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Mission to a comet ends with bittersweet bang

Rosetta cartoon
The Rosetta probe inspired a series of kid-friendly cartoons. (Credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe today descended to a mission-ending impact on the comet that it followed for more than two years.

The car-sized probe continued to transmit data as it dove toward the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 446 million miles from Earth. When the data stream flatlined, scientists and engineers at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, knew it was all over.

The end was greeted at 1:19 p.m. CEST (4:19 a.m. PT) with a prolonged “Ohhh,” followed by applause and hugs.

“This is it,” said Rosetta mission manager Patrick Martin. “I can announce the full success of this historic descent of Rosetta toward 67P, and I declare hereby the mission operations ended for Rosetta. … Farewell, Rosetta. You’ve done the job.”

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FAA suggests a marketplace for Moon Village

Moon Village
An artist’s conception shows a permanent lunar base that’s part of the European Space Agency’s “Moon Village” vision. (Credit: ESA)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – If the world wants to create a village on the moon, the Federal Aviation Administration is willing to start up an online trading post for lunar services.

George Nield, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation, says he doesn’t even need to wait for the village to be built.

Nield offered to set up what he called LMASS – the Lunar Marketplace and Swap Shop – during one of today’s sessions at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara.

“Think of it as a corkboard,” Nield said. The potential traders could include businesses that are working on ways to move cargo from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit, or on moon landers, or on habitats, or surface transportation, or communication services, or other technologies that will eventually be needed for lunar operations.

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Reality check on Elon Musk’s plan to go to Mars

View of Mars
An artist’s conception shows a traveler looking out at Mars through the window of SpaceX’s future passenger spaceship. (Credit: SpaceX)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – In order to make the figures work for Elon Musk’s plan to put settlers on Mars, SpaceX will have to build boosters and interplanetary spaceships for less than the price of a Boeing 777x jet, on a shorter time frame.

What’s more, Musk is aiming to ramp up to building 1,000 of those spaceships. That’s three times the number of 777x orders to date.

The comparisons between Boeing’s next airplane and SpaceX’s ultimate spaceship suggest Musk is overly optimistic about what it’ll take to get a million settlers to Mars by the end of the century.

So what else is new?

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Invention network reinvents itself as Xinova

Michael Manion
Michael Manion, one of the thousands of inventors in Xinova’s network, shows off his Keon Research lab in Seattle. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

There’s a “new, new” name in the invention business: Xinova, a company that’s been spun out from Intellectual Ventures and is now in the midst of reinventing itself.

Xinova used to be known as the Intellectual Ventures Invention Development Fund. For the past decade, it’s played a key role in the company that technology pioneer Nathan Myhrvold founded to develop and manage intellectual property.

In May, IDF was transformed into an independent company, joining other IV spin-outs such as TerraPowerKymeta and Echodyne. Its CEO is Thomas Kang, formerly of Seoul Securities. The company is getting ready to move from its current digs in Bellevue, Wash., to downtown Seattle.  And today it was officially rechristened with a name that blends the Chinese word for “new” (xin, or 新) with the equivalent word in Latin (nova).

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Elon Musk makes the big pitch for Mars settlement

Elon Musk
SpaceX founder Elon Musk presents his vision for sending settlers to Mars. (Credit: SpaceX)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has made some ambitious sales pitches in his career, but today’s big reveal about his plan to transport a million settlers to Mars over the next few decades has to be the topper.

The billionaire began his 95-minute talk with the existential concern over Earth’s long-term future, and the need to set up a civilization beyond Earth to safeguard the species.

“I hope you’d agree this is the right way to go. Yes? … That’s what we want,” he told a crowd of 3,000 attendees at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara.

From there on, Musk laid out a step-by-step blueprint that culminated in a vision of a totally reusable super-spaceship that could transport 100 to 200 passengers and their luggage to the Red Planet.

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Blue Origin sets sights on Mars and the moon

Image: Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, inspects Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas before a test flight in April 2015. (Credit: Blue Origin)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – SpaceX isn’t the only billionaire-backed company that’s planning to go to Mars: Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is also taking aim at Mars, the moon and other deep-space destinations.

Those missions are implied in Bezos’ long-term vision of having millions of people living and working in space, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said today at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara.

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New Glenn rocket aces wind tunnel tests

New Glenn model
This model of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket was put through wind tunnel testing. (Credit: Jeff Bezos via Twitter)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket isn’t due to go into orbit until later this decade, but its design has already been validated by computer simulations and three weeks of wind tunnel testing.

That’s the word from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin 16 years ago this month. In a pair of tweets, Bezos showed off a scaled-down version of the New Glenn, which will tower 313 feet high in its three-stage version.

The pictures follow up on Bezos’ unveiling of the design earlier this month. Bezos said the model has been tested at transonic and supersonic speeds, with “exciting results.”

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Hubble sees more hints of Europa’s water plumes

Europa plumes
This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The Hubble data were taken on Jan. 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from the Galileo and Voyager missions. (Credit: W. Sparks / STScI / NASA / ESA / USGS Astrogeology Science Center)

It’s not aliens. And it’s not exactly surprising, despite NASA’s advance billing. But new evidence of water plumes emanating from Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, have added to the excitement over a proposed mission that could sample the water for signs of life.

The evidence comes in the form of splotchy ultraviolet images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, operating at the limits of its sensitivity. Scientists say the images appear to show intermittent emissions of water vapor near Europa’s south pole.

“If plumes exist, this is an exciting finding,” William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told reporters today during a teleconference.

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Elon Musk tweets sneak peeks at Mars plan

SpaceX Raptor engine test
SpaceX’s Raptor rocket engine undergoes its first test firing. (Credit: Elon Musk via Twitter)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – In advance of this week’s big reveal, SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, is dropping hints about the scale of his plans to send colonists to Mars.

Musk is scheduled to talk about what used to be known as the Mars Colonial Transporter in Guadalajara on Sept. 27 at the International Astronautical Congress.

The “late-breaking news” begins at 11:30 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. CT) Sept. 27. Streaming video of the talk should be available via SpaceX and YouTube as well as via the IAC and Livestream.

Musk has been building up to this presentation for months, arguably for more than a year. It’s the highlight of this year’s annual conference. Although he’s been coy about the details, Musk has let some hints slip out – for example, that the rocket should be capable of sending 100 tons of payload to Mars, or 100 passengers.

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India launches BlackSky Pathfinder satellite

PSLV launch
India’s PSLV-C35 rocket rises from its launch pad, carrying eight satellites into space. (Credit: ISRO / Doordharshan via YouTube)

A satellite that’s meant to blaze a trail for Seattle-based BlackSky Global’s Earth-imaging constellation rose into orbit tonight atop India’s four-stage PSLV-C35 rocket.

BlackSky’s Pathfinder 1 was among eight satellites launched from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota at 8:42 p.m. PT Sept. 25 (9:12 a.m. Sept. 26 local time). Over the course of more than two hours, the spacecraft were deployed into two separate sets of orbits.

For India, the star of the show is the 800-pound SCATSAT-1, which will provide data for improved weather forecasting, particularly for tropical cyclones. But for BlackSky Global, a subsidiary of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries, it’s all about Pathfinder 1.

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