World’s Largest Plane Takes Flight, Can Air-Launch Rockets Into Space

World's Largest Plane Takes Flight, Can Air-Launch Rockets Into Space

Stratolaunch lifted off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert (AFP)

Stratolaunch, the massive aircraft dreamed up by the late Paul Allen, flew for the first time Saturday, becoming the largest plane by wingspan ever to take to the skies.

Larger than Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose – which flew only once, in 1947 – Stratolaunch lifted off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert and stayed aloft for a couple of hours, according to photos and videos posted on social media.

The plane is a behemoth, with a twin fuselage, 28 wheels, six 747 jet engines and a wingspan longer than a football field, end zones included.

But Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, died in October, leaving the future of the plane and the company behind it in doubt. From the beginning, Allen’s dream was to use the plane to help make getting items, and possibly people, into space more affordable and accessible.

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Built by Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, Stratolaunch was designed to carry as many as three rockets tethered to its belly into the skies; the rockets would then drop, ignite and shoot off into space with their payloads.

Allen was fascinated with the capabilities of small satellites, how they could help keep tabs on Earth’s environment, and thought “air-launching” rockets, as the process is called, could help usher in a new era of space flight.


Stratolaunch is a behemoth, with a twin fuselage, 28 wheels, six 747 jet engines and a wingspan longer than a football field, end zones included (AFP)

“The capabilities of these small satellites is something that’s really interesting and fascinating,” he said. “Both for communications, where a lot of people are putting up constellations of satellites, and for monitoring the challenged health of the planet.”

The Pentagon, which is looking to become more responsive in space, had also taken an interest in Stratlolaunch. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson visited the plane, as did Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the National Space Council.


Stratolaunch was financed by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft as a way to get into the market for launching small satellites

The company was even thinking about human spaceflight, and had preliminary plans to develop a mini space shuttle, called “Black Ice.”

But for now all those plans appear to be on hold.


Stratolaunch was designed to carry as many as three rockets tethered to its belly into the skies; the rockets would then drop, ignite and shoot off into space with their payloads (AFP)

Allen, a space enthusiast for much of his life, funded the development of the spaceplane that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 by becoming the first nongovernmental vehicle to pass the threshold in space.

At the time, however, the risks of human spaceflight worried him, and he decided to get out of the business. In 2011, though, he was back, announcing his plans to build the world’s largest airplane.


Stratolaunch: The Pentagon, which is looking to become more responsive in space, had also taken an interest in Stratlolaunch

“You have a certain number of dreams in your life you want to fulfill,” he said at the time. “And this is a dream I’m very excited about.”


Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Takes Stake in Paytm

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Takes Stake in Paytm

Berkshire Hathaway invested Rs. 25 billion ($356 million) in the Indian company behind digital payments firm Paytm, according to a source with direct knowledge of the deal, in a foray by the conglomerate into India and the financial payments industry.

Billionaire Chairman Warren Buffett’s assistant, Debbie Bosanek, confirmed Berkshire’s investment in India’s One97 Communications in an email. She said Buffett was not involved in the transaction.

India’s Economic Times reported earlier on Monday that Berkshire was in talks to pick up a 3 percent to 4 percent stake in a deal potentially valuing Paytm at over $10 billion. The report cited people familiar with the matter.

One of Buffett’s key investment deputies, Todd Combs, who is also seen as a potential chief investment officer at Berkshire, is leading the transaction, the newspaper reported. It has been a busy year for Combs, who has also been heading Berkshire’s efforts to start a healthcare joint venture with and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In May, Buffett said at Berkshire’s annual shareholders meeting that the financial payments industry is a huge deal around the world and that many companies are working to reinvent the industry.

His conglomerate, meanwhile, has been under pressure to find significant investments and whittle down a $108.6 billion stockpile of cash.

Japan’s SoftBank and China’s Alibaba Group are among the major backers of Paytm.

One97 Communications, SoftBank and Alibaba did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2018

Disclosure: Paytm’s parent company One97 is an investor in NDTV’s Gadgets 360.


Georgia downs Georgia Tech, takes season series

April 25, 2017, Atlanta: Georgia Tech infielder Austin Wilhite takes the throw catching Georgia’s Mitchell Webb stealing second for the out during the sixth inning in a NCAA college baseball game on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/[email protected]

Georgia’s season has been a bit on the forgettable side, but the Bulldogs can claim the season series with Georgia Tech for the second year in a row. Georgia exploited two fruitful innings and an effective start from Kevin Smith to beat the Yellow Jackets 7-5 at Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium Tuesday night.

The Bulldogs, last in the SEC in ERA (5.11 coming into Tuesday’s game), have now held Tech to six runs in their two wins. Georgia beat 5-1 April 11 in Athens. Georgia will go for the sweep in the series finale at SunTrust Park May 9. The Bulldogs have not swept Tech in a season series of three or more games since 1984.

“This is a huge game for Georgia Tech fans and for us, so to lose it, just disappointing,” Tech coach Danny Hall said.

Smith went four innings, giving up five hits and walking one while giving up one run, to earn the win. Schniederjans took the loss.

Georgia (17-25) had lost six of seven after beating Tech (20-20) in Athens.

“This is our biggest rival,” Stricklin said. “For a lot of our players, for a lot of our fans, this is the biggest series of the year, no matter what, so it’s big to win the series. It’s important. They’re a good team, but to win the series means a lot to us.”


Apple Takes Ad Blocking “Been Choice” App From Store

Apple has removed an app from its iTunes App store that would have blocked native ads in iOS9. The app, with the odd name Been Choice, also offered rewards to users willing to share data on their preferences with the app.

The fate of the Been Choice app, which has only been offered for download on Apple’s store, is now uncertain. But its existence has started a discussion about what the implications of ad blocking software in the future may be, especially for marketers and advertisers.

In a surprising move earlier this month, Apple originally approved the ad blocking app for its iTunes store. But some at the time believed the tech giant may have simply been unaware of the implications of the app when approving it. And this may have been the reason for the company’s later apparent change of heart.

Been Choice, which was launched earlier this month, claims to block ads on both mobile websites and in native mobile apps. This appears to include Facebook ads and ads on Apple’s own Apple News application. These features make it more powerful than any other ad blocking tool yet available on the Apple mobile platform.

How Does it Work?

To block ads on the native mobile apps, Been Choice uses a virtual private network (VPN) that allows it to filter out ads using deep packet inspection. This approach is similar to the way organizations use deep packet inspection on managed devices to ensure confidential information doesn’t leave their networks.

On Safari, Been Choice would have created a “bubble”, almost entirely freeing a mobile device from all ads and trackers.

To entice more users, Been Choice intended to allow them to earn rewards by sharing data and answering surveys for app developers, publishers and advertisers. At first, the rewards  were to come in the form of cash payments via PayPal. In the near future, they were to include Amazon gift cards.

The Industry Reacts

Understandably, the digital advertising industry was not amused. Ciaran O’Kane, chief executive of Exchange Wire, a digital media analysis company, told Financial Times:

“We’re getting into dangerous territory … If app developers can’t make money, there’s going to be a kick back.”

The app could certainly have also affect the publishing industry, which is largely dependent on ad revenues. As it is, publishers struggle to attract users and to convert them for advertising clients, the only way they can make a profit and truly offer their content  online for free.

But, perhaps most importantly, the app would have affected small business owners and marketers. These people depend upon inexpensive online advertising along with social media, content marketing and other techniques to convert future customers.

Advertising in the Era of Ad Blockers

The threat of ad blockers has been looming over the digital advertising industry for quite some time now. According to a recent report released by Adobe, the number of people using ad blocking software has gone up by 41 percent to nearly 200 million in the past year.

The data should make anyone engaged in online marketing think strategically about how to best reach their customers via digital channels in the future.