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Citizen scientists star in TV documentary

"The Crowd and the Cloud"
Public Lab enlisted citizen scientists to map sites affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, using cameras carried aloft by balloons and kites. (American Public Television)

It’s fitting that a four-hour documentary series about citizen scientists, titled “The Crowd and the Cloud,” is available to the crowd via the cloud a week before its debut on public television.

The first episode makes its TV debut on April 6 on the World Channel, but all four episodes can be watched anytime on the PBS.org website, on YouTube or using the PBS mobile app.

“The Crowd and the Cloud” showcases some of the people on the front lines of the citizen science movement, which enlists regular folks to gather observations and crunch data, often using online tools.

Researchers say citizen science projects contribute billions of dollars a year in donated labor. Such efforts can be as old as the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which dates back to 1900, or as new as Astronomy Rewind, a cosmic picture-sorting project that went online just last week.

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NASA sets its sights on Deep Space Gateway

Deep Space Gateway
An artist’s conception shows the Deep Space Gateway in the vicinity of the moon, with an Orion crew vehicle nearby. (NASA Illustration)

President Donald Trump hasn’t yet revealed his choice for NASA administrator, but the space agency is already shifting the focus of its exploration program to a way station known as the Deep Space Gateway.

The concept for a habitable platform in the vicinity of the moon, known as cislunar space, was fleshed out this week on NASA’s website, and during meetings of the NASA Advisory Council in Washington, D.C.

Payloads and astronauts could be sent to the gateway starting in the 2020s using the heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and the Orion crew vehicle, both of which are still under development.

The gateway would be a crew-tended spaceport with a high-power electric propulsion system.

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Vulcan Aerospace morphs into Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch plane
An artist’s conception shows the Stratolaunch plane. (Stratolaunch Illustration)

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s space venture is rebranding itself and updating its website as it prepares to begin flight tests of the world’s biggest airplane. The venture was launched in 2011 as Stratolaunch Systems, but over time it morphed into Vulcan Aerospace, with Stratolaunch Systems as a subsidiary. Now it’s officially known as Stratolaunch, period. The venture’s website has been changed to reflect the new branding.

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Pilots give a ’10’ to Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

Boeing 787-10 takeoff
Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliner jet takes off from the company’s South Carolina facility. (Boeing Photo)

The largest breed of its Dreamliner jet series, the 787-10, got a great review today after being put through its aerial paces for the first time in the skies over South Carolina.

“It performed exactly like we thought it would,” 787 chief model pilot Tim Berg said afterward.

Deputy pilot Mike Bryan seconded that opinion: “It was fantastic. … No squawks.”

Bryan gave a shout-out to Boeing’s support team, saying “there were two pilots in the front, but a lot of people behind us.”

The twin-aisle 787-10 is the first of the series to be assembled exclusively at Boeing South Carolina plant, and not at its assembly facility in Everett. It’s 18 feet longer than the 787-9, and 38 feet longer than the 787-8. Carrying capacity can range up to 330 passengers, depending on the configuration, compared to the 290-passenger maximum capacity of the 787-9.

Other than the length, passengers aren’t likely to notice much of a difference between the 787-9 and the 787-10: The two planes have 95 percent of their design in common, which is part of Boeing’s strategy to streamline development, operation and maintenance.

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Elon Musk wants to launch a rocket every day

SpaceX founder Elon Musk talks about the significance of the first relaunch of a Falcon 9 rocket booster. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX took nearly a year to relaunch its first “flight-proven” Falcon 9 booster, but within a year or two, company founder Elon Musk expects to be able to launch the same rocket day after day.

He also foresees a time when all the major components of a Falcon 9 rocket can be flown again — not just the first-stage booster, but also the nose cone and perhaps even the rocket’s upper stage.

That could drive the cost of a launch to less than 1 percent of what it is today — for example, $600,000 rather than the current $62 million list price for a Falcon 9 rocket launch.

“The significance of today is proving that it’s possible to do that,” Musk said.

Musk discussed the implications of the first-ever reuse of an orbital-class rocket today during a news briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, just a couple of hours after SpaceX successfully put the SES-10 communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.

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SpaceX relaunches and re-lands a rocket!

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s first reflown Falcon 9 booster rises from its Florida launch pad. (SpaceX Photo)

Today SpaceX did something it’s never done before: reusing a Falcon 9 rocket booster that’s already been launched and landed.

The Falcon 9 mission to send the SES-10 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit lifted off at 6:27 p.m. ET (3:27 p.m. PT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, marking a milestone in SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s drive to lower the cost of access to space.

More remarkably, the booster landed once more at sea after sending a payload into orbit. SpaceX was even able to bring the rocket’s payload fairing down for a parachute-aided splashdown in the Atlantic, Musk reported afterward.

“It’s an amazing day for space as a whole, for the space industry,” he said just after the landing. He paid tribute to the SpaceX team, saying “it’s been 15 years to get to this point.”

As he spoke, hundreds of SpaceX’s employees were cheering at the company’s California headquarters, and the launch webcast was getting 140,000 simultaneous views.

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NASA’s Peggy Whitson sets spacewalk record

Spacewalkers at work
NASA spacewalkers Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough work on the International Space Station. The astronauts had to improvise a fix to make up for a lost piece of cloth shielding. (NASA TV)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set a new record for female spacewalkers at the International Space Station today, during an outing that required a little improvisation to make up for a wayward hatch cover.

One of the aim of today’s spacewalk was to hook up connections at the new location for the station’s Pressurized Mating Adapter-3, or PMA-3, which will serve as a docking point for future commercial space taxis. The spacewalk followed up on the PMA-3’s transfer from the station’s Tranquility module to the Harmony module, accomplished with the station’s robotic arm.

Whitson and her NASA crewmate, Shane Kimbrough, were also supposed to install four protective shields over the port where the PMA-3 gateway used to be attached. Things got complicated, however, when one of the shields was inadvertently lost and drifted away from the station.

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March for Science puts trio in the spotlight

Villa-Komaroff, Nye and Hanna-Attisha
Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Bill Nye and Mona Hanna-Attisha are the honorary co-chairs for the March for Science. (AAAS / Bill Nye / Hurley Medical Center)

Lydia Villa-Komaroff and Mona Hanna-Attisha may not be as well-known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, but all three scientists strike the right chords after what has been a somewhat dissonant buildup for next month’s nationwide March for Science rallies.

Today organizers named Villa-Komaroff, Hanna-Attisha and Nye as the honorary national co-chairs for the March for Science, which is set for April 22. The main event will be in Washington, D.C., but more than 400 satellite marches are being planned in locales around the world, including Seattle.

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin wins Collier Trophy

New Shepard
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster stands on its West Texas landing pad after a successful touchdown. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos keeps racking up the awards for his Blue Origin space venture: He just found out that Blue Origin is winning the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy for its New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

The 2016 Collier Trophy was awarded to the Blue Origin team, headquartered in Kent, Wash., “for successfully demonstrating rocket booster reusability with the New Shepard human spaceflight vehicle through five successful test flights of a single booster and engine, all of which performed powered vertical landings on Earth,” the NAA said today in a statement.

The trophy is awarded annually to recognize the previous year’s greatest achievement in American aeronautics or astronautics. Past winners range from aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss (1911 and 1912) and Orville Wright (1913) to the teams behind SpaceShipOne (2004), NASA’s Curiosity rover (2012) and NASA’s Dawn probe to Ceres (2015).

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RBC raises $1.5M for satellite data delivery

Satellite dish
RBC Signals knits together a network of antennas at sites around the world. (GSA Illustration)

Seattle-based RBC Signals says it’s raised $1.5 million from investors around the world, providing a boost for its plans to knit together a network of ground stations for receiving satellite data.

The company didn’t provide details about its latest seed-round investors, other than to say they include venture capitalists from the United States, Singapore, the Middle East and China. Previously announced investors include Blacktop Capital and Entrenext Ventures.

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