Categories
GeekWire

China’s ivory ban marks big step for elephants

Elephant
The Great Elephant Census documents a decline in the species. (Great Elephant Census via YouTube)

China’s pledge to shut down commercial trade in ivory within a year comes as welcome news to conservationists who have been fighting for years to save endangered elephants – including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The Chinese government’s announcement on Friday laid out a plan to close domestic trade in elephant ivory by the end of 2017, following up on a commitment made by President Xi Jinping in 2015. The ban will be phased in starting in March, and will apply to physical sales as well as online transactions.

China already has been taking steps to counter the illegal trade, including widely publicized ceremonies during which authorities have crushed down tons of elephant tusks and carved ivory. The country is nevertheless considered the home of the world’s largest ivory market.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Mannequin Challenge jumps the shark in zero-G

Mannequin Challenge
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky stays immobile as he floats in a Superman pose for an out-of-this-world Mannequin Challenge. (ESA via Twitter / Thomas Pesquet)

Standing still for a Mannequin Challenge video is a faddish feat, but floating still in zero-G raises the degree of difficulty to the level of a true challenge. And the crew of the International Space Station proves they’re up to the task.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet served as the film director for the video, which went viral on social media soon after its release on Dec. 29. On Facebook, Pesquet explained that the video was shot during the six-member crew’s Sunday time off.

Most of the crew members were able to anchor themselves along the walls of the space station’s modules with their feet, but Russia’s Oleg Novitsky (posing as Superman) and NASA’s Peggy Whitson (with the camera) looked as if they had the hardest jobs – that is, staying in one place while floating in midair.

“The result is kind of sci-fi spooky, don’t you think?” Pesquet wrote.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

World View settles into Spaceport Tucson

Spaceport Tucson
The Breitling Jet Team flies over Spaceport Tucson in October. (World View Photo)

Arizona-based World View Enterprises is settling into its new offices at Spaceport Tucson and gearing up for what could be a high-flying year ahead.

World View offers a flight system that uses high-altitude balloons to loft payloads, and eventually people, beyond 100,000 feet in altitude. That height isn’t anywhere near the internationally accepted boundary of outer space, but it’s high enough to conduct weather research and provide an astronaut’s-eye view of the Earth below.

The company is already testing balloon platforms known as “Stratollites” that could do some of the work traditionally performed by satellites. Eventually, World View plans to take passengers up on hours-long flights, at a price of $75,000 a seat.

In January, World View struck a $15 million deal with Pima County for construction of Spaceport Tucson, which includes a headquarters and manufacturing facility as well as a 700-foot-wide circular balloon launch pad. The deal was contingent on the facility being ready by the end of this year.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

EmDrive thruster attracts notice from skeptics

EmDrive
The EmDrive apparatus was set up inside a vacuum chamber for testing. (White et al. via AIAA)

For years, space geeks have been intrigued by the idea of propulsion systems that don’t need propellant – and now one of the best-known concepts, known as the EmDrive, is getting a serious once-over.

The EmDrive, short for electromagnetic drive, could be revolutionary for spaceflight if it works. Spaceships could dispense with the mass of rocket fuel, and because the velocity builds up progressively, trips to Mars and beyond would be much faster and simpler.

The concept involves bouncing microwaves around a closed cavity that’s shaped like a cone. The shape supposedly funnels the microwaves to generate forward thrust.

The problem is, Newton’s Third Law of Motion says it shouldn’t work that way. If there’s an equal and opposite reaction for every action, the skeptics say the EmDrive – and the spaceship it’s bolted onto – should stay perfectly still. The effect has been compared to trying to push your car down the road by sitting in the driver’s seat and pushing against the steering wheel.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Why 2017 will be challenging for Boeing

Boeing logo
Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, but most of its planes are built in the Seattle area. (Boeing Photo)

As Boeing begins its second century, the Seattle-born company is facing a slew of daunting challenges. But 2017 isn’t like the 1970s, when the Boeing Bust prompted a pair of real-estate salesmen to put up a billboard reading “Will the Last Person Leaving Seattle Turn Out the Lights?”

There’s still plenty of business to keep the lights on at Boeing’s plants in Everett and Renton. The challenges have more to do with how brightly they’ll burn in the years ahead, and whether Boeing’s historical role as Puget Sound’s biggest employer will be overshadowed by other companies.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Cyber sleuths lay out details of Russian hacking

A diagram that accompanies a report from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI lays out the methods attributed to groups known as APT29 and APT28, a.k.a. Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. (DHS / NCCIC / FBI Graphic)
A diagram that accompanies a report from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI lays out the methods attributed to APT29 and APT28, a.k.a. Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. (DHS / NCCIC / FBI Graphic)

Two groups of Russian hackers used a blend of spearphishing, booby-trapped websites and remote-access malware to worm their way into the Democratic National Committee’s computers and hurt the party’s prospects in last month’s presidential election, experts from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security say in a 13-page report.

The report, released today, also says yet another cyber attack that’s linked to actors “likely associated” with Russian intelligence agencies was launched just days after the election.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” the agencies said in a news release.

The report comes as a follow-up to claims of Russian involvement made in October, and as evidence in support of today’s decision by the Obama administration to slap sanctions on Russia.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Amazon designs the Borg of delivery drones

Collective UAV
One concept for a collective UAV looks like the Borg Cube from “Star Trek.” (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Right now, Amazon’s delivery drones are designed to drop off packages weighing no more than 5 pounds. But what if you could link up lots of drones? Then your bigger packages could be assimilated.

That’s the idea behind a patent application from the Seattle-based online retail giant that focuses on Lego-like assemblies known as “collective UAVs,” or unmanned aerial vehicles.

“A collective UAV may be used to aerially transport virtually any size, weight, or quantity of items, travel longer distances, etc.,” says the application, filed in February 2015 but published just today.

Get the full story from GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Will drones be dropping from flying warehouses?

Delivery via airship
This diagram shows an airship-style aerial fulfillment center dropping drones to make deliveries. After each delivery, the drones fly off and are collected for the return trip to the blimp via a replenishment shuttle. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Some patents seem so way out that you have to wonder if they’re a joke. Such is the case for Amazon’s patent covering an “airborne fulfillment center” that would launch drones to deliver merchandise from above.

The patent, which was granted in April, came to light this week in the wake of yet another patented Amazon scheme to ward off hackers as well as bow-and-arrow attacks.

“I just unearthed the Death Star of e-commerce,” Zoe Leavitt, a tech analyst for CB Insights, declared Dec. 28 in a tweet.

Hilarity ensued.

The scheme calls for having an airship hover over the intended delivery area at an altitude of 45,000 feet, stocked with goodies that can be loaded aboard drones when an order is made.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Ford shows off a sleeker self-driving car

Ford Fusion Hybrid
The latest version of Ford’s self-driving Fusion Hybrid prototype has lidar sensors mounted on the car’s front pillars. (Ford Photo)

The latest iteration of Ford’s self-driving Fusion Hybrid vehicle, unveiled today, repositions the laser-ranging sensors that used to poke up from the roof and adds a lot more smarts in the trunk.

Ford’s sneak preview came in the form of a blog post by Chris Brewer, chief program engineer for Ford autonomous vehicle development. The car is due to make its official debute next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“It’s been three years since we hit the streets with our first Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle, and this latest version takes everything we learned and builds on it,” Brewer wrote.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How China plans to put rover on moon’s far side

China's lunar rover
An artist’s conception shows the Chang’e 4 spacecraft landing on the moon. (CCTV via YouTube)

China’s latest white paper on space exploration confirms the country’s plans to send a rover to the moon’s far side in 2018 and put a rover on Mars in 2020.

Today’s white paper, released by the State Council Information Office, says the Chang’e 4 mission will “conduct in-situ and roving detection and relay communications at Earth-moon L2 point” in 2018, the official China Daily newspaper reported.

In 2012, NASA’s Grail probes crash-landed on the moon’s far side – the so-called “dark side” that never faces Earth. However, no spacecraft has made a soft landing on the moon’s normally hidden half.

Communicating with such a spacecraft would require using a relay satellite, such as the one that China plans to send to the L2 gravitational balance point beyond the moon for Chang’e 4.

Get the full story on GeekWire.