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Universe Today

Axiom Space aims to fly first Saudi female astronaut

Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

Houston-based Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission announced their partnership today at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris. In a news release, the Saudi commission said its participation in Axiom’s Ax-2 mission is part of the nation’s effort “to conduct scientific experiments and research for the betterment of humanity in priority areas such as health, sustainability and space technology.” It acknowledged that including a woman astronaut “will represent a historical first for the Kingdom.”

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GeekWire

NASA ‘encouraged’ by tanking test for moon rocket

NASA says it achieved all its objectives during today’s launch-pad rehearsal for fueling up its giant Space Launch System rocket for an uncrewed round-the-moon mission known as Artemis 1 — but will have to review the data, check the weather and get final approvals before going ahead with plans for a Sept. 27 liftoff.

The test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was meant to verify that hydrogen fuel leaks encountered during the past month’s launch attempts were fixed. A hydrogen leak did crop up today during the process of filling the SLS rocket’s tanks with super-cooled propellants. “Engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities,” NASA said afterward.

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Universe Today

Neptune and its rings glow in Webb Telescope’s portrait

The first picture of Neptune to be taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals the latest, greatest details of the ice giant’s atmosphere, moon and rings in infrared wavelengths.

Some of those details — for example, faint bands of dust that encircle Neptune — haven’t been brought to light since the Voyager 2 probe zoomed past in 1989.

“It has been three decades since we last saw those faint, dusty bands, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” astronomer Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist on the JWST team who specializes in Neptune, said today in a news release. Neptune’s brighter rings stand out even more clearly.

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GeekWire

Orbital Reef space station wins role in sci-fi movie

The commercial space station that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has a hand in building, known as Orbital Reef. will be getting some Hollywood-level product placement years before it’s due to go into operation.

Blue Origin and the other partners in the Orbital Reef project today announced a cross-promotional deal with Centerboro Productions to portray the space outpost in an upcoming sci-fi movie titled “Helios.” The announcement was timed to coincide with this week’s International Astronautical Congress in Paris.

The movie is set in 2030, which is around the time Orbital Reef could become a reality — assuming that the funding from NASA and from commercial partners continues to flow.

“The film will tell the story of a spaceship, the Helios, and its crew during their urgent mission to the International Space Station,” a plot synopsis reads. “When a massive solar flare hits the station, it is up to astronomer and former NASA astronaut Jess Denver and Air Force Colonel Sam Adler to team up and save humanity.”

Orbital Reef is to be featured as a next-generation space station that serves as a critical resource for the Helios crew.

“We teamed up with Blue Origin to give moviegoers a thrilling but realistic depiction of the future of living and working in space and a coordinated response to a space weather emergency,” Patricia A. Beninati, who’s one of the film’s producers and writers as well as the president of Centerboro Productions, said in a news release.

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GeekWire

Spaceflight makes a launch deal with German startup

Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. and Rocket Factory Augsburg, a German launch startup, say they’ve signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for Spaceflight’s Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles to ride on the RFA One rocket.

In an announcement made today at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, the companies said they’re targeting mid-2024 for their first launch.

Spaceflight Inc. handles pre-launch logistics and arranges for payloads to be sent into orbit on other companies’ launch vehicles. Rocket Factory Augsburg, or RFA, joins a list of Spaceflight launch providers that also includes SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Northrop Grumman and Europe’s Arianespace consortium.

RFA, plans to launch its three-stage, 100-foot-tall rocket from facilities in French Guiana, Britain and other locales, starting in 2023. Eventually, RFA intends to conduct launches on a weekly basis.

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GeekWire

Eviation makes a deal to sell electric airplanes to GlobalX

Arlington, Wash.-based Eviation says that GlobalX, an air charter operator based in Miami, has signed a letter of intent to order 50 of Eviation’s all-electric Alice commuter aircraft.

The nine-passenger aircraft will open up new routes for passenger travel in GlobalX’s key markets in Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, Eviation said today in a news release.

“The Alice aircraft will allow us to offer sustainable regional flights to and from major markets, and is the first step in our initiative to be a zero-carbon emissions airline by 2050,” said Ed Wegel, GlobalX’s chair and CEO.

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GeekWire

Microsoft and SpaceX ramp up satellite cloud access

With SpaceX’s help, Microsoft is taking the next step toward merging cloud computing with available-anywhere satellite connectivity.

Today Microsoft announced the start of a private preview for Azure Orbital Cloud Access, which lets users link up with the cloud in a single hop from virtually anywhere via SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

For now, the preview is limited to Microsoft Azure’s government customers. But Jason Zander, executive vice president of Microsoft strategic missions and technologies, said “we are currently working toward general availability and commercial expansion.”

“That timeline will be determined by the evolution of our work with our private preview customers and customer feedback,” Zander told GeekWire in an emailed response to questions.

Today’s announcement, timed to coincide with the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris, comes nearly two years after Microsoft announced that it was teaming up with SpaceX on satellite cloud access.

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GeekWire

Five spaced-out designs for the Bezos Learning Center

The design selection process for the Bezos Learning Center planned at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum may sound a bit like “America’s Got Talent” for architects — but the $130 million prize is well beyond game-show proportions.

That’s how much money Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is giving to have the 50,000-square-foot center built as an addition to the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s part of Bezos’ record-setting $200 million donation for the National Air and Space Museum’s renovation, which was announced last summer.

The Bezos Learning Center would feature activities that inspire students to pursue innovation and explore careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math — or STEAM, for short. The Smithsonian stressed that the center wouldn’t just focus on aerospace, but connect to all of the institution’s museums.

In January, the Smithsonian put out the call for design firms to submit proposals for the center, which would replace a pyramid-shaped restaurant that was built on the museum grounds in 1988 but ceased operation in 2017. Last week, museum planners unveiled five design proposals. The architects behind the proposals are identified only as Firm A, Firm B, Firm C, Firm D and Firm E.

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GeekWire

Uncrewed Blue Origin flight cut short by anomaly

A booster misfire caused an early end today for an uncrewed suborbital space mission launched by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

It was the first Blue Origin mission to fall short of its goal since the first flight of the company’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship in 2015. Blue Origin didn’t immediately say what caused today’s anomaly. The Federal Aviation Administration said it would oversee an investigation into the mishap and would eventually have to sign off on Blue Origin’s return to flight.

No people were aboard the spacecraft. Instead, this mission was dedicated to scientific payloads and STEM education. The New Shepard spaceship carried 36 payloads, half of which were funded by NASA, plus tens of thousands of postcards that were sent in by students and flown courtesy of Blue Origin’s educational foundation. the Club for the Future.

This was the first dedicated payload launch since August 2021, coming amid a string of six crewed suborbital flights that saw 31 customers and special guests (including Bezos himself) go to space and back.

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Fiction Science Club

Zeva’s flying saucer concept ascends to the next level

Eight months ago, Zeva Aero conducted a milestone flight test for an electric-powered flying saucer that would warm the heart of any sci-fi fan. Now the Tacoma, Wash.-based startup has changed the design ⁠— and although Zeva’s Z2 will look less like a UFO, it will look more real.

“It’s not just science fiction,” Zeva CEO Stephen Tibbitts says.

Tibbitts explains what’s changed since January, and why, in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the intersection of science and fiction.