecture that works only in Earth’s atmosphere” (our emphasis).

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