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Lockheed Begins Construction on NASA’s Quiet Supersonic Aircraft

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Lockheed Martin and NASA are bringing us one step closer to supersonic travel over land.

The firm’s advanced design and development division, Skunk Works, has begun manufacturing the first part for the X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft.

For nearly 30 years, the Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner operated at a speedy Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph at cruise altitude).

Now, NASA and Lockheed Martin are collaborating to bring supersonic passenger travel back: Earlier this year, the space agency chose Skunk Works to design, build, and test the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator.

“The start of manufacturing on the project marks a great leap forward for the X-59 and the future of quiet supersonic commercial travel,” program manager Peter Iosifidis said in a statement.

One of the biggest issued with the Concorde was its sonic boom—the sound associated with shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound—on the ground.

A prohibition on supersonic flight over land meant the aircraft could travel at its phenomenal speeds only over the Atlantic.

Illustration of the X-59 QueSST as it flies above NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California (via Lockheed Martin/NASA)

So, Lockheed and NASA are trying something new.

“The long, slender design of the aircraft is the key to achieving a low sonic boom,” according to Iosifidis.

Designed to cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph, the X-59 QueSST will (fingers crossed!) reduce the loudness of a sonic boom to that of a gentle thump—about as loud as a car door closing.

Based on NASA’s official timeline, the X-plane will conduct its first flight in 2021, gliding above select U.S. communities to measure public perception of the noise.

Data collected will help NASA establish new rules to overturn current regulations banning supersonic travel over land.

The agency has already begun, earlier this month conducting a series of quiet supersonic research flights using F/A-18 jets off the Texas Gulf Coast.

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Explore Our Changing Planet On the Go With Google Earth Timelapse

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The planet’s surface is changing right before our eyes, and there’s no better way to watch its progress (or regression) than via Google Earth Timelapse.

Last updated three years ago, the global-zoomable time-lapse video now features two additional years of imagery (spanning from 1984 to 2018), as well as mobile support and visual upgrades.

Through a partnership with NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Google initially released its interactive experience in 2013—enabling armchair explorers to watch the sprouting of Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands, the retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and the urban expansion of Las Vegas.

After sifting through roughly 10 quadrillion pixels from more than 15 million satellite photos, the team built 35 global cloud-free images of the entire planet—one for each year.

Those images were then encoded into more than 25 million overlapping multi-resolution video titles, creating zoomable and pannable timelapses.

“Scientists, documentarians, and journalists have used this dataset to help us better understand the complex dynamics at work on our planet,” Google Earth Outreach geo data engineer Chris Herwig wrote in a blog post.

From coverage of the floods in Houston, Texas, to population monitoring, news outlets have brought their reporting to life with Timelapse imagery. Researchers at the University of Ottawa even published a journal article based on the Timelapse dataset.

UK residents, meanwhile, can see Timelapse content features in the new BBC series Earth From Space, “about the incredible discoveries and perspectives captured from above,” Herwig said.

This week’s update also adds mobile and tablet support, making it easy to explore, research, or just get lost in the beauty from wherever you are—the dentist’s waiting room, the daily commute, or the comfort of your sofa.

“Up until recently, mobile browsers disabled the ability to autoplay videos, which is crucial for Timelapse (since it’s made up of tens of millions of multi-resolution, overlapping videos),” according to Herwig.

But since Chrome and Firefox reinstated support for the feature (with sound muted), Google Earth could finally expand its service to on-the-go adventurers.

Using Material Design, the team also introduced cleaner lines and clearer focal areas for navigating the immense dataset.

“We’re committed to creating products like Timelapse with the planet in mind, and hope that making this data easily accessible will ground debates, encourage discovery, and inform the global community’s thinking about how we live on our planet,” Herwig wrote.

To view the new Timelapse, visit the Earth Engine website or take a tour through YouTube.

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Google Fit Now Tracks Workouts on iOS

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Google Fit finally landed on iOS this week, four and a half years after the health app launched for Android.

Relying on the sensors in a connected fitness tracker or mobile device, Google Fit records and measures physical activities against the user’s fitness goals.

Released to the public in October 2014, the Android-based program got a makeover last year, with added objectives based on recommendations from the American Heart Association and World Health Organization.

The updates also aimed to help Fit provide better metrics for pursuits other than walking, and encourage folks to engage in exercises that raise heart rate without going to the gym.

“When we launched the new Google Fit last year, we translated the science behind physical activity into two simple and smart activity goals: Move Minutes and Heart Points,” product manager Defne Gurel explained in a blog post.

Track your Heart Points and Move Minutes earned (via Google)

The more you move, the more Move Minutes you earn. The more intensely you move, the more Heart Points you earn.

My Tuesday workout—15 minutes on the elliptical, 30 minutes of strength training—for instance, earned me 69 Move Minutes and 91 Heart Points. (Versus only three Move Minutes and zero Heart Points so far today. Thanks, head cold!)

“Whether you go biking or pick up your pace while walking to your next meeting … you can check your journal to track progress on these two activity goals and see how small changes can make a big impact to your health,” Gurel said.

Manually enter activities—everything from aerobics to Zumba—as well as calories burned, steps taken, and distance traveled; or connect Apple Health-compatible apps like Sleep Cycle, Nike Run Club, and Headspace to sync with Google Fit.

Smartwatch wearers, of course, have a direct link to the service, which automatically documents workout sessions via your Apple Watch or Wear OS.

“Tracking your progress throughout the day should be simple and easy. Regardless of which apps or devices you use to monitor fitness, sleep, and general wellbeing, Google Fit has you covered.”

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FAA Greenlights Google Wing Drone Deliveries in US

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Two weeks after Project Wing earned approval to make drone deliveries in Canberra, Australia, the Google offshoot got the greenlight to launch a similar service in the US.

On Tuesday, Wing became the first drone delivery company to receive air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“For communities across the country, this presents new opportunities,” the firm wrote in a blog announcement. “Goods like medicine or food can now be delivered faster by drone, giving families, shift workers, and other busy consumers more time to do the things that matter.”

Wing drones have already flown more than 70,000 test flights and completed more than 3,000 deliveries to doorsteps, driveways, and backyards for customers Down Under.

Service is expected to take off soon, starting with 100 eligible homes in the Canberra suburbs of Crace, Palmerston, and Franklin, before expanding into Harrison and Gungahlin.

A U.S. delivery trial, meanwhile, could start as early as “later this year” in Montgomery County, Va.

“For the next several months, we’ll be reaching out to businesses and community members in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas to demonstrate out technology, answer questions, and solicit feedback,” Wing said.

No further details—including how many drones or consumers will be involved—have been revealed.

“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a statement. “Safety continues to be our No. 1 priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential.”

While the drones can fly autonomously, Wing will have certified pilots on the ground, ready to take control if necessary, according to CNN.

“Air delivery … provides greater autonomy to those who need assistance with mobility,” the company blog boasted. “Also, our all-electric drones will reduce traffic on our roads and pollution and carbon emissions in our skies.”

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