Categories
GeekWire

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tweets for the first time

The flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship on an uncrewed trip to space and back may be history-making, but here’s a first that’s almost as big for social media: Jeff Bezos’ maiden tweet.

One of Bezos’ biggest rivals in the space game is SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who weighed in with an artful series of tweets that started out praising Blue Origin’s test flight but ended up downplaying it.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin sends rocket to space, gets it back

Image: New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship rises from its launch pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, successfully sent its New Shepard rocket ship to outer space for the first time on Monday – and even more amazingly, brought every piece back down to Earth for a soft landing.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” Bezos wrote in a blog posting that spread the news and shared a video.

Bezos makes a couple of cameo appearances in the video – including a shot showing him taking a seat in the control room before launch, and a post-landing scene in which he pops open a champagne bottle. (He’s the guy wearing the hat and sunglasses.)

The achievement arguably qualifies New Shepard as the “first fully reusable rocket” to go into space, said Jessica Pieczonka, a spokeswoman for Blue Origin. The flight comes after more than a decade of effort and several test flights at Blue Origin’s launch facility near Van Horn, Texas. The company is headquartered in Kent, Wash., and recently struck a deal for a $200 million launch and manufacturing complex in Florida.

Blue Origin’s aim is to reduce the cost of sending people and payloads to the final frontier – first, on suborbital up-and-down trajectories, and eventually into orbit and back. The venture follows through on Bezos’ childhood dream of spaceflight.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

FAA shares drone registration recommendations

A task force says recreational drones larger than 9 ounces should be registered. (Credit: FAA)
A task force says recreational drones larger than 9 ounces should be registered. (Credit: FAA)

The Federal Aviation Administration has released a task force’s recommendations for setting up a registration system for recreational drones – and the full report includes fresh details about how the system would work.

The main recommendations filtered out two weeks ago, soon after the task force wrapped up its meeting in Washington, D.C.: The registration procedure should apply to unmanned airborne systems that weigh 9 ounces or more, it should be free and easy to register online, and one registration number could be used on multiple drones operated by the same person.

Here are more of the details from the report:

Drone operators would be required to enter their name and street address into a Web-based or app-based registry, but other contact details – such as email and phone number – would be optional. The system would be powered by an API that multiple websites can feed into. That means manufacturers could set up their own registration sites.

New drone owners wouldn’t be required to register at the point of sale. That’s because it wouldn’t be illegal to own an unregistered drone. It’d only be illegal tooperate a registered drone outdoors. (Indoor drone flying would be unregulated.)

In return for signing up, operators would get a certificate of registration that they’d have to carry with them (in printed or electronic form) whenever they’re flying their drone.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

General relativity gets a 100th birthday party

Image: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein works at the blackboard during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. (F. Schmutzer via Wikipedia)

This week’s 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity is a geeky cause for celebration, but what’s arguably the concept’s toughest test has just gotten under way.

General relativity was a follow-up to special relativity, Einstein’s big idea from a decade earlier. Back in 1905, he worked out a way to explain why the speed of light is constant, regardless of an observer’s point of view: It’s because space and time are not inflexible metrics, but interrelated dimensions that are measured differently depending on your perspective.

Special relativity explained a lot of the weirdness that physicists were puzzling over at the time, but the theory applied only to “special” conditions that didn’t involve acceleration – for example, how things fall in a gravitational field. On Nov. 25, 1915, Einstein laid out how the interplay of space and time gives rise to gravity and the fabric of the cosmos.

The theory passed its first big test in 1919, when observations during a total solar eclipse were found to be more consistent with Einstein’s view of gravity than with Isaac Newton’s. General relativity has been passing tests ever since. For example, if we didn’t take relativistic effects into account, our GPS readings would seem out of whack.

This week is prime time for centennial retrospectives on the theory and its implications. Here are a few to keep you entertained.

Get the rest of the story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

NASA hails SpaceX’s taxi for future crew

SpaceX Crew Dragon
An artist’s conception shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule en route to the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA has ordered its first mission from SpaceX to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, six months after placing a similar order with Boeing.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said today in a news release. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Both companies are developing space taxis for NASA’s use as early as 2017, under the terms of multibillion-dollar contracts that were awarded last year.

Even though the first order went to Boeing, it has not yet been determined whether Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will go first. The contracts required NASA to put in its orders early, but the scheduling decisions and required certifications will be made at a later time.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Get an all-around view of Pluto and Charon

Pluto views
An array of images shows Pluto from all sides, as seen by NASA’s New Horizons probe over the course of one full Plutonian day (6.4 Earth days) from July 7 to 13. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

The bright heart of Pluto has been burned into our consciousness, thanks to scads of high-resolution pictures. But a new set of images from NASA’s New Horizons mission provides an all-around view of the dwarf planet, including the splotchy shapes that went out of view days before the time of closest approach on July 14.

Another 10-picture set shows Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon, from all sides.

The imagery was captured over the course of a full Plutonian day, which is 6.4 Earth days long. New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and the Ralph / Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera were trained on the icy worlds as the distance to Pluto decreased from 5 million miles on July 7 to 400,000 miles on July 13.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Orion capsule is now officially a shiny object

Image: Orion
An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Orion capsule in flight, with a silvery, metallic-based coating bonded to the capsule’s back shell tiles. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has released new artwork that reflects the latest look for its Orion deep-space crew vehicle – and it’s highly reflective.

Orion’s shiny back shell isn’t just for show: In Thursday’s update, NASA explains that the silvery, metallic-based thermal control coating is designed to reduce heat loss when the spacecraft is pointed toward the dark chill of outer space, and limit high temperatures when it’s exposed to the sun.

“You’re trying to hit this sweet spot because when you’re looking at the sun, you don’t want to get too hot, and then when you’re not looking at the sun and instead in darkness, you don’t want to lose all the heat that the spacecraft generates,” John Kowal, NASA’s thermal protection system lead for Orion, explained in the update.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Get set to register drones for the holidays

Drone
Recreational drones are expected to face new registration requirements. (Photo via Chase Jarvis)

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration says the interim rules for registering recreational drones are likely to be issued next month, just in time for the holiday season.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s update on the registration process, provided in a blog post, comes just as a task force is wrapping up its recommendations for setting up the registration system. Huerta says the task force will deliver its report to the FAA on Saturday.

The main recommendations have already come to light, thanks to leaks from the task force.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Elon Musk gets in the Thanksgiving spirit on TV

You wouldn’t think Elon Musk was a warm and fuzzy guy, based on this year’s biography of the hard-driving CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, but on this week’s episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” we learn that he loves to help the homeless.

The big reveal comes when engineer and one-time spaceflier Howard Wolowitz (played by Simon Helberg) reluctantly joins his wife as well as his pal Raj and his girlfriend to help with Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. Howard gets stuck washing the dishes, but loses control of his sink sprayer when he sees Musk walk in with a load of dirty plates.

“What are you doing here?!” Howard asks.

“I’m washing dishes … I was on the turkey line, but I got demoted for being too generous with the gravy,” Musk replies.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin’s next flight is coming ‘very soon’

New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard prototype spaceship lifts off for a test flight in April. (Blue Origin photo)

Even as Jeff Bezos celebrates past achievements in spaceflight, he’s looking forward to seeing his Blue Origin space venture make future achievements.

The next flight test of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship should come “very soon,” Bezos said Thursday at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, after a ceremony marking the arrival of historic Saturn V rocket engine parts that his Bezos Expeditions team recovered from the Atlantic two years ago.

“We’re ready and excited to fly again,” Bezos said.

Get the full story on GeekWire.