Space

An artist’s conception shows a super-Earth in orbit around HD 26965, which is Mr. Spock’s home star in “Star Trek” lore. (University of Florida Illustration) Has the planet Vulcan been found? Vulcan’s most famous fictional inhabitant, Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” fame, would certainly raise an eyebrow if he heard that astronomers have detected a potentially habitable super-Earth orbiting the star that’s associated with him. The world orbits a sunlike star that’s a mere 16 light-years away, known as HD 26965 or 40 Eridani A, according to the team behind the . In the current , 40 Eridani A is the star that harbors Spock’s home planet. Some early references pointed to a different star, known as (which is also thought to host at least one exoplanet). But , Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and a group of astronomers argued that 40 Eridani A, the brightest star in a triple-star system, was a better fit because its 4 billion years of existence provided a wider window for pointy-eared intelligent life to evolve. The latest findings suggest Roddenberry made the right choice: The planet found at 40 Eridani A is roughly twice Earth’s size, completes an orbit around its parent star every 42 Earth days, and lies just inside the star’s optimal habitable zone, said University of Florida astronomer Jian Ge. HD 26965 is an orange dwarf star, only slightly cooler and slightly less massive than our sun, with a 10.1-year magnetic activity cycle that’s nearly identical to our sun’s 11.6-year sunspot cycle. “Therefore, HD 26965 may be an ideal host star for an advanced civilization,” Tennessee State University astronomer Matthew Muterspaugh . The astronomers made their find using the 50-inch Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope on Mount Lemmon in Arizona, and laid out the details in a paper published by the . But you don’t need a telescope to see 40 Eridani A. “This star can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the host stars of most of the known planets discovered to date,” said lead study author Bo Ma, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida. “Now anyone can see 40 Eridani on a clear night and be proud to point out Spock’s home.” Unfortunately for Star Trek fans, it’s unlikely that the planet will end up being named Vulcan. The International Astronomical Union recently , but as the name of a hypothetical planet that was once thought to exist within the orbit of Mercury. The IAU , and the same rationale would probably lead to Vulcan being counted out for exoplanets as well. Would Spock, who prides himself on his cold logic, see that as an insult? Not likely. As he once pointed out in a TV episode, “Insults are effective only where emotion is present.” Ma, Ge and Muterspaugh are among 27 authors of the paper published in the Monthly Notices, titled The authors also include Rory Barnes of the University of Washington.
September 19, 2018
News Brief: The mammoth plane that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s is testing at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port now bears the name of the billionaire and his air-launch venture. In , Stratolaunch showed off the plane’s new livery — including a legend reading “Stratolaunch: A Paul G. Allen Company” on the side of one of the twin fuselages, and the logo of plane builder Scaled Composites on the tail. In April, Stratolaunch said it . But the company still has three runway taxi tests on its to-do list, which suggests the plane won’t make it into the air before summer turns to fall on Saturday. Our aircraft has a new look! Check out the livery with and logos. — Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch)
September 18, 2018
An artist’s conception shows a violinist performing in zero-G during a voyage in SpaceX’s BFR spaceship. (SpaceX via Twitter) It’s been only a day since SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled, but folks are already nominating themselves (and others) for a free trip. Maezawa is paying an undisclosed but reportedly substantial amount for the journey on SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built BFR spaceship, and there are scads of details to be worked out before the launch date, which is currently set for 2023. In a series of tweets today, Musk promised that the mission would be , with the broadcast potentially . There could also be an onboard watering hole called the and the artists on the flight would be to perform in zero-G. Musk promised to take questions during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” chat that’s yet to be scheduled. “Love Reddit,” . One of the more interesting questions has to do with who will be selected for Maezawa’s Willy Wonka-style golden tickets. Seattle cartoonist Matthew Inman, creator of comic franchise and co-creator of the , put in a bid and got a smiley face from Musk: Yusaku will be bringing 8 (brave) artists & cultural figures with him on the journey around the moon! — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) *raises hand* I’m an artist. Sort of. When I’m not making poop jokes. — Matthew Inman (@Oatmeal) I will take that as an enthusiastic “yes!” — Matthew Inman (@Oatmeal)
September 18, 2018
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses the latest version of his vision for the BFR rocket. (SpaceX via YouTube) SpaceX CEO Elon Musk today introduced Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the first paying customer for a trip around the moon’ “Finally I can tell you that ‘I choose to go to the moon,'” Maezawa said, echoing President John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase. The announcement at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., followed days of speculation over the identity of the first passenger — and months of chatter about the capabilities of the BFR, an acronym for “Big Falcon Rocket” in its G-rated interpretation. Musk laid out his first design for the mammoth two-stage BFR in 2016 at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, and refined it for the 2017 IAC meeting in Australia. The BFR’s principal purpose is to carry settlers and their stuff to Mars, 100 passengers at a time. Last year, Musk said the BFR could be used for trips to the moon and other celestial destinations, as well as for suborbital point-to-point trips on Earth. Short-hop testing of the BFR’s second stage, nicknamed the Big Falcon Spaceship or BFS, could begin as early as next year. Those tests will take the form of progressively higher up-and-down flights at an earthly launch facility. If all goes according to plan, spaceflights could start in the early 2020s. Today SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was for an initial BFR flight to Mars in 2024, although she acknowledged that SpaceX’s timelines often slip to the right. SpaceX said last year that it planned to send two private citizens around the moon in a Dragon crew capsule to be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket. The company said the passengers paid a “significant deposit” for the trip but did not identify them. In February, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time. However, Musk said that rocket would not be certified to carry people, which ruled out a round-the-moon trip on a Falcon Heavy. Instead, the company shifted its future focus to the BFR. , Musk emphasized that the “top SpaceX priority” is to launch national security missions and to get the company’s Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules ready to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX’s crewed missions are currently scheduled to begin by the middle of next year. Boeing is working in parallel to get its CST-100 Starliner capsule ready for crewed flights to and from the space station. Its timeline currently lags slightly behind SpaceX’s, but both timelines are still subject to change.
September 18, 2018
The Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope is the centerpiece of the Sunspot Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. (National Science Foundation Photo) After days of fighting rumors about alien visitations, the managers of the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico say they’re reopening the facility — and have shed more light on the reason for its 10-day security-related closure. The 71-year-old, 9,200-foot-elevation observatory on Sacramento Peak is America’s national center for ground-based solar physics. It’s managed by the , or AURA, under an agreement with the . It’s also not far from Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. That was just one reason for tongues to wag when AURA and NSF decided on Sept. 6 to evacuate the facility and surrounding homes due to a security issue. The FBI was called in to investigate, but local law enforcement officials complained that they were being kept in the dark about what exactly was going on. “I’ve got ideas, but I don’t want to put them out there,” . “That’s how bad press or rumors get started, and it’ll cause paranoia, or I might satisfy everybody’s mind and I might be totally off base.” A mystery in New Mexico naturally makes some folks think of aliens, in part due to the fame (or the infamy) surrounding the . In that case, the initial headlines about a flying-saucer crash in the desert near Roswell sparked decades of speculation that were never totally quelled by the official explanations, which started with a weather balloon and . Similarly, , issued today, sticks to strictly earthly affairs: “AURA has been cooperating with an ongoing law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location. “The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety. “In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.” AURA officials said they recognized that the lack of information during the evacuation “was concerning and frustrating for some.” “However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation,” AURA said. “That was a risk we could not take.” The observatory’s staff of about nine employees should be back at work this week. It shouldn’t take long for nearby residents to be back in their homes, for researchers to be back at the Dunn Solar Telescope, and for tourists to be back at the Sunspot Visitors Center. But a full resolution of the mystery will have to wait until criminal charges are filed, assuming that the investigation bore fruit. And if the mystery hangs on with no criminal charges, with no further disclosures, don’t be surprised if Agents Mulder and Scully tackle the Sunspot Incident in a future “X-Files” episode.
September 17, 2018
A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket rises from its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying NASA’s ICESAT-2 satellite into orbit. (NASA via YouTube) NASA kicked off its to monitor our planet’s ice sheets from space using a laser-scanning satellite this morning, with a launch that marked the end of a nearly 30-year run for United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket. Liftoff came at 6:02 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after a slight delay in the countdown due to concerns about the chilldown of the rocket’s helium bottles. The two-stage rocket made a trouble-free ascent to orbit. ICESat-2 follows up on an that used laser-ranging data to measure ice sheet balance and sea level. This time around, the laser-scanning instrument will be capable of measuring Earth’s elevation every 30 inches (70 centimeters) across a 30-foot-wide track as it circles the planet. The data will help scientists determine how climate change is affecting global ice levels, and how changes in the ice affect the height of Earth’s oceans. “ICESat–2 is designed to answer a simple glaciology question very, very well: It will tell us where, and how fast, the ice sheets are thickening and thinning,” , a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory who’s a member of the mission’s science definition team, . “When these data start coming in, we will immediately get a big-picture map of how Antarctica and Greenland have changed over the past decade.” As a side benefit, the satellite will measure the height of the planet’s forests and deserts as well. The mission’s tortured acronym stands for “Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellte.” ICESat-2 deputy project scientist Tom Neumann said the satellite measurements would serve as a reality check for the computer models that predict future impacts of climate change. “When they’re predicting out 100 years, or 200 years, if you’re getting the modern changes right, it gives you confidence looking ahead,” he explained. After ICESat-2’s deployment, four student-built satellites were released into orbit from the rocket’s second stage. CalPoly’s satellite will try out a technology to dampen vibrations on spacecraft, two built at UCLA will study space weather, and the University of Central Florida’s will test materials designed to protect spacecraft from electrical discharges. Today’s launch served as a swan song for the Delta 2, a class of rockets that made its debut in 1989 and has been launched 155 times. It’s been built over the years by McDonnell Douglas, Boeing and United Launch Alliance, which is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture. Thanks to ICESat-2, the rocket went out with a streak of 100 successful launches in a row. The more advanced Delta 4 is still in use. Just last month, a Delta 4 Heavy rocket to a blazingly close orbit around the sun. United Launch Alliance also offers the Atlas 5 rocket, the heir of a rocket family that goes back to the 1950s. The last Delta 2 launch sparked a wave of tributes on Twitter. Here’s a selection, starting with a thank-you note from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine: The mission was the final launch of the ULA Delta II rocket, which has launched 53 missions for including the Mars Opportunity and Spirit rovers. Thank you and ! — Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) .’s rocket has been a reliable workhorse for America, flying more than 150 missions over 29 years. Saturday morning’s planned launch of ‘s mission will be the final launch of the rocket. Watch live at 8:46 am ET: — Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) One of my favorite sounds in the world… !! — Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) ULA chief executive Tory Bruno has announced parts in inventory for a final Delta 2 rocket will be assembled and put on display at the rocket garden at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. — Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) Good by Delta II. Our last bird will live at the Visitor Complex. — Tory Bruno (@torybruno) We are excited to welcome the ULA rocket to our Rocket Garden! Welcome Delta II and thank you and ! — Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (@ExploreSpaceKSC) Final Delta II launch to mark end of first pioneering era of US rockets: — collectSPACE (@collectSPACE)
September 15, 2018
News Brief: A year and a half after saying it, SpaceX says it will reveal the first passenger’s identity on Monday. SpaceX said the mission would be “an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space.” The launch vehicle would be SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), which is expected to be ready by the early 2020s, rather than the Falcon Heavy as previously planned. So let the guessing game begin: Will the first named passenger be Google co-founder Sergey Brin? Would-be moon traveler (and billionaire) ? Register your pick in the comment section. I’m willing to mail a free pair of 3-D glasses to the first commenter with the right guess.
September 14, 2018
Space station crew members work to patch up a small hole in the inner hull of a Soyuz spacecraft on Aug. 30. (NASA / Roscosmos via @NASASpaceflight / Twitter) NASA and Russia’s space agency t today aimed at quashing viral claims that someone on the International Space Station’s crew sabotaged a Soyuz capsule by drilling a hole in orbit and creating an air leak. The statement came two weeks after the crew — and 10 days after Roscosmos chief . Rogozin’s mention of sabotage, supplemented by comments from unnamed Russian sources, boosted a conspiracy theory claiming that NASA spacefliers may have intentionally drilled the hole. Those rumblings drew a sharp rebuke this week from NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who’s currently serving as the station’s commander. “I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing to do with this on orbit, without a doubt,” Feustel told ABC News in a space-to-ground interview. “And I think it’s actually a shame and somewhat embarrassing that anybody is wasting any time talking about something that the crew was involved in.” Today’s statement from the space agencies wasn’t as direct, but clearly stated that the crew members — three NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and a German astronaut representing the European Space Agency — were not suspects. The statement said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had his first-ever teleconference with Rogozin on Tuesday, at Roscosmos’ request, to discuss the space station’s status. “They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success,” the statement said. Bridenstine and Rogozine agreed to have their first face-to-face meeting next month when NASA’s chief travels to Russia and Kazakhstan in connection with the launch of two new space station crew members. Meanwhile, Russian officials will be in charge of a new commission tasked with investigating the Soyuz leak and its cause. The unsubstantiated rumors about in-space sabotage threatened to cast a pall over the U.S.-Russian relationship in space station operations, which has been far more cordial than the relationship in other policy spheres. The Russian newspaper as saying Roscosmos was considering the possibility that NASA astronauts might have drilled the hole as a ruse to get a sick crewmate sent back to Earth. Today as saying on his Facebook page that such rumors “hinder the work of Roscosmos experts and are designed to subvert the friendly relations among the crew members of the space station.” Here’s today’s: “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin met for the first time yesterday via teleconference to discuss the status of International Space Station (ISS) operations in response to a request from Roscosmos. “As part of their discussion, Dmitry Rogozin informed his American counterpart about Roscosmos’ decision to establish a Roscosmos-led Commission to investigate the cause of the leak in the Soyuz (MS-09/55S) spacecraft currently docked to the station. “The Administrator and the General Director noted speculations circulating in the media regarding the possible cause of the incident and agreed on deferring any preliminary conclusions and providing any explanations until the final investigation has been completed. “They affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating the cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation. They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success. “The Administrator and the Roscosmos General Director agreed to conduct their first face-to-face meeting at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on or about Oct. 10 when the NASA Administrator will visit Russia and Kazakhstan in conjunction with the upcoming Soyuz crew spacecraft launch of American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexy Ovchinin.”
September 13, 2018
News Brief: Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith today signaled that the Kent, Wash.-based space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is aiming to start flying people on suborbital space trips rather than later this year as previously envisioned. The signal was passed along by , who’s tweeting from the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris. Smith was also quoted as saying Blue Origin was making good progress on tests of the , which is to be used on the company’s New Glenn reusable orbital-class rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan semi-reusable rocket. We’ve asked Blue Origin about the reports and will update this item with anything we hear back.
September 11, 2018
An artist’s conception shows SpaceIL’s Sparrow lunar lander on the moon’s surface. (SpaceIL Illustration) is go for launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that’s due to send a telecommunications satellite into geosynchronous orbit, Seattle-based announced today. The launch, expected late this year or sometime next year, would represent the first Spaceflight rideshare mission to go beyond low Earth orbit. And Israel-based SpaceIL’s mission would represent the first non-governmental landing on the moon. Spaceflight timed its announcement to coincide with Euroconsult’s conference in Paris. It said rideshare opportunities to geosynchronous transfer orbit, or GTO, would be made available every 12 to 18 months, or as customer demand requires. The primary payload for Spaceflight’s first GTO mission is thought to be the , which was built for Indonesia’s PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara by , a Maxar Technologies subsidiary. This would be the first combined launch for Spaceflight and SSL. “We’re focused on getting our customers’ spacecraft into orbit in the most expeditious, cost-effective manner possible,” Spaceflight President Curt Blake . “The rideshare model is beneficial to everyone; the primary spacecraft as well as all the secondaries pay less than if they contracted to launch individually. In addition, working with a reliable partner like SSL to fulfill our first GTO mission increases our ability to service this growing destination. We’re looking forward to making GTO a routine and affordable destination for our clients.” The mission plan calls for several of Spaceflight’s rideshare payloads to be deployed from geosynchronous transfer orbit. SSL’s host spacecraft would then continue onward to geosynchronous orbit, where the remaining rideshare satellites would be separated. Spaceflight didn’t identify any of the payloads other than SpaceIL’s, and didn’t disclose the prices that were paid. Spaceflight, which provides satellite rideshare and mission management services in league with a wide range of launch providers, is a subsidiary of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries. David Bernstein, senior vice president of program management at SSL, hailed Spaceflight’s “innovative approach to aggregating launches and bringing a more cost-effective launch model to the industry as a result.” “Working as a team with Spaceflight and SpaceX, we are enabling a unique mission that ultimately accomplishes a translunar injection, prior to dropping off other payloads on our way to geostationary orbit for the primary communications satellite,” Bernstein said. SpaceIL was one of the competitors in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, which was when organizers determined that none of the teams could get to the moon before the March deadline. During a , SpaceIL’s team leaders said they , kicking off an energy-efficient, two-month trip to the moon. At the time, their schedule called for the 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) lander to touch down on the lunar surface on Feb. 13, 2019. After landing, the spacecraft would send back photos and videos as well as data about the moon’s magnetic field. SpaceIL’s organizers say about $88 million has been invested in the effort, mostly from private donors but also from organizations including the Israel Space Agency; Israeli’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Space; and the Weizmann Institute of Science. SpaceIL President Morris Kahn, an Israeli billionaire investor, reportedly has donated $27 million.
September 11, 2018
Researchers used artificial intelligence to search through data from a radio source, capturing many more fast radio bursts than humans could. (Breakthrough Listen Illustration / Danielle Futselaar) Researchers at , a multimillion-dollar campaign to seek out signals from alien civilizations, still don’t know exactly what’s causing repeated bursts of radio waves from an distant galaxy — but thanks to artificial intelligence, they’re keeping closer tabs on the source, whatever it turns out to be. A team led by Gerry Zhang, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, developed a new type of machine-learning algorithm to comb through data collected a year ago during an observing campaign that used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The campaign focused on a radio source known as FRB 121102, located in a dwarf galaxy sitting 3 billion light-years away in the constellation Auriga. Astronomers have observed plenty of fast radio bursts over the past decade, each lasting only a few milliseconds. Only FRB 121102 has been found to send out repeated bursts, however. A number of theories have been proposed to explain the bursts, ranging from interactions involving magnetized neutron stars and black holes to deliberate signaling by advanced civilizations. The researchers from Breakthrough Listen, one of several space projects backed by Russian-born billionaire Yuri Milner, added to the mystery last year when on Aug. 26, 2017. Their initial analysis, using standard search algorithms, found that . Then the radio source seemed to go silent. But did it? To double-check the data, Zhang and his team used machine-learning techniques originally developed for optimizing search results and classifying images. They trained a different kind of algorithm known as a on the burst examples that were found using more traditional methods, and then set the AI algorithm loose on the complete data set to look for other bursts that might have been missed. The AI algorithm found 72 more bursts, bringing the total number of fast radio bursts traced to FRB 121102 to about 300 since its discovery in 2012. A has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal. The updated analysis indicates that there’s no predictable pattern to the recurrence of the bursts, at least on timescales of more than 10 milliseconds. The new findings are likely to put new constraints on the various hypotheses that are being considered as the cause of the bursts — and thus contribute to solving the mystery. “This work is only the beginning of using these powerful methods to find radio transients,” said Zhang. “We hope our success may inspire other serious endeavors in applying machine learning to radio astronomy.” Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and principal investigator for Breakthrough Listen, said the methods could also address other challenges in the search for alien signals. “Whether or not FRBs themselves eventually turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the universe around us,” he said. Could artificial intelligence find extraterrestrial intelligence? Stay tuned… In addition to Zhang and Siemion, the authors of include Vishal Gajjar, Griffin Foster, James Cordes, Casey Law and Yu Wang. , including the .
September 11, 2018
This cloud formation on Jupiter is called “Mr. Hankey.” (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Kevin M. Gill) Jupiter’s titanic storms have spawned their share of memorable cloud features, including the , (a.k.a. Red Jr.) and the now-defunct . Now there’s a new spot on the map, nicknamed “Mr. Hankey.” Mr. Hankey? The made famous in a “South Park” Christmas episode? Believe it: The longish, brownish storm system was the star of the show during last Thursday’s close encounter involving Jupiter and NASA’s . In the days since the encounter, known as Perijove 15, the probe has been sending back Junocam’s imagery . It was Kevin Gill, a software engineer and self-described data wrangler at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who gave the spot its “South Park” sobriquet in a. But if you want to call the scene , that’s OK, too. In addition to Mr. Hankey, Perijove 15 yielded some great views of the complex, blue-tinged cloud patterns in Jupiter’s mid-northern latitudes and north polar region. Here’s a Twitter smorgasbord: Detail and turbulence visible southwest of Mr. Hankey on Jupiter (North to the lower right), Perijove 15 — Kevin M. Gill (@kevinmgill) The North Pole of Jupiter, Perijove 15 — Kevin M. Gill (@kevinmgill) Juno, Perijove 15 (2018-09-07), imgs. #18, #19 & #22 (NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Gustavo BC) — Gustavo BC (@_Gustavobc) Jupiter, Perijove 15 early sequence [Eichstädt/Doran]8k: — Seán Doran (@_TheSeaning) Ya hay imágenes del perijove 15; híjole, cómo se las arregla Júpiter para ser siempre tan hermoso: — Surada
September 10, 2018
BridgeSat uses optical systems to send data to orbiting satellites. (BridgeSat / Boeing Illustration) is leading a $10 million investment round to boost BridgeSat, a Denver-based satellite communications company that aims to use laser technology for ground-to-space data connectivity. Founded in 2015, BridgeSat is developing a network of optical ground stations and proprietary space terminals for use with satellites in low Earth orbit and geostationary orbit. The technology enables secure, high-bandwidth data transmission between satellites, other spacecraft, drones and high-altitude aircraft. In March, the company that could open the way for a commercial, laser-based communications system to be used on future space missions. The agreement calls for a ground station demonstration by the end of this year, with on-orbit testing to be completed by next May. BridgeSat is also for ICEYE’s commercial satellite radar constellation. In a , Boeing and BridgeSat said the new round of investment will accelerate progress on the network of optical ground stations. “As we grow our OGS into a global network, this investment will help us meet the need for secure delivery of big data from LEO and GEO satellites at faster speeds, and a lower cost than traditional radio frequency solutions,” said BridgeSat CEO , a veteran of Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. As we enable faster, reliable space-based communications, invests in
September 10, 2018
Jeff Bezos talks with students at the opening of the Apollo Exhibit at The Museum of Flight in Seattle in May 2017. One of Bezos’ outside projects involved recovering the Apollo F-1 engines used to blast early astronauts to the moon. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Jeff Bezos transformed the modern economy, using disruptive thinking to reshape how people buy products and read books, and how companies access computing and deliver goods. Now, the 54-year-old founder of Amazon and the Blue Origin space venture — a hard-charging sci-fi geek with a giant laugh who earlier this year earned the title of the richest person on the planet — is exploring new terrain: deciding how to give away a chunk of his record-breaking fortune, now estimated at a mind-boggling as Amazon’s market value for a short period this past week. The path Bezos chooses for his philanthropic efforts could alter society in unimagined ways, just as and as fellow Seattle billionaire Bill Gates is attempting to do today. And yet very few have direct insights into which issues the mercurial billionaire will tackle. Health care? Education? Climate change? Homelessness? Political reform? Societal and environmental challenges abound, and Bezos — with the wealth equivalent of the countries of Croatia, Costa Rica and Bolivia combined — can do something about them. This much is certain: reflecting on Bezos’ past moves, his philanthropic efforts will be unconventional. “Jeff has changed the world once,” said Ed Lazowska, a professor in the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, which Bezos and Amazon have supported through donations and endowments. “In the fullness of time, he will change the world again multiple times.” For years, Bezos was a relative no-show when it came to philanthropy. The Bezos name was associated with a scant number of charitable causes around his adopted hometown of Seattle, and few in the non-profit world knew where he stood on do-gooding causes. But things started to change last summer — in a potentially big way. On June 15, 2017 Bezos turned the philanthropic world on its head, soliciting suggestions for his charitable giving. Request for ideas… — Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) Some 48,000 responses later, Bezos now says he has “settled on two areas that I’m very excited about.” He promised to announce the ideas “before the end of this summer” — which, according to the calendar, means he’s given himself until Sept. 22 to disclose to the world what he plans to take on. The multibillion-dollar question now is, which lucky causes have made the cut? And beyond that, does this mark an important step toward an overarching philanthropic effort — like the and its work in global health and education, or the and the Microsoft co-founder’s support for brain science, artificial intelligence and Seattle philanthropy? Or will these to-be-revealed initiatives remain on par with Bezos’ past record of more modest giving? “The backdrop to all of this is that if he wants to make a dent in giving away his money while he’s still alive, he needs to start now and stick at it for the rest of his life at a pretty urgent pace,” said David Callahan, editor of , a charity watchdog site. So far, Bezos has shaved off only a tiny sliver of his holdings. Over the past decade, Bezos and his family have donated , with a focus on immunotherapy initiatives. In January, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, gave , an organization providing scholarships for immigrants (Bezos’ father migrated to the U.S. from Cuba). In August, he donated nearly to an unspecified nonprofit, according to an SEC filing and local press coverage. (Bezos and his family did not respond to requests made through Amazon for comment for this article.) Just last week, news that Bezos donated $10 million to , a political organization that backs veterans of both parties who are running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Left to right: Steve Poore, Christina Poore, Mike Bezos, Jackie Bezos, Jeff Bezos, and MacKenzie Bezos at the opening of the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic in December 2016. (Fred Hutch Photo / Robert Hood) In total, Bezos and his family have donated roughly $135 million to charitable causes, based on news reports and press releases. For a mere mortal, it’s an impressive sum. For Bezos, it’s 0.09 percent of his worth. By comparison, Gates, the runner-up for the richest person, has given away stock holdings worth $50 billion, . But the Amazon CEO is starting to shell out more of his money. The question is whether one views the spending as philanthropic. ‘The most important work I’m doing’ In 2016, Bezos said that he’d invested to date in Blue Origin, a Kent, Wash.-based company that’s developing re-usable rockets and whose stated vision is to support “millions of people living and working in space.” Then, last year, he announced that he was selling worth of Amazon stock to fund his space venture, and that he’d for years to come. Bezos has been a self-proclaimed space junkie since his early years. At age 5, he remembers watching his parents’ black-and-white TV as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Friends and teachers from his high school days recall his passion for space, and as a teen he attended a space-related program at a NASA center in Huntsville, Alabama, according to . Jump ahead a few decades, and the star-gazing billionaire even in 2016. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (at right) in “Star Trek Beyond” in 2016, playing a Starfleet official who assists a rescued spacefarer (played by Lydia Wilson, at left). Credit: Justin Lin via Twitter That the adult Bezos would circle back around to space-related enterprises comes as no surprise to Valerie Conn, executive director of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based , an organization assisting science-minded donors. “A 12-year-old girl’s or a 12-year-old boy’s passion often comes out in philanthropy years or decades later,” Conn said. There has been increasing interest in charitable giving to basic research, including medicine, physics, biology and science technology, Conn said. That focus is particularly prevalent among those who made their riches in the tech sector. With his spending on Blue Origin, “it shows that [Bezos] is willing to invest for long-term outcomes, to build infrastructure and to explore that scientific curiosity and also pursue his passion,” Conn said. “That goes back to the passion-driven philanthropy concept.” But is blasting people off the planet serving a humanitarian cause, or simply indulging the inquisitiveness and ego of an absurdly wealthy man? In a May , Bezos described Blue Origin as both a charitable enterprise and a business, calling it “the most important work I’m doing.” As our energy demands outpace our terrestrial, clean power sources, Bezos sees space as a solution. He imagines making heavy industrial activity extraterrestrial and preserving the Earth for people to live on and for light industrial work. “We will have to leave this planet, and we’re going to leave it,” Bezos said, “and it’s going to make this planet better.” (A spokesperson for Blue Origin declined a request for a comment for this story.) Jeff Bezos discusses Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster rocket and crew capsule at the 2017 Space Symposium in Colorado. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Bezos’ intergalactic vision for humanity’s salvation has, however, triggered some public derision. Through social media, critics have called on Bezos to pursue a more conventional approach to philanthropy, aiding people on Earth here and now. In a recent , Nick Hanauer, an early investor in Amazon, praised Bezos as “an extraordinary commercial entrepreneur and a deeply insightful and strategic thinker,” but questioned his “moral reasoning.” And yet Bezos’ blurring of philanthropy with a mission-focused business venture is not actually so rare, some in the nonprofit world say. “It’s like a lot of these tech people. They’re techno-utopians and they think that business and technology are as powerful as anything in terms of its potential to improve humanity,” Inside Philanthropy’s Callahan said. “Many of them view the nonprofit sector as traditional forms of civil society and philanthropy as being little sideshows of yesterday’s means,” he said. “A lot of these people really blend business in with their vision of social good.” Charity closer to home Bezos’ love of outer space shines brighter than a noonday sun. But if you follow the digital breadcrumbs found in his tweets and news articles, it leads to another, more surprising cause that appears to have captivated the CEO of Amazon: families experiencing homelessness. Seattle and neighboring communities are in the throes of a homelessness crisis. On a single night this past January, volunteers surveying King County, which includes Seattle, counted as homeless. In response, Amazon has teamed up with a Seattle nonprofit called that aids homeless families. More than , the company began temporarily housing the families in a former Travelodge motel that was slated for demolition and the construction of Amazon office space. The partnership evolved beyond providing shelter, and includes regular interactions between Amazon workers and families in need. Employees prepare meals and provide tutoring and career support. The company has hosted a summer BBQ for the families and a Christmas event with toys for the children. “I’m very inspired and moved by the work done at Mary’s Place here in Seattle,” Bezos tweeted last year in his call for philanthropic ideas. Santa Claus hands out donated gifts to Mary’s Place families in December 2016. The holiday giveaway was one of several events Amazon has hosted for Seattle-area families experiencing homelessness. (Amazon Photo) Amazon as a corporation has supported additional Seattle-area initiatives, including construction of a championed by Lazowska, and Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit spreading computer education internationally. But these and other efforts funded by Bezos’ family or Amazon do not seem to have captured his attention in the same way. In his April interview with , he returned again to Mary’s Place. He praised the nonprofit for helping formerly homeless people become “perfectly productive members of society.” Last year new initiatives to help Mary’s Place, including building a permanent shelter for 70 to 100 families a night. The shelter, to be located inside an Amazon building, will open in 2020. It’s an interesting collaboration, intersecting the orbits of families who are homeless with more affluent tech workers who are helping drive up rental and real estate prices that make affordable housing harder to come by. And this spring, Amazon fought a Seattle head tax on employees intended to raise money to address homelessness. The company temporarily ceased construction on one of its downtown office buildings in protest. City leaders . Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, doesn’t weigh into the politics or possible future support from Bezos. She is, of course, grateful for Amazon’s partnership. Mary’s Place Executive Director Marty Hartman. (GeekWire Photo) “We just count every day as a gift and [Bezos’] words are creating change in our community,” she said. “It’s creating change for these families and he has brought a spotlight and he has given the rest of the nation an opportunity and an actual concept of how to solve this in their community, how to make sure no child sleeps outside.” Some hope that Bezos could take his interest a step further and apply his outside-the-box, visionary mojo to drive more dramatic solutions. “You can imagine that there is somewhere out there a clever strategy for dealing with homelessness that nobody has thought of,” said Lazowska, the UW’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering. “That is an example where none of the obvious things are working. Is there some crazy-ass idea that would tackle this problem?” Which way to charity? For all of his unconventional traits, Bezos so far has followed a pretty typical philanthropic path. He has pursued a diverse portfolio of causes, many of which have personal or passion-driven connections. He has melded traditional charity with investing that serves a greater good. Beyond Blue Origin, that includes support for the , a group of investors funding clean energy developments; his 2013 purchase of the Washington Post for $250 million, which some view as quasi-philanthropic, given the importance of a free press; and his $42 million contribution towards a clock to . Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart and his wife, Sunny Ozell, stand beside Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, at the Oscar Awards ceremony in March. (Jeff Bezos via Twitter) “It’s a special clock,” Bezos writes on the project website, “designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking.” Even his slow pace of giving hews to a route followed by some donors. Bezos has an umbrella company called Bezos Expeditions to oversee many of his initiatives and philanthropic activities, but he doesn’t yet have a dedicated personal foundation, serving only as a board member of the , which his parents founded and lead. Nor has he signed the , an initiative by the Gateses and Warren Buffett, through which the mega rich commit to giving away most of their fortunes. Effectively doling out massive amounts of money, it turns out, is time-consuming, hard work. Other wealthy tech entrepreneurs have partnered with family members to manage their philanthropy. Bill Gates teamed up with his dad, Bill Sr., and wife, Melinda. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are co-founders of the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Jody Allen, sister of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is the co-founder of their foundation. Could MacKenzie Bezos take a leading role in distributing the Bezos’ largesse? MacKenzie, mother of four and author of two books, took a step into the nonprofit sector in 2014. She launched , an online resource for anti-bullying efforts featuring video testimonials from dozens of celebrity actors, musicians, authors and athletes. “If the main person who made the money is still busy with their day job, [philanthropy] takes a lot of bandwidth, and often you see the spouses doing the heavy lifting,” Callahan said. “Jeff Bezos gets all of the attention because everybody knows him and he made the money, but it could be that MacKenzie is behind the scenes doing all the work.” In comparison, Gates was already well on his way philanthropically by age 45, stepping down from Microsoft’s CEO role and creating a joint foundation with Melinda. At that point, Gates had led Microsoft for roughly 25 years — about the same amount of time that Bezos has been running Amazon. Could Bezos be ready at last to go boldly into the world of philanthropy? It’s possible. “A lot of philanthropists will give at a small level, see what they learn and try to ramp up from there,” Callahan said. “They want to experiment at first, before they get their sea legs. Before they make huge commitments.”
September 10, 2018
SpaceX launched its second heavyweight Telstar telecommunications satellite from Florida tonight, and brought the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster down for a landing on a drone ship hundreds of miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. The mission to put the 15,600-pound Telstar 18 Vantage satellite into geostationary transfer orbit for Canadian-based Telesat was nearly a carbon copy of , with a bit of added suspense due to the weather. Concerns about thunderstorms and lightning near the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station delayed the launch for 77 minutes, but the Falcon 9 rose without a hitch at 12:45 a.m. ET Monday (9:45 p.m. Tuesday). Minutes after launch, the rocket’s second stage separated from the first stage and sent the satellite onward to orbit. Meanwhile, the first stage maneuvered itself toward the landing ship, christened “Of Course I Still Love You,” slowed its supersonic descent, and made a problem-free touchdown on the deck. A webcam view shows the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster on the deck of a drone ship after touchdown. (SpaceX via YouTube) SpaceX has been experimenting with techniques to recover and reuse the two halves of the Falcon 9’s nose cone, or fairing, as part of an effort to achieve millions of dollars in additional cost savings. No such recovery attempt was made this time, however. A little more than a half-hour after launch, the Falcon 9’s second stage relit its rocket engine to adjust its orbit. Then it deployed the satellite, marking the end of SpaceX’s role in Telstar 18V’s mission. “A great launch and deployment,” launch commentator John Insprucker said. The Telstar 18V satellite separates from the Falcon 9 second stage, as seen in a rocketcam view. (SpaceX via YouTube) Over the course of the next few weeks, the satellite will get into position over the Asia-Pacific region and add to Telesat’s broadband coverage in C-band and Ku-band frequencies. Its transponders will provide wide-ranging broadband coverage across Asia and reaching all the way to Hawaii, and focused beams for customers in Southeast Asia, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand and the North Pacific Ocean. The next-generation Telstar spacecraft rank among the , and have a design life of 15 years. Tonight’s launch represented SpaceX’s 60th successful Falcon 9 launch since the rocket’s debut in 2010 (with , plus a in 2016). SpaceX’s next launch is due to put Argentina’s into orbit in October.
September 10, 2018
An artist’s conception shows the site plan for the Avatar X lab planned in Japan’s Oita prefecture. (Clouds Architecture Office) Telepresence robots on the moon and Mars? That’s the vision laid out for the partnership between ANA Holdings, the parent company of Japan’s All Nippon Airways, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The ANA-JAXA program, known as Avatar X, aims to establish a public-private consortium to develop new types of human-controlled robots that can collect data and perform tasks in remote locations. The concept is in line with the , as well as with JAXA’s new . “ANA is driven by a bold and inspiring vision of the future of flight, and this boldness doesn’t stop on our planet,” Shinya Katanozaka, president and CEO of ANA Holdings, . “Through innovative partnerships like Avatar X, we are excited about the possibilities of what we can accomplish and where we can go when the private and public sectors join forces,” he said. Once the consortium is set up, the Avatar X roadmap calls for the creation of a technological testbed in Japan’s southern prefecture of Oita. Avatar X Lab@Oita would become the center for developing the communications tools and robotics required for off-world telepresence. The Avatar X initiative would begin on Earth and move out to the International Space Station, other outposts, the moon and Mars. (ANA Holdings Graphic) In the early to mid-2020s, JAXA and its Avatar X partners would transfer the technologies developed at the Oita lab to low Earth orbit for testing, presumably on the International Space Station and other space platforms. During that same time frame, NASA and its international partners are due to start development work for a new Gateway in lunar orbit. Avatar X aims to take advantage of that outward push by deploying robotic telepresence systems. ANA Holdings expects the eventual applications to include remote construction in space, including on the lunar surface and Mars, as well as Earth-based operation and maintenance of future space outposts. Telepresence also could open the way for new kinds of space-based entertainment and travel experiences for the general public. That’s a big reason why ANA, which has been primarily seen as an airline operator, is involved in what sounds like a science-fiction venture. “We see ourselves not as an airplane operator, but as a company that aims to bridge the gaps between the different cultures that exist in our world,” Kevin Kajitani of ANA’s Digital Design Lab and Innovation Research, told GeekWire in March. “And that’s where we see the avatars fitting in.” In support of that vision, ANA is backing a $10 million, four-year XPRIZE competition to boost the development of multipurpose telepresence systems — real-world robotic analogs to the systems portrayed in the blockbuster sci-fi movie “Avatar.” The deadline for teams to sign up for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE is Jan. 9, 2019, and the winner is due to be selected by October 2021. If all goes according to plan, the competition should be gearing up just as the Avatar X lab is hitting its stride.
September 07, 2018