Rocket launch startup Astra, which had been attempting to claim DARPA’s prize for successful demonstration of flexible space launch capabilities until earlier this month, will not be moving forward with an attempted flight of its launch vehicle this week as planned. The company’s “One of Three” rocket ran into an “anomaly” during pre-launch testing in preparation for its flight this week, and the schedule for a make-up launch are currently is currently up in the air.
“Astra’s launch vehicle “One of Three” suffered an anomaly following an otherwise successful day of testing in Kodiak in preparation for a launch this week,” explained Astra CEO and founder Chris Kemp via email. “Fortunately, our own hardware was the only thing harmed, and our team is already hard at work to determine the root cause so that we can improve the vehicle’s design. As a result of yesterday’s anomaly we will no longer be attempting a launch this week. We do intend to attempt another launch from Kodiak once conditions with coronavirus improve and we have resolved the cause of yesterday’s incident.”
Astra’s launches are set to take off from Kodiak Launch Complex, which is located a the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska. The company had challenges with weather conditions leading up to its attempts to win the $ 2 million DARPA prize, the deadline for each expired at the beginning of March, but the anomaly yesterday had to do with the vehicle hardware itself, and not external conditions. Local news additionally reported this morning that while the emergency response triggered by the anomaly had ended, the “areas is still hazardous and should be avoided” according to Alaska Aerospace CEO Mark Lester.
Kemp also cited the current coronavirus crisis in his statement to TechCrunch, and while that doesn’t look like it contributed to any technical issues, the ongoing global pandemic definitely seems likely to impact any attempted work that would involve repairs or rescheduling the launch at this time.
Four senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX), have asserted that, as a consequence of sanctions placed on Iran, Twitter must cease providing its services to Ayatollah Khamenei and other leaders in the country. “The Ayatollah enjoys zero protection from the United States Bill of Rights,” he wrote in a letter to the company.
Although the move comes as relations between Iran and the U.S. grow ever more strained following a series of violent incidents connected with the country, it is also an attempt to exert executive power over tech companies that have resisted the yoke of federal regulation.
In a letter (PDF) sent to Twitter, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California and others, the senators explained the rationale for their demand. The Obama administration created rules in 2014 that specifically made an exception to export rules allowing free messaging and social media-type services to be offered to Iranians. The idea being that, though Twitter and many other such apps are mostly banned in Iran, it could not hurt to offer tools for free expression and communication to its citizens.
But there are exceptions even to exceptions, and this is what Cruz et al. claim now apply to Twitter. Specifically, they say that following Trump’s executive order in June imposing additional sanctions on Iran, the Khamenei and foreign minister Javad Zarif have lost the protection the law previously offered.
“All Americans — including you and Twitter — are prohibited from ‘the making of any contribution of provision of…goods or services’ to them,” the letter reads. “While the First Amendment protects the free speech rights of Americans… the Ayatollah and any American companies providing him assistance are entirely subject to U.S. sanctions laws.”
Not being an expert in import/export law myself, I can’t judge the merits of this argument, though on its face it seems sound. But it may not be a question of whether Twitter can or can’t “offer services” to persons blacklisted by the federal government.
There is the argument that Twitter choosing to offer the use of its platform to others is itself a protected act of free speech.
After all, the White House could just as easily have issued an E.O. blacklisting the leaders of the countries subject to the travel ban. Should that be a possibility? Is it the right of a U.S. company to extend its platform for free speech to anyone in the world, regardless of their legal status in the eyes of the government?
Sens. Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Marco Rubio (R-NJ) think otherwise.
Twitter declined to comment.
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The Juiced Board comes dangerously close to echoing that sort of sentiment. Juiced and Boosted are words that loosely share the same meaning, but it’s the appearances where both electric skateboards really seem to converge.
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