Stratolaunch Carrier Plane Rolls Out For The First Time

Billionaire Paul Allen's private spaceflight company Stratolaunch has just unveiled the world's biggest airplane: a massive carrier plane with a wingspan longer than an entire football field.

The colossal Stratolaunch carrier plane rolled out of its hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, today (May 31) to undergo fueling tests. It's the first public look at the full craft —which is designed to launch rockets into orbit from the sky — since construction began.

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"We're excited to announce that Stratolaunch aircraft has reached a major milestone in its journey toward providing convenient, reliable, and routine access to low-Earth orbit," Stratolaunch Systems Corp. CEO Jean Floyd said in a statement. "This marks the completion of the initial aircraft-construction phase and the beginning of the aircraft ground- and flight-testing phase." 

The Stratolaunch carrier plane is designed to launch rockets into orbit from an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,100 meters). Initially, the plane will carry a single Pegasus XL rocket built by Orbital ATK, but the craft will eventually be able to carry up to three of those boosters simultaneously, Floyd said.

Stratolaunch Systems has been quietly designing and building the rocket-toting plane over the last few years. 

"Over the past few weeks, we have removed the fabrication infrastructure, including the three-story scaffolding surrounding the aircraft, and rested the aircraft's full weight on its 28 wheels for the first time," Floyd said. "This was a crucial step in preparing the aircraft for ground testing, engine runs, taxi tests and, ultimately, first flight."

Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems in 2011 with the goal of making access to low-Earth orbit "more convenient, reliable and routine," according to the company's tagline. Allen teamed up with Scaled Composites, a Mojave-based aerospace company founded by Burt Rutan, to build the Stratolaunch carrier plane. 

Allen bankrolled Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne space plane, which went on to win the $20 million Ansari X Prize for private reusable crewed spacecraft. Stratolaunch's launch profile resembles that of SpaceShipOne, which was carried to launch altitude by its own mothership, called the WhiteKnight. 

Another private spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, founded by billionaire Sir Richard Branson, also derived its launch system from Scaled Composites. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo space planes will launch passenger flights from the belly of a WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, which has a wingspan of 140 feet (42 m).

But Stratolaunch dwarfs its WhiteKnightTwo cousin. 

The Stratolaunch plane is a twin-boom aircraft with a wingspan of 385 feet (117 m), a length of 238 feet (72 m) and a tail height of 50 feet (15 m). The massive plane weighs 550,000 lbs. (250,000 kilograms) by itself and a mind-boggling 1.3 million lbs. (590,000 kg) when fully loaded with a rocket payload. It takes six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 jet engines to power the monster jet. 

"Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be actively conducting ground and flight-line testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port," Floyd said. "This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we're going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff. Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019."

Here Are State Bank Of India's New Charges That Kick In From Today

State Bank of India had announced several revisions in charges on different services last month. The new charges kick in from today, June 1. Below is a summary of the revised charges: 

ATM charges

All cash withdrawals through ATM—by customers of its mobile wallet State Bank Buddy—will now be charged at Rs 25 per transaction. Beyond four withdrawals in a month— for basic savings banks deposit account—the service charges applicable will be Rs 50 plus service tax per transaction; Rs 20 plus service tax at other bank ATMs; and Rs 10 plus service tax for SBI's own ATMs. All normal savings bank accounts will continue to get eight free ATM transactions in metros and 10 free transactions in non-metros. 

Online transfer

IMPS fund transfer charges through internet banking/UPI/IUSSD will be Rs 5 plus service tax for amounts of up to Rs 1 lakh; Rs 15 plus service tax for above Rs 1 lakh and up to Rs 2 lakh; and Rs 25 plus service tax for above Rs 2 lakh and up to Rs 5 lakh. 

Deposits through banking correspondents

Cash deposit through banking correspondent of up to Rs 10,000 will be charged at 0.25 per cent of the value with a minimum of Rs 2 and maximum of Rs 8 plus service tax. Cash withdrawal through banking correspondent of up to Rs 2,000 will be charged at 2.50 per cent of the transaction value (minimum of Rs 6) plus service tax. 

Cards

Only RuPay classic card will be issued for free. 

Cheque book charges

Issue of a 10-leaf cheque book will now cost Rs 30 plus service tax; 25-leaf book, Rs 75 plus service tax and 50-leaf book at Rs 150 plus service tax. 

Exchange of bad currency notes

Service charges for exchange of soiled/imperfect notes, up to 20 pieces and value of Rs 5,000 will attract no charge. More than 20 pieces will invite Rs 2 per piece plus service tax. For value above Rs 5,000, Rs 2 per piece or Rs 5 per 1,000 plus service tax, whichever is higher on the entire order will be charged. 

Five Big Reasons Why People Are Still Skeptical About Bitcoin

Bitcoin’s astronomical rally has cryptocurrency bulls feeling vindicated. Not so fast, skeptics say.

The digital currency’s more than 100 percent surge in the past two months looks eerily familiar, argue the bears, pointing to November 2013, when the price quintupled in short order to top $1,000 for the first time. By Valentine’s Day it was worth around half that, and spent the better part of the next two years languishing below $500.

Then it absolutely exploded -- jumping more than $1,400 in two months. At its height last week, one bitcoin could buy about two ounces of gold. Its champions touted the arrival of blockchain into the mainstream, the coin’s underlying technology which they say can lift the poor out of poverty and make transactions more secure, inexpensive and efficient.

But signs of a top have emerged, detractors warn. On May 25, bitcoin surged more than $300 to a record only to turn tail and close little changed. The $600 round trip was the biggest daily swing in its history. It then slumped 8 percent the next day. Bitcoin was down 1.5 percent to $2,255.50 as of 12:35 p.m. in New York. For bears, that kind of volatility shows the asset’s unreliability as a store of value.

Here are some other reasons why they warn caution is warranted:

Safety Questions

This month’s ransomware attacks serve as a reminder that bitcoin is still beloved by hackers and criminals because of its anonymity. The cryptocurrency plunged in 2014 after Tokyo-based Mt. Gox -- then the largest bitcoin exchange -- said it had been breached and then filed for bankruptcy. Its value sank again in August 2016 after hackers stole about $69 million from Hong Kong-based Bitfinex. The exchange has since repaid its customers.

Scaling Debate

The bitcoin community has been split for more than a year on how to upgrade its blockchain. The time and fees necessary to verify transactions have climbed to record highs, making it more difficult for businesses to use the currency as a means of payment. While bitcoin executives have said that 2017 might be the year the cryptocurrency really starts to scale, others aren’t so sure.

Last week, more than 50 companies signed a pact to speed up transactions, but ideological differences have prevented similar agreements -- like the one reached last year in Hong Kong -- from actually being implemented. The much-touted SegWit upgrade was also released in October, but only a thirdof the community has embraced it. If the latest proposal fails to gain traction and the deadlock continues, digital currency users may dump bitcoin in favor of alt-coins that offer better blockchains.

Rival Digital Currencies

As the surge sends the cryptocurrency world into a frenzy, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. While bitcoin’s value has increased more than 100 percent since the beginning of the year, its slice of the pie has shrunk as its digital cousins steal some of the spotlight. There are an estimated 700 rivals, according to Ron Quaranta, chairman of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance.

Bitcoin dominated about half of the overall digital currency market as of Friday, down from around 85 percent in February, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com. Meanwhile, Ethereum’s share increased to about 20 percent. Some token fans aren’t sweating it though, as they say bitcoin’s potential demise doesn’t really matter as long as another digital currency takes hold.

Not Recognized By Governments

The general public doesn’t understand bitcoin, and many regulators still don’t either, which makes it tough to regulate. In 2015, New York started issuing controversial licenses to cryptocurrency companies, but only three had been issued as of mid-January, according to Coinbase, as many startups couldn’t afford the costs of applying.

In January, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority asked the public for help identifying the potential risks of blockchain. Two months later, bitcoin plummeted after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rejected a proposal by the Winklevoss twins for a publicly traded fund based on the digital currency.

In a report last week about blockchain in China, analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein wrote that while the technology could benefit Chinese banks, it’s unlikely to start a financial revolution.

"We believe blockchain application is more likely to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in developing countries like China," the analysts said. "Aside from the conservative regulatory attitudes toward financial innovations, the constraint of confidentiality and performance of blockchain technology would make it best positioned to be enterprise-oriented rather than consumer-end."

Bubbles Burst

Whether it’s Holland’s tulip-bulb craze in the 17th century or the Internet-stock frenzy of the late 1990s, history shows that markets self correct. Speculative markets usually run out of steam at some point. Determining the trigger is always the hard part. Given the breathtaking run in bitcoin as of late, some say it’s tough to believe the oft-cited mantra that this time is different. (Bloomberg)

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of Air India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is considering privatizing Air India Ltd., the beleaguered flag carrier saddled with debt of $7.7 billion and surviving on a taxpayer bailout.

Options include asking the potential buyer to absorb loans of about 200 billion rupees ($3.1 billion) linked to aircraft purchases and disposing of the carrier’s real-estate and other non-core assets worth about $3 billion before the sale, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said this week, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

As the Indian government is increasingly showing signs that it is prepared to cut its losses and sell the money-losing carrier, the question is whether Air India is attractive enough for any investor. The five charts below show what the airline brings to the table.

The Good:

1. What may attract investors is Air India’s fleet size. With 118 aircraft, Air India’s fleet is second only to market leader IndiGo’s, offering any investor a chance to expand in the world’s fastest growing major aviation market. Airlines typically order planes years -- if not decades -- in advance and a stake in Air India helps overcome that hurdle.

2. Air India flies the most number of passengers to and from India. Buying into the airline gives an investor a ready market, and also helps sidestep local requirements for a carrier to fly domestically before starting overseas operations, a process that may take years.

3. Slots in the nation’s main airports. One of the biggest issues in Indian aviation is capacity constraints at its main airports in Mumbai and New Delhi. Mumbai airport is already saturated and no airline can add any flights until the facility is expanded. Air India has existing slots at Mumbai, immediately allowing flights into and out of the nation’s financial capital.

The Bad

Air India’s local market share has been declining amid aggressive capacity addition by local rivals including IndiGo. The carrier’s share has shrunk to 12.9 percent from 35 percent a decade back, placing it joint-third along with SpiceJet Ltd.

The Ugly

Eventually, everything will come down to how the airline’s debt is handled by the government before a sale. Air India has been unprofitable for a decade. (Bloomberg)

Global Retirement 'TimeBomb' - Why You'll Work Past 70!

Hoping to retire before you turn 70? Too bad.

The world's richest countries need to drastically hike their retirement ages in order to prevent pension systems from collapsing, according to the World Economic Forum.

Working until at least 70 should become the norm by 2050, the group recommends in a new report. The average retirement age is currently 65 for men in advanced economies and 63 for women.

Here's the problem: People are living longer than ever, but the average retirement age has remained static. Pension funds have been unable to keep pace.

It's a trend that will only accelerate: Babies born today in many advanced economies can expect to live past 100.

WEF described the shortfall in pension funding and a lack of personal retirement savings as a "timebomb."

The group estimated that just eight countries -- the U.S. U.K., Japan, Canada, Australia, India, China and the Netherlands -- face a combined shortfall of $400 trillion by 2050.

"We must address it now or accept that its adverse consequences will haunt future generations, putting an impossible strain on our children and grandchildren," said WEF official Michael Drexler.

Americans face the largest gap between what they'll need and what they've saved: the collective shortfall hit $28 trillion in 2015 and will rise to $137 trillion in 2050.

WEF said the gap has been fueled by aging populations, but "significantly lower" investment returns over the past decade have also played a role. Returns on stock investments are five percentage points below long-term averages, for example.

WEF said that governments should quickly take action to protect their citizens.

In addition to reviewing their retirement ages, the group recommended countries make it easier for people to save. They should also work to improve financial literacy so that workers are able to understand their retirement savings options. (CNNMoney)

Cape Town Faces Worst Drought In A Century

The worst drought in a century is forcing the most stringent water restrictions ever implemented for South Africa's second largest city.

Cape Town has less than 10% of its useable water remaining for its nearly 4 million residents.

The city is implementing Level 4 water restrictions, which ask residents to limit daily usage to 100 liters (26 gallons) per person. The measure is meant to reduce demand and conserve what little water is still available, and means significant sacrifices for residents.

For Cape Town resident Suzanne Buckley, the restrictions mean adapting to a new lifestyle.

"We have buckets in our shower and bathroom sink to save excess water," Buckley said. "The gray water is then used to flush our toilets."

The restrictions are in effect across the city in an aggressive effort to preserve its remaining drinking water, but it may not be enough.

South Africa ranks as the 30th driest country in the world and is considered a water-scarce region. A highly variable climate causes uneven distribution of rainfall, making droughts even more extreme.

Speaking to CNN, Cape Town Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille explained her concerns about the growing water crisis.

"Climate change is a reality and we cannot depend on rainwater alone to fill our dams, but must look at alternative sources like desalination and underground aquifers."

The Western Cape, one of the country's nine provinces and home to Cape Town, experiences its annual rainy season during the winter months (June-September). Capetonians are likely several weeks away from any substantial, drought-relieving rainfall.

Even then, predictions are dire for this winter as a potential El Niño develops off the west coast of South America, according to the Climate Prediction Center. If El Niño does materialize, it would have a negative effect on rainfall across the Western Cape.

Severe water restrictions

The average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons (302-378 liters) of water per day. This includes flushing toilets, taking showers or baths, brushing teeth, running dishwashers and watering lawns.

Imagine restricting daily water use to 25 gallons. Some of the most basic tasks involving water that we take for granted would be eliminated or severely restricted.

For Cape Town resident Kathy Basso, saving water has meant adopting the "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down campaign," a simple and effective measure that saves nearly 10 liters of water per flush, and has been promoted by city officials.

Hotels across the city are closing their pools and asking patrons to be water conscious during their stay.

The Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront has placed signs in guest rooms asking guests to "choose showers over baths and to close the tap while brushing teeth."

What's causing the drought?

Several factors are to blame for Cape Town's stressed water supply, including a growing population, ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) and a rapidly changing climate.

A long-term drying trend (also known as desertification) is evident in the decreasing levels of Cape Town's parched reservoirs, which are intended to supply the city's water. The Theewaterskloof Dam, which creates the largest water reservoir supplying the Western Cape, is at 13.7% capacity and shows extreme signs of water depletion.

Winter cold fronts driven by strong westerly winds typically bring replenishing rains to Cape Town. But these rainfalls are become less and less frequent as part of a troubling trend attributed to climate change. An expansive area of high pressure in the Atlantic Ocean frequently acts as a barrier to these weather systems.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, long-term climate models indicate a significant drying trend that could reduce annual rainfall by up to 40%.

"The South Atlantic high pressure is a key factor in governing the winter rainfall and shows signs of strengthening," said Bruce Hewitson, director of the Climate Systems Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town, who participated in the IPCC report.

Hewitson went on to explain that while there are many factors that play into the complex climate of western South Africa, there is increasing evidence that rainfall intensity and distribution will change as a result of a warming climate.

The reality is that the current water crisis in Cape Town shouldn't be treated as a short-term occurrence, but rather as a long-term problem. It requires strong governance to sustain the city's limited water resources into the future. "We can only save water while we have it," de Lille said.

Ultimately, though, water conservation begins at home. (CNN)

Malaysian Airlines Woes Continue With Disruptive Passenger Attempting To Enter Cockpit

A Malaysia Airlines flight from Melbourne, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur was forced to turn back after a disruptive passenger tried to enter the cockpit, according to a statement from the airline.

Flight MH128 left Melbourne Airport at 11:11 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 5:28 a.m. on June 1. But the plane returned to Melbourne after the operating captain was alerted by the cabin crew of the disruptive passenger, the airline said.

The aircraft landed in Melbourne at 11:41 p.m. local time, and the disruptive passenger was apprehended by airport security. The flight's other passengers safely disembarked the aircraft, Malaysia Airlines said.

Australian authorities and the airline will investigate. (CNN)

BSE Head Says GST May Spur 1,000 New Listings

India’s introduction of a single nationwide goods and services tax may have an unexpected consequence: prompting more companies to sell shares to the public.

That’s the view of Ashishkumar Chauhan, chief executive officer of BSE Ltd., the operator of the Bombay Stock Exchange. He says smaller firms that become tax-compliant due to the levy, scheduled for implementation on July 1, will be more inclined to go public because they’ll no longer have anything to hide. Some 1,000 companies will list on his bourse over the next four years, he estimates.

“We have only scratched the surface,” the head of the Deutsche Boerse AG-backed BSE said in an interview in the old business district of Mumbai. Some 74 companies raised 276 billion rupees ($4.3 billion) through first-time share sales on the BSE in the year ended March, the highest since 2010, according to the exchange. “We expect a huge spurt in listings.”

Investors and analysts have been debating how the country’s biggest tax overhaul since independence in 1947 will impact the country’s markets, with some predicting that the GST will face teething problems. While the levy is widely projected to boost government revenue and increase the ease of doing business in the world’s largest democracy, attention is also focusing on less obvious outcomes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy.

“A lot of things are going to happen -- we don’t know what,” Raamdeo Agrawal, joint managing director at Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd., said in an interview in Mumbai. “But it is a huge positive development. It will have short-term hiccups for six months or so. But once it is done and people have accepted it, then the control of the economy will become far better.” The company’s money-management unit has $3.6 billion in assets.

Digital Trail

Once the landmark tax takes effect, an estimated 51 million smaller firms that currently do much of their business in cash will have to keep digital records, making it harder for them to under-report revenue. That means there will no longer be an incentive for them to avoid listing, Chauhan said.

BSE aims to help companies raise $100 billion annually over the next four years from initial and secondary offerings of stocks and bonds, up from the present $30 billion a year, Chauhan, 49, said. The exchange, which traces its roots to the 1850s, is also seeking to increase its registered investor base to 100 million people in five years from the present 34 million, he said.

Mumbai-based BSE is focusing on cash equities after failing to gain market share in equity derivatives. BSE has a market share of about 15 percent in cash equities trading, compared with about 85 percent for the National Stock Exchange of India Ltd.

Equity Derivatives

India charges higher taxes on cash equities compared with derivatives, Chauhan said. That, along with the rise of high-frequency trading and co-location, is encouraging speculative trading over capital formation, he said. NSE spokesperson declined to comment.

BSE, which itself went public in February, gets about 20 percent of its revenue from listings, according to the exchange. Its shares have risen 33 percent since their debut, and traded at 1,069.8 rupees at 9:42 a.m. in Mumbai. The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex was little changed after posting a fresh record on Tuesday.

For Chauhan, who’s led BSE since 2012, the positive side-effect he expects from the sales tax will support the bourse in a market dominated by its larger peer.

“We want to be the exchange that helps companies raise funds for commercially viable projects and to create jobs,” he said. “We are not here just for trading.” (Bloomberg)