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Europe’s new space rocket Vega makes first flight

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A lightweight rocket aimed at securing Europe a stake in the market to launch small satellites lifted off from Kourou space base on itsmaiden flight on Monday.

Vega, whose development has cost more than a billion dollars, raced into the sky from the launch site in French Guiana in a streak of light, carrying a test payload of nine satellites, mission controllers reported.

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The 81-minute mission is a “qualification” flight, aimed at proving a rocket that incorporates several important innovations, engineers said.

“The trajectory is normal,” flight supervisor Aimee Cippe said after the first three stages, driven by solid fuel, separated on schedule and the final stage, which uses liquid propellant, ignited as expected.

Thirty metres (100 feet) long and three metres in diameter, Vega is designed to hoist multiple payloads loads ranging from 300 kilos (660 pounds) to 2.5 tonnes into various orbits from 300 to 1,500 kilometres (190-940 miles) depending on mass.

The lightweight launcher complements the heavyweight Ariane 5, capable in its beefed-up version of lifting more than 20 tonnes, and the mid-range Soyuz, the Russian-Soviet veteran deployed to Kourou last year under a deal between Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of Arianespace, which commercialises ESA’s launchers, said the outlook for Vega was good.

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Its main competitors are Russian ballistic missiles, transformed to carry satellites in a swords-to-ploughshares scheme, and all of these Cold War launchers will be used up in the coming years, he said in a webcast.

“Vega is going to be extremely important for Arianespace because in just a few years it’s going to be the only launcher of its capability on the market,” Le Gall said.

Development of Vega dates back to 1998. It has cost 776 million euros (over one billion dollars), of which Italy has contributed nearly 60 percent.

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Vega uses four stages to propel a small payload into low orbit, a design that is unusual in a small rocket. Its stages are also made out of wrapped bandages of carbon fibre, in order to reduce weight.

Three of these stage use solid fuel, while the fourth and final stage, called AVUM, uses liquid fuel. It will carry out three “burns” in order to slot the payloads into their various orbits.

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The main payload on Monday was a tungsten sphere called Lares, which is designed to study the so-called Lense-Thirring effect.

This is a component of Einstein’s theory of general relativity which says that as a large mass such as the Earth rotates, it drags space and time around with it.

To measure the theorised effect, Lares is studded with reflectors on which ground-based laser beams will be trained to measure the satellite’s time and distance as it zips around the globe.

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The other principal satellite, AlmaSat-1, will test new civilian technologies in Earth observation.

The rest of the payload is taken up by seven so-called picosatellites, essentially cubes each weighing less than a kilo (2.2 pounds), in which European universities have each packed a separate experiment.


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2020 Election

Trump and the GOP have become the party of the dead

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There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.

This article first appeared in Salon.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.

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As coronavirus seizes the state, Florida hospitals are in panic mode

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As Florida experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, the residents of the state are facing obstacles like overwhelmed hospitals and a looming shortage in beds.

This article first appeared in Salon.

There are 47,663 hospital beds in the state right now with 11,782 available (meaning a remaining capacity of 19.82 percent) and a total staffed bed capacity of 59,445, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's Hospital Bed Capacity Dashboard. The state Department of Health also reported on Friday that, out of 95,300 individuals who received coronavirus test results over the course of the previous day, 11,433 tested positive for COVID-19 (all but 90 of whom were Florida residents), meaning that more than 12 percent of the new cases had positive test results. The state also reported 93 new deaths due to COVID-19. (Salon reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment on this story.)

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2020 Election

The GOP is a suicide cult

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

Back in March, we argued that Donald Trump had become the charismatic leader of the dumbest suicide cult ever. There were fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the time, but it wasn't difficult to see the trajectory we were on at even that early date. At the time, we were commenting on the President's* repeated claims that the whole thing was a big hoax and polls showing that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to say they were taking steps to avoid becoming infected.

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