How China is getting set to build a moon base

Yutu 2 rover

Video captured by China’s Chang’e-4 lander shows the Yutu 2 rover roaming the surface of the moon’s far side. (CNSA via Weibo)

Flush from the success of the world’s first rover mission to the moon’s far side, Chinese space officials said today that they’re planning robotic trips to the lunar south pole to prepare the way for a crewed moon base.

The officials discussed future lunar exploration plans less than two weeks after the Chang’e-4 lander’s history-making touchdown, and only a few days after China’s space agency released video of the lander’s descent and lunar surface activities.

Chang’e-4 and its solar-powered Yutu 2 rover are hibernating during the 2-week-long lunar night, but their handlers are already thinking about sending probes to places where the sun almost always shines.

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SpaceX’s Dragon splashes down in the dark

SpaceX Dragon

SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo ship is released by the International Space Station’s robotic arm. (NASA Photo)

SpaceX’s robotic Dragon cargo ship splashed down in the Pacific Ocean tonight, bringing science experiments and used hardware from the International Space Station back to Earth after dark.

The Dragon delivered nearly 3 tons of food, supplies and experiments to the stationon Dec. 8, and it took more than four weeks to unload the cargo and reload the Dragon with payloads for the return trip. NASA delayed the Dragon’s descent by several days due to concerns about weather in the recovery area.

The station’s robotic arm released the Dragon at 3:33 p.m. PT, and the craft parachuted to its splashdown just before 9:15 p.m. SpaceX’s recovery ship headed to the scene to pull the Dragon out of the sea and bring it back to port in California.

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Tethers Unlimited lays off 20 percent of staff

Rob Hoyt

Robert Hoyt is the co-founder and CEO of Tethers Unlimited Inc. (TUI via YouTube)

Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited Inc. has laid off about 20 percent of its workforce due to a cash crunch brought on by the partial government shutdown, the company’s CEO says.

Tethers Unlimited snared an impressive lineup of contracts from NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, for work on innovative spacecraft thruster systems and space-based fabrication systems. But it can’t get paid for the work it’s done over the past three months, CEO Rob Hoyt told GeekWire today in an email.

Hoyt expects commercial contracts to keep the company afloat during the shutdown, which has now gone into its fourth week. But he said the decision to cut back on staff was “really painful and disheartening.” In his email, he decried what he called a game of “Russian roulette with the American economy.”

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What’s cooking inside Nvidia’s robotics research lab

Nvidia robot open house

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang and Susan Gaither tickle a robotic hand at Nvidia’s robotics research lab in Seattle. (Nvidia Photo)

When Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang interacted with a sensitive robotic hand at today’s open house for his company’s robotics research lab in Seattle, it was love at first touch.

“It almost feels like a pet!” Huang said as he tickled the hand’s fingers, causing them to retreat gently.

“It’s surprisingly therapeutic,” he told the crowd around him. “Can I have one?”

The robotic hand, which is programmed to avoid poking humans when they come too close, was just one of the machines on display at the 13,000-square-foot lab in Seattle’s University District.

Nvidia is based in California’s Silicon Valley and has nearly 200 employees working at an engineering center in Redmond, Wash.

But when the chipmaker laid plans to open a lab focusing on research in robotics and artificial intelligence, it set up shop in the same building that houses the University of Washington’s CoMotion Lab. It also put Dieter Fox, a longtime computer science professor at UW, in charge of the operation as senior director of robotics research.

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SpaceX is reducing its workforce by 10 percent

SpaceX employees

SpaceX employees cheer a Falcon 9 liftoff at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. (SpaceX Photo)

SpaceX says it’s reducing its workforce by about 10 percent as part of a strategic realignment to focus the California-based company on providings its global Starlink satellite broadband service and furthering CEO Elon Musk’s drive to make humanity a multiplanet species.

Word of the reductions came just hours after SpaceX executed its first Falcon 9 rocket launch of the year, putting 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low Earth orbit, and a day after Musk hailed the assembly of a subscale test prototype for SpaceX’s interplanetary Starship spacecraft.

Assuming that the company currently employs more than 6,000 people, a 10 percent cut would amount to 600 jobs.

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SpaceX launches last batch of Iridium satellites

SpaceX launch

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into space. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket deployed the eighth and final set of next-generation Iridium satellites into orbit today, closing off a two-year launch campaign.

The rocket rose into partly cloudy skies from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:31 a.m. PT after a trouble-free countdown. Iridium CEO Matt Desch counted down the final seconds.

Minutes after liftoff, the first-stage booster separated and made an at-sea touchdown on a drone landing ship called “Just Read the Instructions,” hundreds of miles out in the Pacific Ocean.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX assembles a shiny Starship

Starship Hopper

Which is the illustration, and which is the actual Starship Hopper test rocket? The real rocket is on the left — and take note of the Starman standing by one of the fins. (Elon Musk via Twitter)

For weeks, photographers have been snapping pictures of a retro-looking, shiny stainless-steel rocket that’s been taking shape at SpaceX’s launch site in South Texas — and tonight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk declared that assembly of the first Starship short-hop test rocket is complete.

Musk tweeted a picture of what looks to be a roughly 120-foot-tall “Starship Hopper,” composed of three sections that were put together at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility.

“This is an actual picture, not a rendering,” Musk wrote. But the rocket does look eerily like the illustration that Musk shared several days earlier — or, for that matter, the pointy-topped rockets that were all the rage in the 1940s.

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