Images stream in from a new crop of satellites

Beijing as seen by SkySat

A satellite image of Beijing, captured by one of Planet’s SkySat spacecraft, shows the Chinese capital’s futuristic high-speed rail station toward the left edge of the frame. (Planet Photo)

More than 100 payloads have been put into orbit over the past couple of weeks, including 64 satellites riding a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and 31 satellites that were launched by an Indian PSLV rocket.

Some of those satellites are already beaming back pictures of our planet. For example, Planet has shared images from both of the SkySat high-resolution imaging satellites that served as the lead payloads for Seattle-based Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare launch on the Falcon 9. That mission, known as the SmallSat Express or SSO-A, lifted off on Dec. 3 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

One of the pictures features the Beijing South Railway Station, a futuristic-looking, clamshell-like terminal that serves as the Chinese capital’s stopping point for high-speed trains from Tianjin and Shanghai. The other image focuses on the Capibaribe River running through the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife.

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OSIRIS-REx probe detects water on asteroid Bennu


This mosaic image of the asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles. A prominent boulder can be seen at lower right. (NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona Photo)

Just one week after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s official arrival at the asteroid Bennu, the mission’s scientists have announced a significant find: Water appears to be locked inside the diamond-shaped mini-world’s clay minerals.

Two scientific instruments — known as the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer or OVIRS, and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer or OTES — registered the readings during the probe’s approach phase, which started in mid-August. The findings were shared today during the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in Washington, D.C.

Spectral measurements revealed the presence of molecules with bonded hydrogen and oxygen atoms, or hydroxyls. Scientists suspect that these hydroxyl groups are contained in clays that interacted with water long ago.

The quarter-mile-wide asteroid is too small to host liquid water, but researchers surmise that liquid water was present on Bennu’s parent body — perhaps a much larger asteroid — before it broke up.

“This is really big news. This is a great surprise,” Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said today during an AGU news briefing.

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Voyager 2 probe enters interstellar space

Voyager positions

This illustration shows the positions of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Sizes and distances are not shown to scale. Click on the image for a larger version. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration)

NASA says its Voyager 2 probe has become the second human-made object to fly into interstellar space — six years after its twin, Voyager 1, became the first.

Based on readings from its onboard instruments, the mission’s scientists have determined that Voyager 2 has left the solar system’s heliosphere, a protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the sun. The spacecraft is now journeying in a region where the cold, dense interstellar medium takes the place of the tenuous, hot solar wind — more than 11 billion miles from Earth.

The milestone came more than 41 years after Voyager 2’s launch in 1977 on what was then a grand interplanetary mission, and is now a grand interstellar mission. During the 1970s and 1980s, Voyager 2 took on a “Grand Tour” with close flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, while Voyager 1 took a different course that featured a close-up of the Saturnian moon Titan.

Scientists discussed the mission’s status today in conjunction with this week’s American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C.

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10,000 Year Clock is gearing up for visitors

10,000 Year Clock

Workers install the 10,000 Year Clock inside an underground chamber in Texas. (Long Now Foundation)techno

With $42 million in funding from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, the Long Now Foundation can afford to take the long view about a massive clock designed to run for 10,000 years — but it’s also open to hosting visitors in the nearer term.

The leader of the team behind the 10,000 Year Clock, which is currently being built inside a mountain in West Texas, talked about getting the place ready for guests in an interview published on Friday by The Hustle.

“We have a year or so more of installation work, and a year of commissioning,” Alexander Rose, executive director of the Long Now Foundation, was quoted as saying. “Then we’ll start to have people up to the clock.”

Don’t expect it to be a theme-park experience, however.

“The area is very remote high desert — one of the smallest per-capita areas in the lower 48 states,” The Hustle quoted Rose as saying. “People will have to hike up 2K feet to see it. Hopefully, it’ll be an experience that gives them some time to think about it all.”

Although Rose’s comments made it sound as if tours could begin in as little as two years, a spokesman for the Long Now Foundation told GeekWire that no completion date has been set.

“We don’t know when the clock will be completed,” Long Now’s Andrew Warner said in an email. “We have given hundreds of interviews and never given a completion estimate — part of the whole point of the project is to not limit ourselves to a completion date.”

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Revisit the wacky world of corporate musicals

"Bathtubs Over Broadway" cast

The cast of Dava Whisenant’s documentary, “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” does their big production number. The film’s central character, comedy writer (and record collector) Steve Young, is wearing a hat, tie and jacket — and singing his heart out. (Cactus Flower Films / Focus Features)

No fan of Broadway musicals should miss classics like “I Never Enjoyed My Operation More,” “My Insurance Man” and “My Bathroom Is a Private Kind of Place.”

What’s that? Never heard of ’em? For decades, those songs were heard only by employees at morale-boosting events, plus a precious few record collectors enchanted by what are known as industrial musicals.

Now one of those record collectors, TV comedy writer Steve Young, has had his quest turned into a hilarious and sweet documentary titled “Bathtubs Over Broadway.” The movie has already been picking up awards on the film-festival circuit, and it’s opening this weekend in Seattle for a regular run at the Varsity Theater.

Ironically, the innovations that have allowed Young to flesh out the little-known saga of industrial musicals — including the rise of the modern tech industry, the internet and online video — also contributed to the decline of industrial musicals.

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Report: Flying-car market could hit $1.5 trillion

Aurora eVTOL

An artist’s conception shows the eVTOL air taxi being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary. (Aurora / BCG Digital Ventures via YouTube)

The market for autonomous flying cars — also known as eVTOL aircraft, air taxis or personal air vehicles — could amount to nearly $1.5 trillion by the year 2040, according to an in-depth analysis from Morgan Stanley Research.

The financial company’s 85-page report, distributed to clients this week, draws together data from a host of sources, including a private-public symposium on urban air mobility that was conducted last month in Seattle.

“We see the development of the UAM [urban air mobility] ecosystem as extremely long-dated and requiring up-front capital allocation, testing and development in the short term, with increasing visibility;” said Morgan Stanley’s research team, which includes senior analyst Adam Jonas.

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Orion Span kicks off campaign for space hotel

Aurora Station

Artist’s conception shows Orion Span’s Aurora Station with a spaceship nearby. (Orion Span Illustration)

Orion Span, a Houston-based venture that’s planning to put a luxury hotel in orbit, has kicked off a crowdfunding effort aimed at raising up to $2 million in new investment.

The campaign is being run through SeedInvest, an online investment service that operates under a special set of regulations developed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The system is similar to crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter — but instead of getting T-shirt rewards or discounts on gizmos, the contributors receive securities, typically in the form of equity in the company.

During the first hours of the 50-day campaign, Orion Span attracted more than $150,000 in investment. The funding round can amount to as much as $2 million, with a $5 million valuation cap.

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