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Deepfake tech takes on satellite maps

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While the concept of “deepfakes,” or AI-generated synthetic imagery, has been decried primarily in connection with involuntary depictions of people, the technology is dangerous (and interesting) in other ways as well. For instance, researchers have shown that it can be used to manipulate satellite imagery to produce real-looking — but totally fake — overhead maps of cities.

The study, led by Bo Zhao from the University of Washington, is not intended to alarm anyone but rather to show the risks and opportunities involved in applying this rather infamous technology to cartography. In fact their approach has as much in common with “style transfer” techniques — redrawing images in an impressionistic, crayon and arbitrary other fashions — than with deepfakes as they are commonly understood.

The team trained a machine learning system on satellite images of three different cities: Seattle, nearby Tacoma and Beijing. Each has its own distinctive look, just as a painter or medium does. For instance, Seattle tends to have larger overhanging greenery and narrower streets, while Beijing is more monochrome and — in the images used for the study — the taller buildings cast long, dark shadows. The system learned to associate details of a street map (like Google or Apple’s) with those of the satellite view.

The resulting machine learning agent, when given a street map, returns a realistic-looking faux satellite image of what that area would look like if it were in any of those cities. In the following image, the map corresponds to the top right satellite image of Tacoma, while the lower versions show how it might look in Seattle and Beijing.

Four images show a street map and a real satellite image of Tacoma, and two simulated satellite images of the same streets in Seattle and Beijing.

Image Credits: Zhao et al.

A close inspection will show that the fake maps aren’t as sharp as the real one, and there are probably some logical inconsistencies like streets that go nowhere and the like. But at a glance the Seattle and Beijing images are perfectly plausible.

One only has to think for a few minutes to conceive of uses for fake maps like this, both legitimate and otherwise. The researchers suggest that the technique could be used to simulate imagery of places for which no satellite imagery is available — like one of these cities in the days before such things were possible, or for a planned expansion or zoning change. The system doesn’t have to imitate another place altogether — it could be trained on a more densely populated part of the same city, or one with wider streets.

It could conceivably even be used, as this rather more whimsical project was, to make realistic-looking modern maps from ancient hand-drawn ones.

Should technology like this be bent to less constructive purposes, the paper also looks at ways to detect such simulated imagery using careful examination of colors and features.

The work challenges the general assumption of the “absolute reliability of satellite images or other geospatial data,” said Zhao in a UW news article, and certainly as with other media that kind thinking has to go by the wayside as new threats appear. You can read the full paper at the journal Cartography and Geographic Information Science.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/22/deepfake-tech-takes-on-satellite-maps/

Aerospace

Arqit raising $400 million with a SPAC to launch quantum encryption satellites in 2023

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TAMPA, Fla. — British quantum technology encryption startup Arqit is raising $400 million in the space industry’s latest SPAC deal, supporting the launch and construction of two satellites in 2023 to protect against growing hacking threats.

The fundraising comes as the FBI investigates a ransomware attack that closed a U.S. pipeline providing a significant portion of gasoline and jet fuel to the East Coast, highlighting a need to bolster cyberdefenses.

Arqit’s merger with Centricus Acquisition Corp., a publicly traded SPAC (special purpose acquisition company), values the combined group at $1.4 billion.

That makes Arqit the first space company unicorn — a startup valued more than $1 billion — to emerge from the U.K., according to Mark Boggett, CEO of venture capital firm Seraphim Capital that invested in Arqit before the transaction.

It is the “first of many new ones to come,” Boggett added.

The corporate entity for the combined company will be called Arqit Quantum Inc, headquartered in the Cayman Islands and listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, if the deal closes as expected by the end of the third quarter of 2021. Arqit will remain a U.K. operating and tax-paying company.

U.S.-based launch startup Virgin Orbit, which is developing an air-launched rocket, injected $5 million into Arqit’s SPAC deal.

Virgin Orbit will conduct two launches for the company to low Earth orbit (LEO) beginning in 2023. It has a history of investing in startups that buy its launch services.

Investment firms Sumitomo Corporation of Japan and Heritage Group of the U.S. also participated in Arqit’s PIPE, or private investments in public equity — a mechanism for companies to raise money from a select group of investors outside the market. The PIPE secured $70 million in total.

Arqit is not disclosing who is building its satellites, which will support quantum encryption technology it calls QuantumCloud. The startup says its technology will secure communications links of any networked device against hacking, including attacks from a quantum computer.

“This transaction will give Arqit the ability to establish itself as a leader in the encryption space – the prospect of the threat from quantum computing will serve to accelerate the broad adoption of Arqit technology,” Centricus CEO Garth Ritchie said in a statement. 

“This is a deep tech company which is many years ahead of the market. Arqit has protected its IP by remaining in stealth mode whilst filing over 1,000 claims on more than a dozen patent applications.”

David Williams, previously a CEO for British satellite operator Avanti Communications, heads Arqit.

U.K. space unicorn

The startup has received funding from the British government in addition to venture capital investments while it was under stealth mode. 

“Arqit’s business combination transaction represents a huge moment for the UK spacetech ecosystem,” Boggett told SpaceNews in an email.

He said five-year old Arqit will be the first U.K-based space technology company to merge with a U.S. publicly listed SPAC.

Seraphim first backed Arqit in its seed round in 2018, and Boggett said it has invested in every funding round since.

Arqit’s QuantumCloud software generates an unlimited number of encryption keys at the end point of customer devices to protect against hacks. 

The system currently relies on terrestrial communications infrastructure to deliver this capability from source keys that originate in data centers. 

However, Arqit plans to use satellites to create a backbone of secure keys within data centers around the world.

QuantumCloud uses symmetric encryption that Arqit says is better suited for an increasingly connected world, compared with public key infrastructure (PKI) that is used to encrypt most of the world’s communications.

Its current customers include the U.K. government, European Space Agency, British telecoms company BT and Sumitomo.

Arqit said satellite operator Iridium Communications and aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman are among those testing its technology.

Virgin Orbit will launch the first two satellites with its LauncherOne system, set to carry a mix of defense and commercial cubesats in its next mission in June. 

The LauncherOne rocket reached orbit on its second flight Jan. 17.

Virgin Orbit said it is in talks about a further set of launches after the initial program, potentially out from Spaceport Cornwall in the U.K. where it will start operations in 2022.

Arqit’s deal comes during a challenging time for the SPAC investment vehicle, which had seen a flurry of space deals before slowing down amid increasing regulatory scrutiny.

On April 12, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released guidance on SPAC accounting practices. Specifically, these concern the treatment of warrants, which give investors the option to buy shares at specific prices in the future, in a company’s accounting books.

The move has been adding complexity and delays for many space companies looking to use SPACs for a relatively quick cash boost to support their typical sky-high project costs.

The number of new SPACs has significantly slowed down across all industries in recent weeks as businesses and investors wait to see how the changes shake out.

Virgin Orbit had reportedly been considering joining the SPAC trend before the SEC released its guidance.

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism venture that used to be its sister company, had to delay its financial results following the new guidelines. Even though Virgin Galactic completed its SPAC deal in 2019, sparking the current trend, it still has outstanding warrants in the market.

Eight space SPACs have now announced mergers since Virgin Galactic’s 2019 deal. Of these, seven aim to close this year.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/arqit-raising-400-million-with-a-spac-to-launch-quantum-encryption-satellites-in-2023/

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Quiet supersonic technology installed on NASA’s X-59 aircraft

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A new photo shows the X-59 experimental aircraft has had key equipment installed that lowers the sound of its sonic boom.

X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) research plane, which is being developed at Lockheed Martin’s SkunkWorks plant for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator programme.

NASA is targeting 2022 for the first flight of the X-59. Its mission is to fly over communities to collect data that could cut passenger travel time in half without disturbing people on the ground.

Here’s how NASA will measure its quiet supersonic flights

The X-59 is equipped with supersonic technologies that aid in lowering the sound of the sonic boom.

In this new picture, the black rectangle panels are the air intakes for the environmental control system (ECS) that regulates the temperature, cabin pressure, and air distribution. The silver grate located at the rear of one of the ECS panels is the exhaust — both of these sections are traditionally housed on the underside of the plane.

By placing these features on top of the X-59 wing, the wing blocks and prevents the ECS exhaust from interacting with the shock waves on the bottom of the aircraft.

This unique design approach to re-shaping the shock wave pattern substantially reduces the sonic boom to more of a sonic “thump” when it reaches the ground.

Related: X-59 quiet supersonic jet reaches major wing milestone

The aircraft is expected to cruise at Mach 1.42 and 55,000ft, creating a low 75 Perceived Level decibel thump. A single GE F414 engine will power the X-59, reaching Mach 1.5 and providing 22,000lb of thrust.

The cockpit, ejection seat and canopy come from a Northrop T-38 and the landing gear from an F-16.

www.nasa.gov

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/x-59-quiet-supersonic-nasa-12052021/

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Airbus resumes work on modernising A320 assembly in Toulouse

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Airbus resumes work on modernising A320 assembly in Toulouse

Airbus has resumed work on the modernisation of its A320 family final assembly line in Toulouse, France, as airlines gear up for market recovery.

This will provide the aircraft manufacturer with increased flexibility throughout its global industrial production system to respond to market recovery and future demand.

The modernised, digitally-enabled A320/A321 final assembly line (FAL) will replace one of the original Toulouse A320 FALs. It will be installed in the former A380 Lagardère facility and should be operational by end 2022.

Initial plans to introduce A321 production capabilities in Toulouse were put on hold at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, following the decision to reduce commercial aircraft production by around 40%.

Now, with a market recovery in sight and a potential return to pre-COVID production rates for single-aisle aircraft between 2023 and 2025, Airbus is resuming its activities for the project.

Hamburg and Mobile, Alabama, are currently the only Airbus production sites configured to assemble A321s. The modernised A320 Family FAL in Toulouse will help improve the working conditions, the overall industrial flow as well as the quality and competitiveness by adding a new-generation assembly line to the Airbus single-aisle production system.

This higher level of A321 production flexibility will also support entry-into-service of the A321XLR from Hamburg starting in 2023.

The A320 Family is the world’s best-selling commercial aircraft, with over 15,500 aircraft sold to more than 320 customers, and over 5,650 in the backlog.

www.airbus.com

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University of Illinois taps Blue Canyon for scientific cubesat mission

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SAN FRANCISCO – The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign awarded a contract to Blue Canyon Technologies to provide cubesats for a space mission sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The value of the award was not disclosed.

Under the contract announced May 12, Blue Canyon Technologies, a Raytheon Technologies subsidiary, will provide a pair of six-unit cubesat buses plus an engineering development unit for a mission designed to shed light on heating of the sun’s corona.

The mission, called Virtual Super-resolution Optics with Reconfigurable Swarms (VISORS), seeks to study the regions in the sun’s corona where energy is released.

“Blue Canyon Technologies is providing key components in a program that will, for the first time, reveal individual energy-release sites in the solar corona to test theories of coronal heating,” George Stafford, Blue Canyon Technologies co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Our company’s technology will enable the VISORS program to help scientists understand the sun’s plasma physics and refine models for nanoflares and corona composition.”

Nanoflares are frequent explosions on the surface of the sun.

If all goes as planned the two VISORS cubesats will travel in 2023 to low Earth orbit. Once there, they will fly 40 meters apart and create a distributed telescope. The lead spacecraft will be equipped with optical elements and the trailing spacecraft will contain the detector.

The University of Illinois is working with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a number of universities on the VISORS program including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Washington State University, the Ohio State University, Purdue University, the University of California San Diego, New Mexico State University, Montana State University and the University of Colorado.

Blue Canyon Technologies is scheduled to deliver cubesats to Georgia Tech for instrument integration in 2022.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/university-of-illinois-taps-blue-canyon-for-scientific-cubesat-mission/

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