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Kamala Harris to announce US will no longer conduct anti-satellite tests

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This evening, Vice President Kamala Harris is announcing that the United States will no longer conduct anti-satellite, or ASAT, missile tests — the practice of using ground-based missiles to destroy satellites in orbit around Earth. Harris is challenging other countries to make the same commitment and establish this policy as a new “norm of responsible behavior in space.”

Harris will speak more extensively on the new commitment during a speech at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California this evening. Harris currently serves as the chair of the White House’s National Space Council, an executive advisory group that helps to set the nation’s space agenda.

This declaration comes five months after Russia conducted an ASAT test in November. The country launched one of its Nudol missiles from Earth, which destroyed Russia’s Cosmos-1408 satellite, a Soviet-era spacecraft that’s been in orbit since the 1980s. The event created a massive cloud of more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris as well as thousands of smaller pieces that couldn’t be detected. The satellite’s destruction occurred in a fairly close orbit to that of the International Space Station, prompting the astronauts on board to temporarily shelter inside their spacecraft in case the debris damaged the facility.

The United States swiftly condemned the test, as did NATO and the European Union. Tests like these — known as direct ascent ASAT tests — are widely reviled because of their propensity to create dangerous debris. The leftover pieces from ASAT tests can spread for miles and often stay in orbit for months and even years, menacing the space environment. ASAT debris can’t be controlled and moves at many thousands of miles per hour, so even a small fragment can damage or take out a functioning satellite during a collision.

Though the space community generally despises ASAT tests, no country has called for a moratorium on the practice in the more than 60 years that countries have tested the technology. Now, the United States is taking that step in light of Russia’s actions. “I think it’s a really powerful move,” Victoria Samson, an expert on military space at the Secure World Foundation think tank, tells The Verge. “The US is the first country to make this sort of declaration, and I’m very much hoping other countries will follow suit — particularly those who have also tested anti-satellite weapons in space, but even those who haven’t.”

Since the same missile technology used to destroy a fast-moving satellite can also be used to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles, ASAT tests can act as technology demonstrations. But these tests are predominately very loud shows of strength. When a country demonstrates that it can destroy one of its own satellites, it’s broadcasting to the world that it has the capability to destroy an adversary’s satellites, too.

So far, no country has actually used ASAT technology to take out another country’s spacecraft. Instead, only four countries have demonstrated this technology on their own satellites. Russia’s been testing its Nudol technology for years now but only successfully destroyed a satellite from the ground in November. In 2019, India destroyed one of its own satellites, creating a few hundred pieces of debris — half of which have already burned up in our planet’s atmosphere. And in 2007, China destroyed its defunct Fengyun-1C weather satellite, creating thousands of fragments. Some of that debris is still in orbit today and causing problems; in November, just before Russia conducted its ASAT test, the International Space Station had to boost its orbit to get out of the way of one of the leftover pieces of China’s ASAT test.

The astronauts on board the International Space Station had to take shelter after Russia’s ASAT test in November.
Image: NASA

The US has perhaps been testing ASAT technology the longest and conducted its last debris-generating test back in 2008. As part of a mission called “Burnt Frost,” US Strategic Command launched a missile at a decaying spy satellite from the National Reconnaissance Office. The US made the excuse that the satellite contained nearly 1,000 pounds of a toxic propellant called hydrazine and shooting down the satellite was simply a safety measure to prevent the propellant from doing harm if the satellite survived the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere.

Though it’s been more than a decade since the US has conducted an ASAT test, the US has been reluctant to call for an end to the practice. “Up until a couple of years ago, that was not the US position,” Samson says. “The US wanted complete freedom of action in space no matter what.”

The orbit around Earth has grown increasingly more crowded over the last few years, though. It has become easier and cheaper for companies to launch privately built satellites into space. Meanwhile, companies like SpaceX and OneWeb have begun building out mega-constellations of satellites in orbit, consisting of hundreds and even thousands of satellites. Earth’s orbit is only going to become more congested, as other companies and countries consider launching similar mega-constellations to stay competitive.

Adding even more debris to this environment will just increase the risk of collisions. Russia’s ASAT test in November demonstrated just how threatening that debris cloud can be when it put the astronauts on board the International Space Station in danger. In December, Kathleen Hicks, the US Department of Defense deputy secretary, expressed a desire for the international community to halt ASAT tests during a meeting of the National Space Council. “We would like to see all nations agree to refrain from anti-satellite weapons testing that creates debris,” she said.

Now, the Biden administration is making that wish official with the US leading the way on the effort and calling for other countries to do the same. However, it’s unclear which countries will actually follow suit, and there is currently no way to hold countries accountable for their pledges.

However, the international community does seem poised to take a stand on ASAT testing in some capacity. In May, the United Nations is convening an open-ended working group tasked with establishing “norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviors” in space. One of the topics the group is concerned with is debris-generating events caused by the intentional destruction of spacecraft in orbit. “From what we’ve heard, a lot of countries are interested in something like an ASAT test moratorium,” says Samson “So I actually think this does have the possibility to get a groundswell movement towards international support.”

Of course, there’s a lengthy process between today’s announcement and some kind of declaration of international law. “This is absolutely a first step,” says Samson. “We’re hoping that there will be plenty more.”



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‘Axie Infinity’ hack victims will only get back around a third of what they lost

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Sky Mavis, the developer of blockchain game Axie Infinity, says it will start reimbursing the victims of a $617 million hack that took place earlier this year. The attackers took $25.5 million in USDC (a stablecoin that’s pegged to the value of the US dollar) and 173,600 ether, which was worth around $591.2 million at the time. The FBI claimed North Korean state-backed hacker groups were behind the attack.

Impacted Axie Infinity players will be able to withdraw one ether token for each one they lost in the hack, Sky Mavis told Bloomberg (the company didn’t mention a USDC reimbursement). However, as with other cryptocurrencies, the value of Ethereum has plummeted since the attack in March. 

Because of that, Sky Mavis will return around $216.5 million to users. It’s possible that the price of Ethereum will rise again, but as things stand, affected users will get back around a third of what they lost.

In April, Sky Mavis raised $150 million in funding to help it pay back the victims. The developer plans to reimburse affected users on June 28th, when it restarts the Ronin software bridge that the hackers targeted. 

Axie Infinity is widely considered the most popular play-to-earn game. Players collect and mint NFTs representing creatures that battle each other, Pokémon-style. These NFTs can be sold to other players, with Sky Mavis charging a transaction fee. By February, Axie Infinity had facilitated $4 billion in NFT sales.

However, the NFT market has all but bottomed out, which has had a significant impact on Axie Infinity. For one thing, according to Bloomberg, the daily active user count dropped from 2.7 million in November to a quarter of that by the end of May.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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Snoop Dogg and Eminem’s Bored Ape music video is here to try and sell us on tokens

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The last couple of weeks have had a lot of bad news for some in the “web3” space, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at announcements in and around the recently-ended NFT.NYC and ApeFest 2022 events. The Bored Ape Yacht Club’s (BAYC) annual event in particular brought in musicians like The Roots, LCD Soundsystem, Haim, Lil Baby, Lil Wayne, and others to perform for its members. On the final day of the event, guests saw the premiere of this video from two of the celebrities who’ve purchased tokens, Eminem and Snoop Dogg.

The video is for a new song, From The D 2 The LBC, that isn’t the most memorable of collaborations and is mostly about smoking weed, but it constantly splices in images of the cartoon apes. Many BAYC members were disappointed in February when both men performed in the Super Bowl halftime show, and despite appearing during an event that featured crypto ads seemingly every few minutes, failed to highlight their web3 endeavors.

The price of ApeCoin has dropped 39 percent in the last month to $4.51 after peaking in late April at more than $23, while Bitcoin and Ethereum’s values are also about 38 percent lower than they were 12 months ago. The Wall Street Journal wrote on May 3rd that “NFT Sales Are Flatlining,” and the numbers haven’t improved overall since then. That report cited an NFT from Snoop’s own collection, Doggy #4292, that sold for more than $33k several months ago. Its owner currently lists the item for sale at a price of nearly $11 million, and while the highest bid at the time of the article was $210, right now someone is offering $1,218. You can see the animation or download high-res still of it from its source website right here, for free.

Despite that, now BAYC owners can point to music that uses characters from the club they spent so much money to join. Plus, they did get to see the real Snoop Dogg perform, not the fake one that some web3 company fooled people with this week during NFT.NYC.

The rappers’ NFTs were both acquired via third parties in December, near the time prices for Bitcoin and Ethereum’s most recent peaks. In a deal executed by the digital agency Six, it cost 123.45 ETH to obtain Eminem’s Bored Ape #9055. At the time, that was worth about $460,000 but it’s now equivalent to around $150,000.

The ape icon associated with Snoop Dogg, #6723, was moved in a transfer from the previous owner’s wallet, not a sale with a price recorded on the blockchain, which was enabled by MoonPay. The company has focused on making it easy for celebrities to buy high-priced NFTs, although it also makes it difficult to track exactly how these celebrity-affiliated tokens were obtained, and who actually paid the much-publicized prices.

Opening up the ability for token owners to use the images of the apes for their creative or business endeavors is a part of the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s strategy, even if it’s unclear why or how that will increase the appeal to people who haven’t spent six figures on an NFT. The way they see it, this is the beginning of a new media industry, with intellectual property rights linked to digital tokens with monetization that trickles down to everyone associated.

The truth about NFTs and copyright is a lot more complicated than that — you can follow our explanation of the state of things right here. But for now, the parties go on, with plenty of things for BAYC owners Yuga Labs to sell to members who are sticking around, like merchandise and promises of land in a metaverse that hasn’t launched yet.





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Paralyzed race driver completes Goodwood hill climb using head movement to steer

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Former Indy Racing League competitor Sam Schmidt is continuing to break new ground for accessible driving technology. The Arrow McLaren SP team co-owner has completed the signature hill climb at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed using head movements and his breath to steer — the first time anyone has demonstrated the feature at the UK event. Schmidt drove a McLaren 720S Spider modified by Arrow Electronics to track his head using infrared cameras. He controlled acceleration and braking by inhaling and exhaling through a “sip-and-puff” device. The racer also wore a semi-autonomous exoskeleton concept, the SAM Suit, that helps him walk.

Schmidt became quadriplegic in 2000 when he injured his spinal cord in a practice lap crash. He has long been an advocate for paralysis treatment, and in 2014 partnered with Arrow to drive a Corvette using a combination of head tracking, sip-and-puff and voice controls. In 2016, became the first American with a license to use an autonomous vehicle on highways, using a Corvette to drive in Nevada.

While alternative mobility solutions can return some level of autonomy to those no longer able to operate a vehicle for one reason or another, it’s not entirely clear what role Arrow’s technology might play in the future. We’ve reached out to the company for details on where it sees projects like the SAM heading. Arrow will also be racing against self-driving tech, which is becoming closer to a practical reality, with Level 3 autonomy already reaching public roads. With that said, completely driverless cars (Level 5 autonomy) will take years to arrive.

Update 6/24/22 7:27pm ET: Reached for comment, an Arrow spokesperson told Engadget that while SAM “is not precisely open source” the tech may be “available for future development if Arrow approves.”

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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