Mojave, Dec 13 (AP/UNB)— Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is gearing up to finally send its tourism rocket ship to the edge of space.
If successful, it would be a major step toward the long-delayed dream of commercial space tourism.
The next test flight could come as early as Thursday with two pilots taking Virgin Space Ship Unity high above California's Mojave Desert.
CEO George Whitesides said Wednesday they will try to exceed an altitude of 50 miles (80.4 kilometers), which Virgin Galactic considers the boundary of space. Whiteside said that's the standard used by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies.
That differs from a long-held view that places the boundary at 62 miles (99.8 kilometers.) But Whiteside cited new research that favors the lower altitude and said that as a U.S. company it will use the U.S. standard.
Reaching the threshold of space would demonstrate significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that were promised more than a decade ago. Virgin Galactic's development of its spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.
"It's a day that we've been waiting for for a long time," Whitesides said.
More than 600 people have committed up to $250,000 for rides in the six-passenger rocket, which is about the size of an executive jet. They have been waiting years to feel the kick of the rocket's ignition, a near-vertical high-speed ascent into the blackness of space and several minutes of weightlessness with a view of the Earth far below.
The spaceship isn't launched from the ground but is carried beneath a special plane to an altitude around 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). It then detaches from the plane, ignites its rocket engine and climbs. The rocket is shut down and the craft coasts to the top of its climb — and then begins a descent slowed and stabilized by unique "feathering" technology. The twin tails temporarily rotate upward to increase drag, then return to a normal flying configuration before the craft glides to a landing on a runway.
The endeavor began in 2004 when Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic in the heady days after the flights of SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned spacecraft that made three flights into space. Branson's goal: Open up space travel to more and more people.
Funded by the late billionaire Paul G. Allen and created by maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize. The prize was created to kick-start private development of rocket ships that would make spaceflight available to the public.
Branson isn't alone in the space tourism business: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is planning to take space tourists on suborbital trips, using the more traditional method of a capsule atop a rocket that blasts off from a launch pad. SpaceX's Elon Musk recently announced plans to take a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur and his friends on a trip around the moon.
When Branson licensed the SpaceShipOne technology, he envisioned a fleet carrying paying passengers by 2007, launching them from a facility in southern New Mexico called Spaceport America.
But there were significant setbacks. Three technicians were killed in 2007 by an explosion while testing a propellant system at Scaled Composites LLC, which built SpaceShipOne and was building the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.
Then, in 2014, SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight by Scaled Composites when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked the "feathering" system and it began to deploy. The co-pilot was killed but the injured pilot managed to survive a fall from high altitude with a parachute.
New versions of SpaceShipTwo were built by a Virgin Galactic sister company and flight testing taken in-house. VSS Unity has made three rocket-powered supersonic test flights so far.
Vancouver, Dec 12 (AP/UNB) — A Canadian court granted bail on Tuesday to a top Chinese executive arrested at the United States' request in a case that has set off a diplomatic furor among the three countries and complicated high-stakes U.S.-China trade talks.
Hours before the bail hearing in Vancouver, China detained a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in apparent retaliation for the Dec. 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and daughter of the company's founder.
After three days of hearings, a British Columbia justice granted bail of $10 million Canadian (US$7.5 million) to Meng, but required her to wear an ankle bracelet, surrender her passports, stay in Vancouver and its suburbs and confine herself to one of her two Vancouver homes from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The decision was met with applause in the packed courtroom, where members of Vancouver's Chinese community had turned out to show support for Meng.
Amid rising tension between China and Canada, Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed Tuesday that a former Canadian diplomat had been detained in Beijing. The detention came after China warned Canada of consequences for Meng's arrest.
"We're deeply concerned," Goodale said. "A Canadian is obviously in difficulty in China. ... We are sparing no effort to do everything we possibly can to look after his safety."
Michael Kovrig, who previously worked as a diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and the United Nations, was taken into custody Monday night during one of his regular visits to Beijing, according to a spokesman for International Crisis Group, where Kovrig now works as North East Asia adviser based in Hong Kong.
Canada had been bracing for retaliation for Meng' arrest. The Canadian province of British Columbia canceled a trade mission to China amid fears China could detain Canadians to put pressure on Ottawa over Meng's detention.
"In China there is no coincidence," Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said of Kovrig's detention. "Unfortunately Canada is caught in the middle of this dispute between the U.S and China. Because China cannot kick the U.S. they turn to the next target."
Earlier in the day, China vowed to "spare no effort" to protect against "any bullying that infringes the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens."
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi didn't mention Meng by name. But ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wang was referring to cases of all Chinese abroad, including Meng's.
Washington accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng and Huawei misled banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters in Washington "the charges against Meng pertain to alleged lies to United States financial institutions" about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.
"It is clear from the filings that were unsealed in Canada, Meng and others are alleged to have put financial institutions at risk of criminal and civil liability in the United States by deceiving those institutions as to the nature and extent of Huawei's business in Iran," Palladino said.
Meng has denied the U.S. allegations through her lawyer in court, promising to fight them if she is extradited to face charges in the United States.
"We have every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach a just conclusion in the following proceedings," Huawei said in a statement.
"As we have stressed all along, Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including export control and sanction laws of the UN, US, and EU. We look forward to a timely resolution to this matter."
Huawei, the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, is the target of U.S. security concerns. Washington has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.
The U.S. and China have tried to keep Meng's case separate from their wider trade dispute and suggested Tuesday that talks to resolve their differences may resume.
But President Donald Trump undercut efforts to distinguish between trade talks and the Huawei case. In an interview with Reuters, he said Tuesday that he would consider intervening in the Justice Department's case against Meng if it would be in the interest of U.S. national security or help forge a trade deal with Beijing.
Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called Trump's comments troubling.
"Canada is acting in good faith, according to the law, in response to a U.S. extradition request," Paris tweeted.
The Chinese government said its economy czar had discussed plans with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer for talks aimed at settling the two countries' differences. Lighthizer's office confirmed he had spoken by phone with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.
The news that trade negotiations may resume lifted stock markets around the world.
The United States has slapped tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports in response to complaints Beijing steals American technology and forces U.S. companies to turn over trade secrets.
Tariffs on $200 billion of those imports were scheduled to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1. But Trump agreed to postpone those by 90 days while the two sides negotiate.
San Jose, Dec 11 (AP/UNB)— Google is still having trouble protecting the personal information on its Plus service, prodding the company to accelerate its plans to shut down a little-used social network created to compete against Facebook.
A privacy flaw that inadvertently exposed the names, email addresses, ages and other personal information of 52.5 million Google Plus users last month convinced Google to close the service in April instead of August, as previously announced. Google revealed the new closure date and its latest privacy lapse in a Monday blog post .
It's the second time in two months that Google has disclosed the existence of a problem that enabled unauthorized access to Plus profiles. In October, the company acknowledged finding a privacy flaw affecting 500,000 Plus users that it waited more than six months to disclose.
Google moved more quickly to own up to the most recent privacy problem on Plus. This time around, the names, email addresses, ages and other personal information of the affected Plus users were exposed for six days in November before it was fixed. No financial information or passwords were visible to intruders, according to Google. The company also said it hasn't seen evidence indicating that unauthorized users who accessed Plus through the inadvertent peephole have missed used any of the personal information.
Even if the latest privacy gaffe on Plus didn't cause any major damage, it nevertheless marks another embarrassing incident for Google. The company's business model relies on it being seen as a trustworthy guardian of the personal information it collects about the billions of people who use its search engine, Gmail, Chrome browser, maps, and Android software for smartphones.
Like Facebook, Google makes most of its money by selling ads that draw upon what the company learns about the interests, habits and locations of people while they're using its free services.
Google's privacy issues on Plus are likely to be a topic that U.S. lawmakers delve into Tuesday, when company CEO Sundar Pichai is scheduled to appear before a House committee. Pichai's appearance comes more than three months after he turned down an invitation to testify in August, to the consternation of some lawmakers. Some members of Congress are now mulling whether tougher regulations to curb the power of Google, Facebook and other technology companies are needed in addition demanding tighter controls over digital privacy.
Facebook has had even more trouble guarding the personal information that it scoops up on its social networking service, which now has more than 2.2 billion users. The most glaring breakdown emerged in March when Facebook acknowledged the personal information of as many as 87 million of its users had been shared with Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm affiliated with President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
The desire to peer into people's lives is one of the reasons that Google launched Plus in 2011. It was supposed to be a challenger to Facebook's social network, but Plus turned into a digital ghost town that Google began to de-emphasize several years ago.
Vancouver, Dec 11 (AP/UNB) — A jailed Chinese technology executive will have to wait at least one more day to see if she will be released on bail in a case that has raised U.S.-China tensions and complicated efforts to resolve a trade dispute that has roiled financial markets and threatened global economic growth.
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and daughter of its founder, was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport Dec. 1 — the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed to a 90-day cease-fire in the trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.
The U.S. has accused Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also says Meng and Huawei misled banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
After a second daylong session, Justice William Ehrcke said the bail hearing would continue Tuesday.
In urging the court to reject Meng's bail request, prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley noted the Huawei executive has vast resources and a strong incentive to flee as she is facing fraud charges in the United States that could put her in prison for 30 years.
Gibb-Carsley later told the judge that if he does decide to grant bail it should include house arrest.
David Martin, Meng's lawyer, said Meng was willing to pay for a surveillance company to monitor her and wear an ankle monitor but she wanted to be able to travel around Vancouver and its suburbs. Scot Filer of Lions Gate Risk Management group said his company would make a citizen's arrest if she breached bail conditions.
Martin said Meng's husband would put up both of their Vancouver homes plus $1 million Canadian ($750,000) for a total value of $15 million Canadian ($11.2 million) as collateral.
The judge cast doubt on that proposal, saying Meng's husband isn't a resident of British Columbia — a requirement for him to act as a guarantor that his wife won't flee — and his visitor visa expires in February.
The prosecutor said her husband has no meaningful connections to Vancouver and spends only two or three weeks a year in the city. Gibb-Carsley also expressed concern about the idea of using a security company paid by Meng.
He said later that $15 million Canadian ($11.2 million) would be an appropriate amount if the judge granted bail, but he said half should be in cash.
Meng's arrest has fueled U.S.-China trade tensions at a time when the two countries are seeking to resolve a dispute over Beijing's technology and industrial strategy. Both sides have sought to keep the issues separate, at least so far, but the arrest has roiled markets, with stock markets worldwide down again Monday.
The hearing has sparked widespread interest, and the courtroom was packed again Monday with media and spectators, including some who came to support Meng. One man in the gallery brought binoculars to have a closer look at Meng, while outside court a man and woman held a sign that read "Free Ms. Meng."
Over the weekend, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador John McCallum and U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad.
Le warned both countries that Beijing would take steps based on their response. Asked Monday what those steps might be, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said only, "It totally depends on the Canadian side itself."
The Canadian province of British Columbia has already canceled a trade mission to China amid fears China could detain Canadians in retaliation for Meng's detention.
Stocks around the world fell Monday over investor concerns about the continuing U.S.-China trade dispute, as well as the cloud hanging over Brexit negotiations after Britain's prime minister postponed a vote on her deal for Britain to quit the European Union. In the U.S., stocks were volatile, tumbling in the morning and then recovering in the afternoon.
The Huawei case complicates efforts to resolve the U.S.-China trade dispute. The United States has slapped tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports, charging that China steals American technology and forces U.S. companies to turn over trade secrets.
Tariffs on $200 billion of those imports were scheduled to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1. But over dinner Dec. 1 with Xi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Trump agreed to delay the increase for 90 days, buying time for more negotiations.
Bill Perry, a trade lawyer with Harris Bricken in Seattle, said China's decelerating economy is putting pressure on Xi to make concessions before U.S. tariffs go up.
"They need a trade deal. They don't want the tariffs to go up to 25" percent, said Perry, who produces the "US China Trade War" blog. "This is Damocles' sword hanging over the Chinese government."
Huawei, the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, has become the target of U.S. security concerns because of its ties to the Chinese government. The U.S. has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.
Lu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, accused countries he didn't cite by name of hyping the "so-called" threat.
"I must tell you that not a single piece of evidence have they ever presented to back their allegation," he said. "To create obstacles for companies' normal operations based on speculation is quite absurd."
Canadian officials have declined to comment on Chinese threats of retaliation, instead emphasizing the independence of Canada's judiciary and the importance of Ottawa's relationship with Beijing.
Dhaka, Dec 10 (UNB) - Hours after unblocking 58 news portals, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on Monday night blocked 54 of them again.
Emdadul Haque, secretary general of Internet Service Providers’ Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB), told UNB that BTRC asked them to block 54 websites again.
He, however, said four of the websites that were unblocked earlier will remain open. These are poriborton.com, priyo.com, risingbd.com and dhakatimes24.com.
Earlier in the day, BTRC unblocked the 58 news portal after blocking those on Sunday.
BRTC Senior Assistant Director (Media) Jakir Hossain Khan said the websites were unblocked after 5pm as per government directives.
On Sunday, BTRC ordered the International Internet Gateway (IIG) operators to block the access to 58 news portals as per the recommendations of the government and law enforcement agencies.
“We gave the order based on recommendations from the government and law enforcement agencies,” Jakir earlier told UNB.
BTRC had cited security concerns for the decision but had not elaborated the reasons.
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