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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

[“source=ndtv”]

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has spearheaded moves to loosen campaign finance laws in India, generating criticism that businesses—and foreigners—could potentially wield unprecedented influence over the election starting next month.

The new rules let corporations, including those partly owned by foreign entities, fund elections anonymously. They also permit businesses to bankroll political parties through opaque instruments called electoral bonds and enable shell companies to be conduits for election funding.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

The changes, which Modi’s party has said were designed to at least partially account for undocumented cash long used during India’s elections, may actually make it easier—and legal—for anonymous donors to support political parties. Spending on the election ending May 23 is set to rise 40 percent to 500 billion rupees ($7 billion), according to the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies.

“It won’t be an exaggeration to say our elections will never be the same again,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, the group’s chairman, who has advised previous Indian governments. “What is this if not the auctioning of our democracy to the highest-paying corporation?”

Modi swept to power in 2014 promising a business-friendly administration that would transform India’s image on the world stage. He remains the favorite for many investors, despite more recently introducing populist policies to boost support in rural India and tightening rules against corporate defaulters.

The biggest innovation in India’s campaign finance laws is the anonymous electoral bond. Despite the name, they bear little resemblance to the promissory notes investors are familiar with: Buyers aren’t paid any interest.

Anyone can buy an electoral bond at the government-owned State Bank of India in denominations ranging from 1,000 rupees to 10 million rupees ($14 to $140,000). Afterward they are delivered to a political party, which can exchange them for cash. They don’t carry the name of the donor and are exempt from tax.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

“Electoral bonds have made political parties completely beholden to unaccounted money, which could even be foreign money or money from dubious sources,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, the former head of India’s top business school and the founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, a group that researches elections. “Corporate agendas can run the show.”

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who first announced plans for the electoral bonds in 2017, argued last year that they actually help improve transparency because they are banking instruments and every political party has to disclose how much it received. If full transparency is required, donors would go back to cash, he wrote in a January 2018 Facebook post.

For those in India worried about anonymous money in politics, the process for changing the laws has offered little reassurance that the new measures are an improvement.

System Overhaul

India’s campaign finance overhaul began in 2017, when parliament approved an amendment that made it easier for companies to donate to campaigns, including removing a cap on corporate donations (the maximum used to be 7.5 percent of a company’s average net profits over three years). Now new firms can also donate to political parties, opening the door for shell companies to be set up expressly for the purpose.

Also eliminated were requirements for companies to disclose how much they donated and to which party.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

The changes were introduced in parliament via a money bill, a measure that only needs to be passed by the lower house controlled by Modi’s ruling coalition and not the opposition-led upper house.

A similar tactic was used to pass with little debate rules that changed the definition of a foreign company. Previously, all subsidiaries of international entities were treated as overseas donors and not allowed to make political contributions. Now if a foreign firm has a stake of less than 50 percent in a company operating in India, that unit can fund Indian elections.

While several lawmakers protested the moves, analysts said the amendments will benefit both Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the main opposition Congress party.

“Nobody from the opposition spoke up,” Rao said. “Maybe everybody realizes they stand to gain if they come to power?”

In 2014, the Delhi High Court found both major parties guilty of violating foreign-exchange laws when they accepted a donation from London-based commodities giant Vedanta Resources Plc.

(The suit, filed by a former top bureaucrat and the Association for Democratic Reforms, was against the political entities and Vedanta wasn’t a party. The company didn’t respond to request for comment. The BJP and Congress argued the donations weren’t foreign because the Vedanta units that channelled the money were registered under Indian law.)

The law passed last year changed the definition of a foreign company all the way back to 1976, effectively nullifying the court’s verdict because Vedanta’s overseas parent owned less than 50 percent of the Indian unit.

The government has defended the revisions, saying they were intended to align the definition of “foreign source” with the nation’s foreign direct investment policies, and other laws bar political funding from abroad. GVL Narasimha Rao and Nalin Kohli, representatives of Modi’s BJP, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The latest official data show that Modi’s ruling party won the bulk of financing in the year ended March 2018, both through corporate donations and electoral bonds.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

In 2018, electoral bonds worth about 10.6 billion rupees ($150 million) were purchased, according to data obtained under India’s Right to Information Act by Factly, a data journalism portal in India. About 90 percent were of the highest denomination available, which is out of reach for the average citizen.

India’s rules governing political contributions are looser than other major democracies. In the U.K., companies aren’t directly allowed to make donations to political parties. The U.S. allows unlimited funding through political action committees called super PACs on federal election campaigns, but requires them to disclose the names of donors. Milan Vaishnav, Washington-based senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who’s edited a book on Indian political funding, said he hasn’t seen an instrument like electoral bonds in any other country.

“In most advanced democracies, transparency is a core principle,” Vaishnav said. “Few advanced democracies legitimize opacity in the way India has done.”

[“source=bloombergquint”]

World’s No 1 bridge player suspended after failing a drugs test

Bridge is not known for doping violations and Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, insists the drugs Geir Helgemo took were ‘not performance enhancing’

Bridge is not known for doping violations and Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, insists the drugs Geir Helgemo took were ‘not performance enhancing’. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The world No 1 bridge player has been suspended after failing a drugs test.

Geir Helgemo, who is Norwegian but represents Monaco in bridge events, tested positive for synthetic testosterone and the female fertility drug clomifene at a World Bridge Series event in Orlando in September.

After accepting he had breached anti-doping rules, Helgemo was suspended by the World Bridge Federation (WBF) until 20 November. He also had all titles, medals and points from the 2018 World Bridge Series revoked.

Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, said the drugs were “not performance enhancing”. In a statement on the federation’s website, she said: “Geir Helgemo … has previously played for the Norwegian national team and is our biggest star. Many within the bridge community know Geir and respect him.

“It is his responsibility not to take substances that are on the doping list, even though in this instance they are not performance enhancing in bridge. I feel for Geir in this situation and hope he will come back stronger after his ban ends.”

The World Bridge Federation (WBF) is recognised by the International Olympic Committee and as such abides by World Anti-Doping Agency rules.

[“source=theguardian”]

5 fascinating facts about world’s highest Chenab rail bridge!

World’s highest Chenab rail bridge is expected to be complete by December this year. The construction of the 359 m high bridge began in 2004. This bridge will be 35 m higher than the Eiffel Tower.

Chenab Bridge

Representative Image  |  Photo Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: Indian Railways is constructing the world’s tallest railway bridge over Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir. This bridge which will be Railways’ finest engineering marvel and is being built at a height of 359 metres above the river. It may be noted that this bridge will be 30-35 m higher than the Eiffel Tower.

This bridge will form the crucial link between Katra and Banihal which is a key part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla section of the Kashmir Railway project. The work on the installation of the main arch between two sides of the bridge has already begun, said an engineering member of the Railway Board recently. The construction of the bridge began in 2004. However, the work was stopped in 2008-09 on the account of rail passengers’ safety due to frequent high-velocity winds in the area.

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Here are 5 fascinating facts about the bridge that you should know.

1. This arch bridge will be 1.315-km-long and is being constructed at a height of 359 metres above Chenab river waters. The bridge will have railway stations at both its terminal ends.

2. Railways is planning to install sensors on the bridge to check the wind velocity. In case, the wind speed exceeds 90 Kmph, the signal on the railway track will turn red and any train movement will be stopped. As per officials, the bridge can withstand winds up to 260 Kmph and its lifespan will be 120 years.

3. Since the bridge is being built in a terrorism-prone region, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working the Railways to ensure that this Rs 12,000-crore bridge is able to withstand any major blast. Special 63 mm-thick blast proof steel is being used in the construction of this bridge.

4. The concrete pillars of this bridge are also designed in a way that it can withstand blasts/explosions. The bridge is designed by consultants from Finland and Germany.

5. Aside from blasts, the arch bridge is also being designed in a way that it can withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8 on the Richter Scale. It may be noted that even though the bridge falls under zone 4, it is being built to handle earthquake with an intensity of zone 5 which is the highest intensity zone in the country.

Worth mentioning here is that Railways is also constructing three big tunnels- T2 (5.9 KM), T3 (9.369 km) and T14 (13 km), on the other side of the river. According to officials, over 1,300 workers and 300 engineers have been working round-the-clock to complete the bridge by May this year.

A ropeway is being installed as well on the bridge as well for inspection and maintenance purpose. The Railway had to construct 22 km of roads in order to reach the bridge site. According to reports, footpaths and cycle trails will also be constructed adjacent to the railway bridge.

Take a look at the pictures here:

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(Picture Credit: Ministry of Railways Twitter)

chenab bridge

(Picture Credit: Twitter)

chenab bridge

(Picture Credit: Twitter)

chenab bridge

(Picture Credit: Twitter)

chenab bridge

(Picture Credit: Ministry of Railways Twitter)

chenab bridge

(Picture Credit: Ministry of Railways Twitter)

chenab bridge

(Picture Credit: Ministry of Railways Twitter)

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[“source=timesnownews”]