SpaceX to shift Florida launches to new pad after explosion

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters): SpaceX said on Friday it would shift Florida flights to a nearly completed second site after damage to its launch pad on Thursday from the explosion of a rocket belonging to the space services company run by Elon Musk. The Federal Aviation Administration has sent seven people to Florida to supervise investigation of the disaster, said FAA spokesman Hank Price. The agency, which oversees US commercial rocket launches, requires that SpaceX’s flights be suspended pending results of the probe.  Any sign of rocket malfunction could require changes throughout the SpaceX fleet. After a SpaceX rocket exploded in June 2015, the program was paused for six months while defective brackets were replaced in Falcon 9 launch vehicles.

Damage to SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is still being assessed. “The pad clearly incurred damage, but the scope has yet to be fully determined,” SpaceX said in a statement late Friday.

Pictures of the launch site after the explosion showed the top portion of a launch pad tower, which is used to raise the rocket and support it vertically, had canted over.

The US Air Force said in a statement that damage appeared to be contained within SpaceX’s launch complex. The cause of the accident, which destroyed a $200 million communications satellite, is under investigation. Meanwhile, more than 70 missions aboard Falcon rockets, worth more than $10 billion, are on hold.

With its launch pad likely facing major repairs, SpaceX said it would use a second Florida site, called 39A, which is located a few miles north at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and was used for space shuttle missions.

The pad is on schedule to be operational in November, SpaceX said. The company had planned to use the pad for the first time later this year for a test flight of its new Falcon Heavy rocket.

Nasa spokesman Michael Curie said in an email that the site could be used for commercial and government flights, and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in a May conference said one customer, SES SA of Luxembourg, had expressed interest in flying from the historic launch pad.

Other customers slated for Falcon 9 launches from Florida in 2016 are EchoStar Corp of Englewood, Colorado, South Korea’s KT Sat and NASA. In addition, SpaceX has contracts to fly satellites for Iridium Communications Inc, Taiwan’s National Space Organization and Seattle-based Spaceflight from its West Coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“Our number one priority is to safely and reliably return to flight for our customers,” SpaceX said.

The last time a launch pad sustained heavy damage was in October 2014 when an Orbital Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia. The explosion sent debris falling back onto the launch site. The pad is due to return to service this month after $15 million worth of repairs.

The FAA had required that SpaceX buy $12 million in liability insurance and $13 million policy to cover any damage to government property during pre-launch activities, according to a Commercial Space Transportation License the FAA issued to SpaceX in January 2016 for six commercial satellite launches in Florida.

SpaceX did not respond to questions about what additional insurance it has, if any, to cover damage to its own equipment.

United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed-Martin Corp and Boeing Co that flies its Atlas rockets at a pad next to SpaceX’s, said on Friday it had inspected its facility and found no damage or concerns.

SpaceX’s next launch had been scheduled for mid-September from California. Its next flight from Florida was targeted for October.

That California flight could go ahead as soon as the rocket is deemed ready, but the pad cannot substitute for the one in Florida. SpaceX uses Vandenberg to launch satellites requiring polar orbits, while Florida is better situated for satellites heading into equatorial orbits and for cargo ships flying to the International Space Station for NASA.

SpaceX was founded by Musk in 2002, and the Hawthorne, California-based company began launching its Falcon 9 rockets in June 2010. Since then, it has racked up 27 successful flights and one launch accident in June 2015 that destroyed a load of cargo headed for the space station.



Burning replica to mark Great Fire of London anniversary

LONDON (AFP): A giant replica of 17th-century London will be set ablaze in the city this weekend to mark the 350th anniversary of the devastating Great Fire of London. The 1666 inferno destroyed most of the walled inner city dating back to Roman times - a bustling, congested maze of tightly-packed wooden houses. It forced London to rebuild anew from the ashes. Now the city is looking back to when it lay in ruins - with a few shuddering sights to remind Londoners of the peril faced by their predecessors. The London’s Burning programme of events commemorating the disaster culminates in Sunday’s torching of a 120-metre (394-foot) long wooden replica of old London - moored in the River Thames to prevent the fire from spreading again.

“It will look spectacular,” said Helen Marriage, director of creative events company Artichoke, which is staging the London’s Burning programme.

The recreation was built by US ‘burn artist’ David Best and can be watched worldwide on a livestream from 8:25pm (1925 GMT) on Sunday.

The Great Fire of London broke out in Thomas Farrinor’s bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on September 2, 1666 and gradually spread through the city.

The fire was finally extinguished on September 5, with around 80 percent of the walled city in ruins. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches and Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Only six deaths were officially attributed to the fire, though an estimated 70,000 of the 80,000 residents were forced to flee, most to squalid camps outside the city walls. Various scapegoats were blamed, chiefly Catholics and foreigners.

Robert Hubert, a French watchmaker, confessed to starting the blaze and was swiftly hanged - though he was actually at sea when the fire broke out.

The London of today, with its characteristic English Baroque architecture in grey Portland stone, was built from the ashes of the wooden city, though the old street layout was retained to respect property rights.

The Monument column commemorates the fire near where it started but Pudding Lane itself is now an unremarkable concrete-lined back road.

The new St Paul’s Cathedral, still the centrepiece of the city, was completed 44 years after the Great Fire.

Nick Bodger, head of cultural and visitor development for the City of London, said the capital’s resilience - witnessed again during the 1940s Blitz - helped it rebuild and survive.

“350 years ago, when embers from a baker’s oven sparked one of the most catastrophic events the capital has ever witnessed, London’s economic prowess almost came to a fiery end,” he told reporters.

“A renewed sense of purpose saw the great city we enjoy today rise from those ashes, develop and thrive.”

The Museum of London’s “Fire! Fire!” exhibition contains scorched possessions only just saved from the fire, leather buckets used to fight it and letters telling of the inferno written by people who fled.

It also has burnt items excavated from a Pudding Lane shop, including charred bricks, melted tile fragments and scorched wooden barrels, still black from the blaze. “It was hugely devastating. It’s the heart of London where most of the major cultural and commercial buildings were,” curator Meriel Jeater told AFP. “People lost their homes, belongings and businesses.”

During London’s Burning festival flames will be projected onto the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and 23,000 breeze blocks arranged as a domino run will be felled to show how the fire spread through the city.

In London’s Inner Temple hall, the scale of events is being visually represented by piles of rice - one grain for each person.

Visitors can compare the numbers of those living in London now and then, and those evacuated from the city with the global number of refugees today.



At Berlin tech fair, waterproof gadgets make a splash

BERLIN (AFP): From smartphones that can survive a dip in the sink to sweat-resistant earphones and floating speakers for your next pool party, waterproof gadgets are making a splash at this year’s IFA electronics fair in Berlin. As consumers have grown more attached to their on-the-go devices, they have also become more demanding and manufacturers have been working for years to make those products, phones especially, better able to withstand sudden downpours, spills or even the dreaded toilet-bowl plunge. “The smartphone is now omnipresent and constantly in use, and a lot can happen. So its waterproof capabilities have become a lot more important,” said Timm Lutter of the German hi-tech federation Bitkom.

When Japanese electronics giant Sony unveiled its latest handset, the Xperia XZ, at the week-long tech extravaganza on Thursday, it touted the phone’s water resistance by showing it from behind a liquid-spattered screen.

A day earlier, Samsung showed off its new Gear S3 smartwatch, which like its Galaxy S7 phone can easily cope with a dunk.

Apple’s iPhone 7, to be launched next week, is also widely expected to feature improved water resistance. “It’s a consumer demand, a selling point, a way to stand out,” said Jean-Raoul de Gelis, head of Sony Mobile France.

But given the complexities of designing water-resistant devices, de Gelis said it was an add-on reserved for high-end products only. “You have to work on sealing each protrusion, the screen, all the connector ports, and technically they are much more complex products to manufacture,” he told AFP.

It’s not just smartphones and smartwatches that are focussing on becoming more water-friendly.

Makers of sports gadgets have long taken the plunge, with cameras like the all-terrain GoPro, headphones and MP3 music players that you can take swimming already widely available.

Japan’s JVC Kenwood displayed a range of sweat- and splash-proof sports headphones at the IFA gathering, as well as a small camcorder that can be safely submerged at a depth of up to five metres (16 feet) and can withstand dust and extreme temperatures.

“It’s a family product, it needs to work in all situations,” said Guillaume Briot, head of the firm’s French marketing division, referring to the new generation Everio camera.

But buyers beware! Just because a gadget promises some level of splash resistance, it doesn’t mean it can survive all submerged activities.

Samsung’s advertisement for the Galaxy S7 for instance shows a man who absentmindedly drops his phone in the sink while doing the dishes, a submersion lasting just a few moments.

“We’re not saying that this is an under-water device,” Guillaume Berlemont, marketing director of mobile products at Samsung France, told AFP.

And while tech products are getting better at coping with water, some companies have been reluctant to highlight those capabilities, fearing consumers will misunderstand how far they can take it, said IHS technology analyst Ian Fogg.

Firms that do choose to market their products as such must consider how they will manage customer returns if the devices end up suffering water damage, he said.

“Is it something that is due to a fault in manufacturing or is it because (the) consumer has used the phone in a way that goes beyond the official rating?”

Water-resistant products generally come with an IP68 rating, meaning they can handle being submerged for up to half an hour, at a depth of more than one metre. Enough to withstand rain and accidental splashes or immersions, but not enough to survive being left at the bottom of a pool.

“There is a lot of work to do in terms of educating consumers. It’s not easy,” said Sony’s de Grelis.

Some waterproof gadgets are of course designed to be dabbled with playfully, as demonstrated by Vern Smith, head of business development at Monster Products, who entertained visitors at the trade show by tossing a black, wireless speaker into a bowl of water.

It quickly resurfaced, spat out a few drops and then resumed blasting out music, while gently floating on the water’s surface.




US bans antibacterial soap chemicals over health risks

WASHINGTON (AFP): The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday banned several key chemicals in antibacterial hand soap, warning of health risks and saying they were not more effective than ordinary soap. The FDA move took aim at 19 ingredients including the two most common, triclosan and triclocarban, which are widely included in liquid and bar antibacterial soaps despite fears they damage the immune system. “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s drugs division. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

The ban does not include hand disinfectant products used in hospitals and other medical centers, the FDA said.

Theresa Michele, who works with the personal care side of the agency, said most non-medical products on the market contain at least one of the banned ingredients.

Manufacturers have a year to comply with the ban, and some are already working to remove the ingredients in question from their products, the FDA said.

“Washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others,” an FDA statement said.

If soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer “that contains at least 60 percent alcohol,” could be used instead, it added.

Not all parties are convinced of potential harm from the personal care products, with the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) arguing that the soaps were safe.

“Antibacterial soaps are critical to public health because of the importance hand hygiene plays in the prevention of infection,” an ACI statement said.

“Washing the hands with an antiseptic soap can help reduce the risk of infection beyond that provided by washing with non-antibacterial soap and water.”

The Environmental Working Group hailed the bans as progress. “This decision by the FDA is a huge victory on behalf of human health and the environment,” said Ken Cook, co-founder and president of EWG. “EWG has been conducting research and advocating for this exact federal government action for nearly a decade, and our work, as well as that of other public interest groups and many of our supporters, has finally paid off.”

Cook, whose group assesses some products for safety concerns, called the FDA decision overdue.




Scientists say Singapore Zika is Asian, cases reach 200

SINGAPORE (AFP): Singapore on Saturday reported 215 cases of Zika infections as scientists in the city-state said the virus strain comes from within Asia and was not imported from Brazil. The Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency said in a joint statement on Saturday evening that of the 26 new cases reported Saturday, 24 were linked to a cluster in the Aljunied district where the country’s first locally-transmitted cases were reported. The statement did not say where the other two cases were from. A week after Singapore reported its first case of locally transmitted Zika infection, local scientists say they have completed genetic sequencing of the virus.“The analysis found that the virus belongs to the Asian lineage and likely evolved from the strain that was already circulating in Southeast Asia.

The virus from these two patients was not imported from South America,” the statement said.

The Aedes mosquito-borne Zika, which has been detected in 67 countries and territories including hard-hit Brazil, causes only mild symptoms for most people such as fever and a rash.

But pregnant women who catch it can give birth to babies with microcephaly, a deformation marked by abnormally small brains and heads.

Malaysia on Saturday confirmed its first locally transmitted case of Zika infection in a man living in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah.

This comes two days after the first case on Malaysian soil was reported in a woman who is believed to have contracted it while visiting her daughter in neighbouring Singapore.