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US unveils its latest nuclear stealth bomber



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America’s newest nuclear stealth bomber made its debut Friday after years of secret development, and as part of the Pentagon’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.

The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. Almost every aspect of the program is classified, Associated Press reported.

As evening fell over the Air Force’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, the public got its first glimpse of the Raider in a tightly controlled ceremony. It started with a flyover of the three bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit. Then the hangar doors slowly opened and the B-21 was towed partially out of the building.

“This isn’t just another airplane,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it shifts from the counterterrorism campaigns of recent decades to meet China’s rapid military modernization.

China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its gains in hypersonics, cyber warfare and space capabilities present “the most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and the free and open international system,” the Pentagon said this week in its annual China report.

“We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day face from China, Russia, ” said Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.

While the Raider may resemble the B-2, once you get inside, the similarities stop, said Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp., which is building the bomber.

“The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability that we can now embed in the software of the B-21,” Warden said.

Other changes include advanced materials used in coatings to make the bomber harder to detect, Austin said.

“Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft,” Austin said. “Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky.”

Other advances likely include new ways to control electronic emissions, so the bomber could spoof adversary radars and disguise itself as another object, and use of new propulsion technologies, several defense analysts said.

“It is incredibly low observability,” Warden said. “You’ll hear it, but you really won’t see it.”

Six Raiders are in production. The Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy either nuclear weapons or conventional bombs, and can be used with or without a human crew. Both the Air Force and Northrop also point to the Raider’s relatively quick development: The bomber went from contract award to debut in seven years. Other new fighter and ship programs have taken decades.

The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force previously put the price at an average cost of $550 million each in 2010 dollars – roughly $753 million today — but it’s unclear how much is actually being spent. The total will depend on how many bombers the Pentagon buys.

“We will soon fly this aircraft, test it, and then move it into production. And we will build the bomber force in numbers suited to the strategic environment ahead,” Austin said.

Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will house the bomber’s first training program and squadron, though the bombers are also expected to be stationed at bases in Texas and Missouri.

Science & Technology

China’s Chang’e-6 probe lifts off from far side of moon



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China’s Chang’e-6 probe has lifted off from the far side of the moon, starting its journey back towards Earth, China’s national space agency announced on Tuesday.

The probe’s successful departure from the moon means China is closer to becoming the first country to return samples from the far side of the moon, which permanently faces away from Earth, Reuters reported.

The probe, which departed the moon at 7:38 am local time (2338 GMT) successfully completed its sample collection from June 2-3.

China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement that Chang’e-6 “withstood the test of high temperature on the far side of the moon”.

Compared with its predecessor Chang’e-5, which retrieved samples from the near side of the moon, Chang’e-6 faced an additional technical challenge of operating without direct communications with ground stations on Earth, according to CNSA.

Instead, the probe relied on relay satellite Queqiao-2, put into orbit in April, for communications.

The probe used a drill and robotic arm to dig up soil on and below the moon’s surface, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Chang’e-6 displayed China’s national flag for the first time on the far side of moon after sample acquisition, Beijing Daily said.

The probe is now in lunar orbit and will join up with another spacecraft in orbit, CNSA said on Tuesday morning.

The samples will then be transferred to a return module, which will fly back to Earth, with a landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region expected around June 25.

The return of the lunar samples to Earth is being followed by scientists around the world, who hope the soil collected by the Chang’e-6 can help answer questions about the origins of the solar system.

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Japanese billionaire Maezawa cancels moon flyby mission



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Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa cancelled his “dearMoon” mission, which the project said would have been the first private flight around the moon, the mission announced on Saturday.

The team had originally aimed to make the circumlunar flight with celebrities on board by the end of last year but that became “unfeasible”, the mission said in a statement on its website, Reuters reported.

“Without clear schedule certainty in the near-term, it is with a heavy heart that Maezawa made the unavoidable decision to cancel the project,” it said. “To all who have supported this project and looked forward to this endeavor, we sincerely appreciate it and apologize for this outcome.”

In a separate post on the mission website, Maezawa suggested the cause of the cancellation was uncertainty over the project development, saying he signed the contract in 2018 based on the assumption the launch would come by the end of 2023.

“It’s a developmental project so it is what it is, but it is still uncertain as to when Starship can launch,” Maezawa said.

“I can’t plan my future in this situation, and I feel terrible making the crew members wait longer, hence the difficult decision to cancel at this point in time.”

Elon Musk’s SpaceX named Maezawa, the colourful founder of Japanese online fashion store Zozo Inc (3092.T) its first private passenger in 2018.

Three years later he was the first private passenger to visit the International Space Station in more than a decade, launching on a Soyuz rocket.

In 2022, Maezawa announced that K-pop star TOP and DJ Steve Aoki would be among the eight crew members he planned to take on the dearMoon mission.

In November he said the flyby mission would be delayed until this year or later.

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TikTok to label AI-generated content from OpenAI and elsewhere



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TikTok plans to start labelling images and video uploaded to its video-sharing service that have been generated using artificial intelligence, it said on Thursday, using a digital watermark known as Content Credentials, Reuters reported.

Researchers have expressed concern that AI-generated content could be used to interfere with U.S. elections this fall, and TikTok was already among a group of 20 tech companies that earlier this year signed an accord pledging to fight it.

The company already labels AI-generated content made with tools inside the app, but the latest move would apply a label to videos and images generated outside of the service.

“We also have policies that prohibit realistic AI that is not labeled, so if realistic AI (generated contents) appears on the platform, then we will remove it as violating our community guidelines,” Adam Presser, head of operations and trust and safety at TikTok, said in an interview.

The Content Credentials technology was spearheaded by the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, a group co-founded by Adobe (ADBE.O), opens new tab, Microsoft (MSFT.O), opens new tab and others, but is open for other companies to use, read the report.

It has already been adopted by the likes of ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O), opens new tab Google, and Meta Platforms (META.O), opens new tab, which owns Instagram and Facebook, have also said they plan to use Content Credentials.

For the system to work, both the maker of the generative AI tool used to make content and the platform used to distribute the contents must both agree to use the industry standard.

When a person uses OpenAI’s Dall-E tool to generate an image, for example, OpenAI attaches a watermark to the resulting image and adds data to the file that can later indicate whether it has been tampered with, Reuters reported.

If that marked image is then uploaded to TikTok, it will be automatically labeled as AI-generated.

TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, has 170 million users in the U.S., which recently passed a law requiring ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a ban. TikTok and ByteDance have sued to block the law, arguing it violates the First Amendment.

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