Blue Origin has big plans for Florida expansion

Blue Origin factory

The Blue Origin space venture aims to add to the massive facility it’s already built near Cape Canaveral in Florida. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has filed plans for expanding its Florida rocket manufacturing facility onto a vacant 90-acre plot of land next door, Florida Today reports.

The newspaper reported today that the plans for a “South Campus” on Space Commerce Way, near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, are laid out in documents filed with the St. Johns River Water Management District. The land would be used to establish “programs complimentary to those constructed on the adjacent North Campus,” the documents say.

Construction on the new site is due to begin in July, with the final building phase to be wrapped up a year from now. The buildings would provide space for manufacturing and provisioning of commercial launch vehicles, Florida Today reported. The site would include a warehouse that could be expanded later.

In response to GeekWire’s inquiry, Blue Origin said it had nothing to add to the Florida Today report.

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Space station’s crew upgrades batteries

Spacewalkers

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Anne McClain swap batteries during a spacewalk. (NASA Photo)

Two rookie spacewalkers took on a battery replacement project on the International Space Station that will continue next week with history’s first all-female spacewalk.

During today’s six-hour, 39-minute operation, NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Anne McClain replaced a set of outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries with more powerful lithium-ion batteries for the power channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays.

NASA said the astronauts also accomplished several get-ahead tasks, including scraping up bits of debris on the station’s exterior and photographing a bag of repair tools and the airlock thermal cover that’s opened and closed for spacewalks.

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Indonesian airline wants to cancel 737 MAX order

Garuda 737 MAX

An artist’s conception shows a Garuda Airlines 737 MAX jet in flight. (Boeing Illustration)

Indonesia’s national airline, Garuda Indonesia, is saying it wants to cancel an order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, citing the effect of two catastrophic crashes on passenger confidence.

The order, announced in 2014, has a list-price value of roughly $6 billion. Only one of the 50 MAX jets ordered back then has been delivered to date.

In interviews with media outlets including ReutersThe Associated PressThe Washington PostCNNThe New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Garuda officials cited consumers’ low confidence in the 737 MAX in the wake of crashes that killed 189 people in Indonesia last October, and 157 people in Ethiopia this month.

“Many passengers told us they were afraid to get on a MAX 8,” Reuters quoted Garuda CEO Aria Askhara as saying.

Garuda’s request hints at the economic impact that the crashes could have going forward. Boeing’s 737 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide as the crash investigations continue.

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Tethers Unlimited’s radio aces first orbital test

Tethers Unlimited radio

The software-defined SWIFT-SLX S-band radio is designed to fit on a CubeSat-class satellite. (Tethers Unlimited Photo)

Tethers Unlimited weathered a wave of bad news over the winter, but now some good news has bloomed. The company, headquartered in Bothell, Wash., reports that its SWIFT-SLX S-band radio has been successfully operated in orbit.

The compact software-defined radio provided two-way communications between Harris Corp.’s first small satellite, known as HSAT-1, and the satellite’s ground operators, Tethers Unlimited said this week in a news release. HSAT was launched last November by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, with Seattle-based Spaceflight handling logistical support.

SWIFT-SLX is designed to fit on CubeSat-class spacecraft, and can be configured to meet a wide range of mission needs, including in-flight adjustment of operating frequencies for S- and L-band communications. Development of the radio was supported with Small Business Innovation Research grants from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Space and Missile Defense Center.

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Automated DNA data storage demonstrated

DNA data storage system

Microsoft and University of Washington researchers built an automated system that was fed by bottles of chemicals to encode date in custom-designed DNA molecules. (Microsoft / UW Image)

DNA data storage holds the promise of putting huge amounts of information into a test tube — but who wants to carry test tubes around a data center all day?

Researchers from Microsoft ahd the University of Washington are working on a better way: a completely automated system that can turn digital bits into coded DNA molecules for storage, and turn those molecules back into bits when needed.

They used their proof-of-concept system, described in a paper published today in Nature Scientific Reports, to encode the word “hello” in strands of DNA and then read it out. That may sound like a ridiculously simple task, but it served to show that the system works.

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Boeing bias? Acting Pentagon chief faces probe

Patrick Shanahan

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at an event presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Department of Defense Photo)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who was a veteran Boeing executive before going to the Pentagon, is facing an ethics investigation amid complaints that he has been talking up his former employer and disparaging Boeing’s competitors.

The Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General today acknowledged that it was looking into the complaints about actions that were “allegedly in violation of ethics rules.”

Shanahan, who spent much of his 31 years at Boeing managing commercial airplane programs, won Senate confirmation to become assistant defense secretary in 2017 and took over as acting defense secretary after James Mattis’ departure at the end of last year.

When Shanahan came to the Pentagon, he pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Boeing. But in January, Politico quoted two unnamed former government officials as saying that he repeatedly praised Boeing and trashed Lockheed Martin during high-level internal meetings.

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OSIRIS-REx probe spots asteroid hurling chunks

Asteroid Bennu

This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on Jan. 19 was created by combining two images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Other processing techniques were applied, such as cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast of each image. (NASA / Goddard / Univ. of Arizona / Lockheed Martin)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has spotted something that hasn’t been seen up close on an asteroid before: plumes of particles erupting into space.

The mission’s scientists shared pictures of the plumes as well as the unexpectedly rugged terrain on the asteroid, known as Bennu, today at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. They also published a set of seven papers about their findings in the journal Nature.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.”

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