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Sizing up Elon Musk’s big bet on a big rocket

BFR at space station
An artist’s conception shows SpaceX’s BFR super-rocket docked to the International Space Station. (SpaceX Illustration)

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s rocket roadmap just got much bigger than Mars. Now the question is, who else will follow the map?

The first answers to that question may well start emerging next week, when government officials and space industry leaders — almost certainly including a SpaceX representative — come together for the first meeting of the White House’s National Space Council.

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2018 turns to 2019 for Webb Space Telescope

NASA says it’s moving the launch date for its $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope from October 2018 to the spring of 2019, citing a longer-than-expected process of integrating elements of the house-sized spacecraft. The latest delay for the oft-postponed launch was announced Sept. 28 after a routine schedule assessment.

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Amazon Studios lays out plan for must-see sci-fi TV

Snow Crash book cover art
Seattle author Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” tells the story of a pizza-delivering, sword-wielding computer whiz. (Turtleback Books)

In its quest to find the next “Game of Thrones,” Amazon Studios is reportedly adding three science-fiction series to its list of production prospects, including Seattle author Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash.”

The two other projects mentioned in Variety’s report would be based on Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” and Greg Rucka’s “Lazarus” comic book.

Variety quoted from an internal email in which studio head Roy Price said he was “bullish” about the lineup emerging for 2018 and 2019. “The biggest takeaway is that once again, our overall content investment is increasing, which will allow us to continue to meet customer demand around the world for high quality and engaging programming,” Price was quoted as saying.

We reached out to Amazon, but the company says there’s nothing to report beyond what’s been written.

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Elon Musk has big rocket plans for … Earth?

BFR on moon
An artist’s conception shows the SpaceX vision for “Moon Base Alpha.” (Elon Musk via Instagram)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has added moon missions to his grand plan for Mars, in a bid to capitalize on what’s expected to be the Trump administration’s shift in space policy.

Lunar operations at “Moon Base Alpha” are among the big updates that Musk unveiled today before a packed house at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

The rocket being planned for missions to the moon and Mars — nicknamed the BFR, for “Big Frickin’ Rocket” — could also come into play for trips to the International Space Station, satellite launches and travel between spaceports on Earth.

Today’s presentation followed up on last year’s big reveal at the IAC meeting in Mexico, during which Musk laid out a plan to build a monster rocket and send thousands upon thousands of settlers to the Red Planet starting as early as 2024.

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Lockheed Martin adds a lander to Mars vision

Mars lander
An artist’s conception shows Lockheed Martin’s lander on Mars. (Lockheed Martin Illustration)

Lockheed Martin has fleshed out its picture for sending astronauts to the Red Planet by adding a refuelable lander and a water-based fuel supply chain to its “Mars Base Camp” mission architecture.

The system, updated today at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, could make use of resources provided by asteroid mining companies such as Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources.

Danielle Richey, a space exploration architect at Lockheed Martin, said the updated Mars Base Camp concept could help NASA “start exploring the Martian system in about a decade.”

Although NASA has said it wants to start sending astronauts to Mars and its moons by the 2030s, the space agency isn’t yet anywhere close to selecting any detailed plan to get there.

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Passenger Drone joins race to market flying cars

Passenger Drone
Passenger Drone’s prototype undergoes a flight test in Switzerland. (Passenger Drone via YouTube)

“Taking autonomous to the sky: You knew it was coming.”

Swiss-based Passenger Drone is following up on the tag line from one of its videosby declaring that its autonomous flying machine is indeed taking people into the sky on test flights.

The car-sized, electric-powered, 16-rotor copter has been stealthily under development for months. Robotic flight tests began in Switzerland in May, kicking off a succession of outings with simulated payload weights.

The first flights with passengers on board took place in early September, Peter Delco, one of the partners in the project, told GeekWire in an email.

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Aurora gives glowing sendoff to Seattle summer

Northern lights
Northern lights glow in a time-exposure photo with star trails. (NWS Seattle Photo via Twitter)

Seattle’s final fling with hot weather featured a celestial fireworks show on Sept. 27, in the form of an auroral display that benefited from clear skies as well as a strong geomagnetic storm.

The northern lights were pumped up by a wave of electrically charged particles thrown off by the sun a couple of days earlier — a phenomenon technically known as a coronal hole high-speed stream.

SpaceWeather.com reported that heightened auroras were spotted along the northern tier of the U.S., including Washington as well as Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

Seattle’s auroral glow might have seemed faint to the naked eye, but long-exposure photography brought out shimmering colors.

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Russia joins NASA to look into Deep Space Gateway

Boeing Deep Space Gateway concept
An artist’s conception from Boeing shows its Deep Space Gateway. (Boeing Illustration)

The space station band is getting back together again: Russia and NASA today signed a joint statement voicing support for a Deep Space Gateway in lunar orbit that’s designed to serve as a jumping-off point for beyond-Earth exploration.

To be fair, that’s what they once said about the International Space Station as well. But NASA envisions the gateway as taking advantage of other technologies more suited to deep-space exploration, including its Orion capsule and heavy-lift Space Launch System.

The current plan calls for the Earth-orbiting space station to wind down in the 2020s, at the same time that the SLS is delivering the first components of the Deep Space Gateway to a region between Earth and the moon known as cislunar space.

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Eclipse rates as America’s most watched event

Eclipse watchers
Eclipse watchers turned Aug. 21’s event into a party at Kerry Park in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

More than 215 million American adults, representing almost 88 percent of the U.S. population over 18, watched August’s solar eclipse in person and on screens, according to a newly published survey.

That’s nearly twice the size of the TV viewership for recent Super Bowl football championships.

“This level of public interest and engagement with a science-oriented event is unparalleled,” Jon Miller, director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, said in a news release.

Miller’s preliminary study, conducted in cooperation with NASA, was based on online and phone surveys involving a nationwide, representative sample of 2,221 adults.

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The gravitational-wave hunt just got bigger

Gravitational waves
This graphic shows the ripples in spacetime created by gravitational waves emanating from the merger of two black holes. (Max Planck Institute / NCSA Illustration)

Astronomers have detected their fourth gravitational wave from the merger of two black holes, but this one marks a new milestone.

It’s the first wave picked up by the Virgo gravitational-wave detector in Italy — and the first opportunity to triangulate on its location with the twin detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, in Louisiana and Washington state.

The Aug. 14 event, known as GW170814, showed that the ripples in spacetime were emitted by the smash-up of two black holes about 31 times and 25 times as massive as the sun, located about 1.8 billion light-years away. The merger created a single black hole about 53 times the sun’s mass.

Three solar masses were converted directly into gravitational-wave energy, in accordance with Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2.

All that follows the model set by LIGO with its three previous detections since September 2015. The new twist involves folding in the data from Virgo, which started its first full-fledged advanced run in league with LIGO on Aug. 1.

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