SpaceX will launch NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s moon

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching NASA's long-awaited mission to Europa, Jupiter's icy moon that may have the conditions to support life. The agency has been planning to send a probe to the Jovian moon for years and finalized its plans in 2019. In its announcement, NASA said the Europa Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to launch in October 2024 on top of a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. It has also revealed that the contract will cost the agency approximately $178 million — a bargain, compared to what it would've cost to launch the mission on top of NASA's Space Launch System rocket.

As Ars Technica notes, Congress originally urged NASA to use the SLS to launch the Europa Clipper. At the time, though, the White House estimated a single SLS launch to cost a whopping $2 billion. Far from ideal, especially since the SLS would need gravity assist from Venus and travel farther to be able to reach its goal, whereas the Falcon Heavy wouldn't. In addition, NASA told Ars that the SLS would need $1 billion worth of additional modifications to be able to complete the mission. 

If Europa Clipper launches in October 2024 as planned, it will reach Jupiter's orbit in April 2030. The probe will then investigate whether the icy moon truly has conditions suitable for life. It'll capture "high-resolution images of Europa's surface, determine its composition, look for signs of recent or ongoing geological activity, measure the thickness of the moon's icy shell, search for subsurface lakes, and determine the depth and salinity of Europa's ocean."

Relaxing behind the wheel of Mercedes’ level 3 autonomous Drive Pilot

The dream of autonomous driving everywhere is still a long way away. But soon Mercedes will launch Drive Pilot, its level 3 autonomous driving system in Germany on the S-Class and EQS. We had a chance to try the system out at the automaker’s test track and, while it did what it was supposed to do, we found it hard to turn off our driving brain while behind the wheel.

The system works on highways in traffic at speeds up to 60 kph (37 mph). Essentially it’s for daily commuting. But during that time the driver can stop paying attention and the Mercedes is responsible for everything that happens. That’s not to say you can nap, the vehicle still tracks the driver with an in-car monitor and it requires the driver to take over when it’s about to go faster than 37 mph, an emergency vehicle shows up, it rains or other situations that the vehicle is not built to handle. But you can play Tetris and text people. So that’s fun. Watch our video for the full story.

Mercedes EQS first drive: S-Class luxury in an EV

Mercedes has a lot to prove with its first proper EV coming to the United States. The EQS will land in dealers this fall at a yet-to-be-announced price point and, when it does, it’ll take on offerings from Tesla and Porsche. How will it fare against these EVs? We had a chance to drive the 2021 EQS for two days and figure out how it stacks up not just against competitors but up against the S-Class itself.

On our drive we got time behind the 450+ with rear-wheel drive, the 580 4Matic with all-wheel drive, and the Edition One version with its two-tone paint and 580 4Matic powerplant. All vehicles have a 107.8 kWh capacity battery pack and on the WLTP range test, the vehicle is rated at 485 miles. Of course, the more stringent EPA testing needs to be done and that number should fall. For now, we have a drive and impressions while we wait for range estimates and pricing. Watch our first drive video above for the full story.

NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS

More than 18 months after its failed first attempt to make it to the International Space Station, Boeing’s Starliner is ready for a second shot. Following a flight readiness review, NASA is moving forward with the craft’s upcoming July 30th uncrewed orbital flight test. Unless there’s an unforeseen delay, the capsule will launch from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral Station mounted on an Atlas V rocket at 2:53PM ET. Should NASA postpone the flight, it will again attempt to carry out the test on August 3rd at the earliest.

The purpose of the flight is for NASA to conduct an end-to-end test of Starliner’s capabilities. It wants to know if the capsule can handle every aspect of a trip to the ISS, including launch, docking as well as atmospheric re-entry. “[Orbital Flight Test-2] will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” the agency said.

If the flight is a success, NASA will move forward with a crewed test of the Starliner. Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that could happen “as soon as later this year.” Both Boeing and NASA have a lot invested in the viability of Starliner. For the aerospace company, its decision not to conduct an end-to-end test of the craft before its failed 2019 flight left the agency “surprised,” leading to questions about the project. Meanwhile, NASA is keen to have two capsules that can ferry its astronauts to the ISS. Right now, it’s limited to just SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” Stich told reporters.

‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ trailer is a treat for ‘Voyager’ fans

CBS has shared the first trailer for Prodigy, its first-ever fully computer-animated Star Trek series. The clip introduces us to the show’s cast of disparate characters. They’re stuck on what looks like a mining colony and trying to find a way to escape. As it just so happens, they discover a grounded Starfleet vessel known as the USS Protostar, and it’s their ticket to adventure.  

Before the trailer ends, a familiar voice declares, “We’ve only just begun.” Star Trek: Prodigy will see Kate Mulgrew reprise the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway, albeit in holographic form. If you live outside of the US, you can see the clip on the official Star Trek Twitter account. We’ll note here CBS Viacom also shared a trailer for the second season of Lower Decks. Star Trek: Prodigy will debut this fall on Paramount+, before it eventually airs on Nickelodeon.

Activision Blizzard execs respond to harassment and discrimination lawsuit

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard this week over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women. In a memo to staff obtained by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote that "the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling."

Brack wrote that everyone should feel safe at Blizzard and that "it is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment." He noted it requires courage for people to come forward with their stories, and that all claims brought to the company are taken seriously and investigated.

"People with different backgrounds, views, and experiences are essential for Blizzard, our teams, and our player community," Brack wrote. "I disdain 'bro culture,' and have spent my career fighting against it."

In the suit, the DFEH made a string of accusations against former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. The agency alleged that Afrasiabi was "permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions" and suggested that the activity was an open secret.

Brack is said to be among those who were aware of Afrasiabi's purported actions. The DFEH claimed Brack "allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been 'too friendly' towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e. verbal counseling) in response to those incidents." After those supposed talks, Afrasiabi "continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees," including groping one of them, according to the suit.

The DFEH claimed a Blizzard employee informed Brack in early 2019 that people were leaving the company because of sexual harassment and sexism. The employee allegedly said that women on the Battle.net team were "subjected to disparaging comments," that "the environment was akin to working in a frat house" and that women who weren't "huge gamers" or "into the party scene" were "excluded and treated as outsiders."

Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations. It claimed the suit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." The company also accused the DFEH, which investigated Activision Blizzard for two years, of "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct and claimed the agency didn't engage in a “good faith effort” to resolve complaints before resorting to legal action.

"A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago," Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs at the publisher, wrote in a memo to employees. Some Blizzard employees are "fuming" over the note, according to Schreier.

Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush who joined Activision Blizzard this year, said "the Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values." Townsend also claimed Activision Blizzard "takes a hardline approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues" and that the company has "put tremendous effort into creating fair compensation policies that reflect our commitment to equal opportunity."

Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony included a light display with 1,800 drones

There may not have been any fans in the Olympic Stadium, but Japan still found a way to put on a show for the opening of the 2020 Summer Games. The host country charmed early with the parade of nations, which featured an orchestrated video game soundtrack, and then showed off the type of creativity it's known for with a performance involving the Olympic pictograms. But Tokyo saved the biggest spectacle for last.

Toward the end of the ceremony, a fleet of 1,824 drones took to the skies above the Olympic Stadium. Initially arrayed in the symbol of the 2020 Games, they then took on the shape of the Earth before a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," which was reworked by Hans Zimmer for the Olympics, played across the stadium.

We've seen displays like this before. At Super Bowl LI in 2017, a pre-taped segment featuring 300 Intel drones forming the US flag punctuated Lady Gaga's halftime performance. Technically, the drone show that occurred above Tokyo isn't the biggest ever. As of earlier this year, that distinction belongs to a 3,281-display Hyundai-owned car brand Genesis put on in Shanghai, China. But even with fewer drones involved, the Tokyo drone show was still impressive. 

If you missed the opening ceremony, you can watch it again at 7:30PM ET on NBC.

Microsoft offers discounts on hundreds of Xbox and PC games

Xbox's Ultimate Game Sale has returned. Microsoft is offering deals on hundreds of Xbox and PC games and accessories over the next two weeks. Among the console titles you can save on are FIFA 21 Ultimate Edition and NBA 2K21 (75 percent off at $25 and $15, respectively), Battlefield 1 Revolution ($8, down 80 percent) and Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition ($45, 55 percent off).

MLB The Show 21's standard Xbox One edition and Series X/S bundle have both been discounted by 35 percent to $39 and $55.24 respectively. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is half off at $30, as is Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Other Xbox game deals include Mass Effect Legendary Edition (25 percent off, $45), Far Cry 5 (down 85 percent to $9), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Game of the Year Edition (discounted from $50 to $10) and Watch Dogs: Legion ($20, usually $60).

There are discounts on dozens of PC games as well. Gears 5, for instance, is down from $40 to $16. You can also save on Yakuza: Like a Dragon ($36, 40 percent off), Control (half off at $15) and Halo: The Master Chief Collection (down from $40 to $20).

There are many more deals to check out on the Ultimate Game Sale pages for Xbox and PC. The sale runs until August 5th. Still, before you snap up any of the games on offer, it's worth checking whether you already have access to them through Xbox Game Pass or EA Play. There are details about that on each game's product page.

You'll also be able to save on PCs and accessories as part of the sale. Microsoft has cut the prices of several gaming PCs and laptops by up to $500. You can save up to $300 on the Razer Blade 15, which starts at a sale price of $2,700. There are solid deals on VR headsets too, including the HTC Vive Cosmos and Vive Cosmos Elite, which have been discounted by $250 to $449 and $649 respectively.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Erica Synths Matrix Mixer lets you patch your modular like an Etch A Sketch

Erica Synths' SYNTRX is an undeniably interesting instrument. But one of the most unique things about it is definitely the patching matrix. It's a digital reimagining of the pin-based patching system found on classic the classic EMS Synthi. People were apparently so enamored with the matrix that the company is now offering it as a standalone product called the Matrix Mixer.

As you'd expect the Matrix Mixer is, a mixer. It has 16 3.5mm ins and 16 3.5mm outs along the X and Y axes which you can use to combine either audio or control voltage signals. The actual interface for combining them is the same as the SYNTRX: a 16x16 grid of LEDs that you navigate using a pair of knobs just like you were drawing on an Etch A Sketch. Pressing down on the encoders enables a connection, and then you can cycle through different levels of attenuation, from 100-, to 70- and then 30-percent.

This makes it quick and easy to connect a bunch of different modules and synths without a rats nest of cables. You can even connect multiple sources or destination to the same patch point without special stacking cables.

Before this desktop version of the Matrix Mixer, and even before the SYNTRX, Erica Synths made a Eurorack Module called the Matrix Mixer. The core idea was the same, but it had less inputs and outputs, relied on a tiny touchscreen for controls and was limited to Eurorack connections. This new version easily integrates other sources like a guitar or synthesizer using the 1/4-inch in and outs on the back. You can even patch a Buchla Music Easel in using special adapter cards.

The Matrix Mixer can even store presets, allowing you to quickly recall particular patches, though you will have to manually set all the parameters on your modules. 

Erica Synths has brought one of the best features of the SYNTRX to a wider audience and expanded it flexibility. But, it doesn't come cheap. It's currently available for preorder for €490 or $599 and is expected to star shipping on July 26.

Facebook’s cloud gaming service hits iOS devices as a web app

Facebook has become the latest company to offer a cloud gaming service on iOS, only once again you won't access it through the App Store. Starting today, you can visit the Facebook Gaming website to add a Progressive Web App (PWA) that acts as a shortcut to the service on your iPhone or iPad. To do so, visit the platform's website and tap the "Add to Home Screen" option from the Safari share sheet.

It's not an elegant solution, but it's the same one employed by Amazon and Microsoft. When Apple tweaked its guidelines last September to allow for cloud gaming clients on iOS, it said games offered in a streaming service had to be individually downloaded from the App Store. That's a requirement both Microsoft and Facebook said was not congruent with how every other platform treats cloud gaming services.

"We've come to the same conclusion as others: web apps are the only option for streaming cloud games on iOS at the moment," Vivek Sharma, Facebook's vice-president of gaming, told The Verge of today's launch. "As many have pointed out, Apple's policy to 'allow' cloud games on the App Store doesn't allow for much at all. Apple's requirement for each cloud game to have its own page, go through review and appear in search listings defeats the purpose of cloud gaming."

The process of adding the web app is complicated enough that Facebook includes a short how-to when you first visit its Gaming website on Safari. You also have to know to navigate to the company's website in the first place. The reason for that is the App Store guidelines prohibit developers from using their applications to direct individuals to websites that feature alternative payment systems to those offered by Apple, and you pay for the in-game purchases offered in Facebook Gaming titles through Facebook's Pay platform.