Categories
GeekWire

Webb Telescope reaches its final destination

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope successfully fired its thrusters today to put it in position at the destination where it’s expected to probe the mysteries of the universe for years to come.

The nearly five-minute firing at 11 a.m. PT sent JWST into its prescribed orbit around a balance point known as L2, a million miles beyond Earth. It’s a point where the gravitational pulls of the sun and the Earth align to keep spacecraft in a relatively stable position, minimizing the need for course corrections.

Today’s maneuver came 30 days after the telescope’s Christmas launch from the European Arianespace consortium’s spaceport in French Guiana. NASA is playing the lead role in the project, in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

“Webb, welcome home!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”

Categories
GeekWire

New centers will enlist software engineers for science

The University of Washington and three other universities have kicked off an effort to beef up the software engineering resources available to researchers, backed by a $40 million commitment from Schmidt Futures.

The philanthropic organization founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt, announced the establishment of the Virtual Institute for Scientific Software this week. The institute’s four inaugural centers will be housed at UW, the University of Cambridge, Georgia Tech and Johns Hopkins University.

Each of the centers will be awarded $2 million a year for the next five years to bring on software engineers and computational scientists who can help address the increasingly complex, data-centric challenges that face researchers today.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA gives a lift to 57 student experiments

NASA has chosen 57 winning teams — including a team from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.— to receive funding to build and fly experiments focusing on subjects ranging from lunar dust mitigation to inkjet printing in zero gravity.

Interlake’s team will focus on a more down-to-Earth scientific question: how pollution levels are correlated with altitude.

The prizes were awarded through NASA’s first-ever TechRise Student Challenge, which aims to give students in grades 6 through 12 an opportunity for real-world experience in designing and executing autonomously operated experiments. The program, administered by Future Engineers, attracted entries from nearly 600 teams representing 5,000 students nationwide.

“At NASA, we educate and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today in a news release. “The TechRise Student Challenge is an excellent way for students to get hands-on experience designing, building, and launching experiments on suborbital vehicles. … I can’t wait to see these incredible experiments come to life.”

Categories
Universe Today

Tom Cruise movie’s producers plan space studio

The production company that’s playing a key role in a space movie project involving Tom Cruise says it’s working with Axiom Space to add a sports and entertainment facility to the International Space Station by the end of 2024.

The inflatable module, known as SEE-1, would be built by Axiom for Space Entertainment Enterprise and attached to the commercial complex that Axiom is already planning to put on the space station, SEE said today in a news release.

The facility would provide a studio for film, TV and music production as well as a space for performances and sports events. “SEE-1 is an incredible opportunity for humanity to move into a different realm and start an exciting new chapter in space,” said SEE’s co-founders, Dmitry and Elena Lesnevsky.

Dmitry Lesnevsky made his name in Russia as a film/TV producer, publisher and a co-founder of REN TV, but SEE is based in London. The Lesnevskys are listed among the producers of the unnamed Tom Cruise space film project, which has the support of SpaceX and NASA. (SpaceX founder Elon Musk is listed as a producer as well.)

Axiom Space, which has struck a deal with SpaceX to send its first customers on a visit to space station later this year, is expected to facilitate the Tom Cruise project, but the timing for that project has not been announced. It’s not yet clear whether the Tom Cruise project would make use of SEE-1.

Categories
GeekWire

Radian raises $27.5 million for orbital space plane

More than five years after its founding, Renton, Wash.-based Radian Aerospace is emerging from stealth mode and reporting a $27.5 million seed funding round to support its plans to build an orbital space plane.

The round was led by Boston-based Fine Structure Ventures, with additional funding from EXOR, The Venture Collective, Helios Capital, SpaceFund, Gaingels, The Private Shares Fund, Explorer 1 Fund, Type One Ventures and other investors.

Radian has previously brought in pre-seed investments, but the newly announced funding should accelerate its progress.

One of the company’s investors and strategic advisers, former Lockheed Martin executive Doug Greenlaw, said Radian was going after the “Holy Grail” of space access with a fully reusable system that would provide for single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) launches.

It’ll take much more than $27.5 million to grab the grail: In the late 1990s, NASA spent nearly a billion dollars on Lockheed Martin’s X-33 single-stage-to-orbit concept before the project was canceled in 2001. But Radian’s executives argue that technological advances have now brought the SSTO vision within reach.

Categories
Fiction Science Club

This sci-fi thriller will make you fear the fungus

If you’re going to write a novel about an alien fungus threatening the planet, there are few places more suited for the setting than the damp, dark forests surrounding Seattle.

At least that’s how Benjamin Percy sized up the situation when he started writing “The Unfamiliar Garden,” the second book in his Comet Cycle sci-fi series.

“If I was going to write a story about alien plant life, why not go to one of the wettest corners of the country?” Percy says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “You know, that moist quality of Seattle, right? You feel like sometimes you can just punch your hand through concrete and pull out a bunch of squirming earthworms.”

Steve Trudell, one of Seattle’s top mushroom mavens, says Percy made the right choice. “The Pacific Northwest is an excellent area, mushroom-wise — a big reason why I live here,” he said in an email.

A fictional University of Washington mycologist — that is, a scientist who specializes in the study of mushrooms and other fungi — is one of the main characters in “The Unfamiliar Garden.” And that’s not the only parallel between Percy’s plot and matter-of-fact mycology. Although the invasive fungus in his story is totally made up, the way it behaves plays off some of the freakier foibles of real-world fungi.

Categories
GeekWire

The world’s widest airplane flies for the third time

The mammoth airplane that got its start with backing from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen took to the air today for its third test flight — marking a new chapter in Stratolaunch’s decade-long effort to create a flying launch pad.

Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage, six-engine Roc aircraft, named after a mythical bird, is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan. Its 385-foot spread is more than half again as wide as the wings of a Boeing 747.

When Allen founded Stratolaunch back in 2011, his intention was to use Roc to send rockets into orbit from the air. But after Allen’s death in 2018, the company was transferred to new owners — and Roc’s primary purpose pivoted to launching hypersonic test vehicles for military and commercial research.

If the development program proceeds as planned, Stratolaunch could begin testing its air-launched, rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic vehicle as early as this year.

Categories
GeekWire

Zeva’s flying saucer aces its first free flight

After years of effort, Tacoma, Wash.-based Zeva has executed the first untethered, controlled flight test of its full-scale flying machine — a contraption that looks like a flying saucer.

The demonstration was conducted Jan. 9 in a pasture in rural Pierce County, not far from Zeva’s HQ. During four separate sorties, the Zero aircraft racked up more than four minutes of controlled hovering, simulated taxiing maneuvers at slow speeds, and limited vertical-climb maneuvers.

Zeva’s flying saucer is an electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing craft, or eVTOL, that’s powered by four pairs of rotors. It’s designed to lift off vertically with a single pilot, then transition to a horizontal orientation to fly at speeds of up to 160 mph with a range of up to 50 miles.

“This is a huge inflection point for Zeva as we join an exclusive set of proven flying eVTOL platforms, and a testament to the relentless hard work and ingenuity of our entire team over the past two and a half years,” Stephen Tibbitts, Zeva’s CEO and chairman, said today in a news release.

Categories
GeekWire

IPO brings in $287.5M to spend on space ventures

A blank-check company that has former Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson as its CEO has completed a $287.5 million initial public offering, furthering its plans to link up with ventures focusing on space, cybersecurity and energy innovation.

C5 Acquisition Corp. closed the IPO with the sale of 28.75 million units at $10 per unit, which was 3.75 million units above the original allotment for sale. Those units are now listed as CXAC.U on the New York Stock Exchange, and common stock is expected to be listed as CXAC.

Blank-check companies — formally known as special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — use their capital to pursue mergers or other types of business combinations with ventures in targeted industry segments.

The strategy typically accelerates the process of going public, and it’s been used with a growing number of space ventures, including Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, BlackSky and Astra. Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw played a key role in the SPAC deal involving Astra, which set that company’s value at $2.1 billion.

In a news release, C5 Acquisition Corp. said it would look for deals related to national security concerns.

Categories
GeekWire

Mangata raises $33M for hybrid satellite constellation

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Mangata Networks, a Phoenix-based startup with links to the Seattle area, has closed a $33 million investment round for an innovative kind of satellite constellation for connectivity and edge computing.

The company received its initial seed financing in 2020 from Bellevue-based Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Science Fund, which was backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and IV’s co-founder, Nathan Myhrvold. Since then, that investment fund has morphed into a Bay Area venture capital fund known as MetaVC Partners or Meta Venture Partners.

The idea behind Mangata Networks is to create an Earth-orbiting constellation with some satellites in highly elliptical orbit, or HEO, plus others in medium Earth orbit, or MEO. Those satellites would optimize connectivity with an Earth-based system of MangataEdge micro data centers, extending the power of cloud computing to edge networks that would be close to network users.

The newly announced Series A round was led by Playground Global, which previously led Relativity Space’s $35 million Series B round in 2018. Other investors include Temasek, KTSat, Scottish Enterprise and Promus Ventures.

“We are out to change the world, and that requires visionary investors and partners,” Mangata CEO Brian Holz said today in a news release. “These investors, whose intercontinental representation reflects our own global mission, are championing a new evolution in human connectivity.”

Mangata aims to start deploying ground-based community networks as early as 2023, even before its first satellites are launched. That will give the company a chance to test connectivity for 5G, IoT and Wi-Fi networks at the 5G Open Innovation Lab in Bellevue as well as at other trial sites in South Korea and Scotland. (NASA, Intel and T-Mobile created the 5G Open Innovation Lab in 2020.)