ISRO launches spy satellite RISAT-2BR1 aboard 50th PSLV mission
The Indian Space Research Organisation's PSLV-C48 successfully launched from Sriharikota with India's radar imaging earth observation satellite RISAT-2BR1 and nine foreign satellites on board. Notably, this launch marks the 50th flight of Indian space agency's workhorse rocket PSLV and the 75th vehicle mission from Sriharikota.
With clear weather at the designated launch time, the 44.4 metre tall rocket lifted off at 3:25 pm from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. It was a PSLV-QL variant with four strap-on boosters and a combined propellant load of 48 tonnes. This was the second space trip for this rocket variant.
Among the payload of PSLV-C48 is the 628 kg RISAT-2BR1 satellite with advanced imaging apparatus. These capabilities are meant for applications in various fields like agriculture, forestry and disaster management support. It would also serve military purposes, PTI quoted ISRO sources as saying. This satellite will be placed into an orbit of 576 km at an inclination of 37 degree and will have a life of five years.
Among the remaining satellites, six are from the United States and one each from Italy, Japan and Israel. These satellites are -- USA's multi-mission Lemur-4 satellites, technology demonstration Tyvak-0129, earth imaging 1HOPSAT, Israel's remote sensing Duchifat-3, Italy's search and rescue Tyvak-0092, and Japan's QPS-SAR - a radar imaging earth observation satellite. According to ISRO, these international customer satellites are being launched under a commercial arrangement with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL).
This mission is expected to complete in around 21 minutes after placing the last of the customer satellites into orbit. The rocket, after 16 minutes of launch, will sling RISAT-2BR1 towards its orbit and start ejecting other nine customer satellites a minute later. The ISRO has placed 310 foreign satellites into orbit so far.
Google launches Nest Mini smart speaker for Rs 4,499
Owing to the popularity and fast adoption of smart speakers in India, Google too is expanding its #madebyGoogle offerings in India. A few months after the Nest Hub launch, Google has now announced the availability of Nest Mini smart speaker. Priced at Rs 4,499, the Nest Mini competes directly with the Echo Dot range from Amazon.
The Nest Mini continues to have the same design as the Home Mini with a fabric covering. However, the fabric covering on the new Nest Mini is made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. The external enclosure is also made from 35 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic. Google says a single half-litre plastic bottle makes enough fabric to cover more than two Nest Mini devices. It also features three far-field microphones, capacitive touch control, mic switch button and a wall mount.
Google claims to have worked on the innards as it houses a dedicated machine learning chip, with up to one TeraOPS of processing power. Using the chip, Nest Mini will be able to learn the most common commands and process them locally for faster response time. This feature has been launched in the US and will soon be available in India.
According to the company, the Nest Mini comes with a completely re-engineered Google Assistant. It can be used to control compatible smart home devices from brands such as Philips, TP-Link, Xiaomi and more. It is powered by Quad-core 64-bit ARM CPU 1.4 GHz and can be paired using the Google Home app available for iOS and Android platform. The Nest Mini supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Focussing on sound output, Google has also upgraded the hardware and software to make it sound better and offers bass that's twice as strong as the original Google Home Mini (measured from 60-100 Hz at maximum volume). A proprietary audio tuning software has been developed by Google's expert audio engineers. It is also said to bring improved ability to operate in noisy environments. Google says that "the Assistant will automatically modulate the output sound according to the background noise in the room. It can also sense proximity to light up the LED as soon as the user's hand gets close to the device, guiding where to tap and adjust the volume".
Users will be able to connect multiple Google or Nest speakers to build a sound system for their entire home. They will also have an option to transfer music or podcasts from the phone to the speaker. Nest Mini supports both English and Hindi.
BSNL employees to go on strike today, allege company of forcing voluntary retirement scheme
BSNL employee unions have alleged that the management is forcing personnel to opt for voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) by creating a fear psychosis and have called for pan-India hunger strike on November 25.
The unions, representing more than half of BSNL employees, have alleged that the management is threatening employees of reduction in retirement age to 58 years and far away postings if the employees don't opt for VRS, All India Unions and Associations of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (AUAB) Convenor P Abhimanyu told PTI on Sunday.
"We are not opposing VRS. Those who want and think it is beneficial for them should opt for it. It is not beneficial for lower level employees and they are being threatened to take VRS, else retirement age will be reduced to 58. It is a forced retirement scheme, therefore we are going on a hunger strike on Monday," Abhimanyu said.
The unions, in a notice for hunger strike, have alleged that those opting for VRS will not be able to apply for pension commutation, which is one-third of pension amount payable over 15 years in advance, only after attaining the age of 60 years.
"In case of any casualty, a person will not be able to apply for pension commutation. His family will get only family pension which is very less. Those who opt for VRS will not be able to claim benefit of the third pay revision. ... With 4G services starting soon and the proposed tariff hike in the sector, BSNL will become eligible for the third pay revision," Abhimanyu said.
He alleged that banks few years back offered better VRS compared to the scheme offered by BSNL, which is not lucrative.
"If management stops threatening employees, the number of employees opting for VRS will significantly come down," Abhimanyu said.
According to BSNL Chairman and Managing Director P K Purwar, over 77,000 out of around 1.6 lakh employees of the loss-making telecom firm have opted for VRS.
According to the plan, all regular and permanent employees of BSNL, including those on deputation to other organisations or posted outside the corporation on deputation basis, who attended the age of 50 years or above are eligible to seek voluntary retirement under the scheme.
The amount of ex-gratia for any eligible employee will be equal to 35 days salary for each completed year of service and 25 days salary for every year of service left until superannuation.
Employees' benefit accounts for 75-80 per cent of total revenue earned by the company annually. BSNL is looking at a savings of about Rs 7,000 crore in wage bill, if 70,000-80,000 personnel opt for the scheme.
India's hydropower capacity addition plans in limbo
While solar power capacity additions are slowing down, another major renewable energy hydropower capacity addition plans are also in a major limbo in the country. The public sector National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC), India's premier hydropower company, with a total installed capacity of over 7000 MW generating from operating 24 power stations, will not be able to add new capacities, at least by 2022. At present NHPC has only two new projects that can reach power production stage in near future - an 800 MW Parbati Hydroelectric Project (Stage-II) a run-of-the-river project in river Parbati and a 2000 MW Subansiri Lower hydroelectric project, the biggest hydroelectric project undertaken in India so far, another run of the river scheme on river Subansiri at North Lakhimpur on the border of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
India, the 7th largest hydropower making country in the world, had an installed hydro capacity of around 45,400 MW by end 2018. The annual growth in capacity last year was just 1 per cent, which was the lowest since 2009. It is estimated that about 35 hydel power projects of 12,000 MW are under construction at various stages, but at least half of them worth over 6,000 MW have been stalled due to many issues from environmental issues to local protest, land acquisition and funding.
As per the earlier plans, NHPC Limited had drawn up an ambitious plan to add about 6,000 MW of hydropower capacity by the end of the year 2022. The last hydropower project the public sector company commissioned was in April 2018, a 330 MW Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project in Jammu & Kashmir.
The major works in 800 MW Parbati-II are being done, except completion of a tunnel, where NHPC is facing geological challenges. The project is part of the 2,013 MW Parbati project, Asia's biggest hydropower project, which was initiated in 2000. The Parbati-1 project has not taken off so far. Parbati-II continues to face geological challenges and the company expects the project to be commissioned only in FY22, brokerage firm Motilal Oswal noted in a recent analyst report.
The report also said NHPC has restarted works of Subansiri Lower, which had stopped construction activities since 2011 due to local agitation. "We have positive expectations about restarting the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower H E Project, and we are in a position to complete the project within 3 and half to 4 years of the restart", NHPC chairman and managing director Balraj Joshi had said in a television interview a few months ago.
"Construction on NHPC's Lower Subansiri II has restarted from October. Contracts for construction of the powerhouse though are yet to be awarded and NHPC expects the project to be completed by 2QFY24", said the report.
NHPC, which took over 500 MW Teesta VI hydroelectric project on Teesta River from Lanco for near Rs 900 crore a few months ago, also had recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Himachal Pradesh Government for the execution of 449 MW Dugar HE Project. Teesta VI is expected to be completed in five years as the project requires the construction of two tunnels, which will take time given the difficult geographical conditions. It takes around 8-10 years to construct a hydropower project and costs nearly Rs 10 crore per MW, whereas solar or thermal capacity costs less than Rs 2.65 crore and Rs 4.5 crore per MW respectively.
Cost overruns, time delays due to geographical challenges and land acquisitions have historically delayed most of the hydropower projects in India for many years. The Central Electricity Authority had earlier assessed economically exploitable hydropower potential to the tune of 1,48,700 MW of installed capacity in India, which is ranked 5th in the world in terms of exploitable hydro-potential. In addition to this, the CEA had felt India can add 94,000 MW of pumped storage and hydro-potential from small, mini and micro schemes to the tune of 6,782 MW from 1,512 sites.
For the last financial year, NHPC had revenues of Rs 8697 crore with net profits of Rs 2630 crore.
Apple starts Mac Pro production; expands Austin facility
Apple announced on Wednesday that it has begun manufacturing the upcoming Mac Pro at its facility in Austin, Texas. The new computers are scheduled to start shipping in December. The tech giant's 244,000 square-foot production plant employs over 500 people in roles such as electrical engineers, electronics assemblers, and more. Additionally, right next to that facility, Apple has started the construction of its new campus.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, in a statement, said, "Building the Mac Pro, Apple's most powerful device ever, in Austin is both a point of pride and a testament to the enduring power of American ingenuity. With the construction of our new campus in Austin now underway, Apple is deepening our close bond with the city and the talented and diverse workforce that calls it home."
Most of the Apple products are designed in Cupertino, California but are assembled in China. However, the upcoming Mac Pro will be designed, engineered, and manufactured in the United States of America. The new Mac Pro was revealed in June 2019 during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) conference held in San Jose, California.
Apple's three-million-square-foot campus will cost around $1 billion for construction and is expected to be completed in 2020. Apple plans to host 5,000 employees with the capacity of up to 15,000.
Apple's new Mac Pro will be arriving after nearly 5 years as the last version of the Mac Pro came out in 2013. The new Mac Pro features a new tower-based design, which replaces the previous generation Mac Pro's cylindrical shape, and can be configured with up to 28 cores processor chip and up to 1.5 terabytes of RAM. The price of the upcoming Mac Pro starts at $5,999.