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NASA’s Rossi X-ray probe makes a quiet exit

Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer
An artist’s conception shows the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer. (NASA Illustration)

A month after the breakup of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab, another spacecraft went to its fiery doom today with far less fanfare. Orbital assessments from the U.S. military’s Joint Space Operations Center indicate that NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer made its atmospheric re-entry at roughly 7:45 a.m. PT (14:45 GMT), more than 22 years after its launch and six years after it was decommissioned.

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Boeing confirms $4.25 billion acquisition of KLX

Boeing logo
Boeing  is the biggest U.S. manufacturer of commercial airplanes. (GeekWire Photo)

The Boeing Co. says it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire KLX Inc., a Florida-based aerospace parts distributor, as part of its drive to boost its global services business.

Today’s announcement comes just a few days after The Wall Street Journal reported that such a deal was in the works. The agreement involves an all-cash transaction for $63 a share as well as the assumption of about $1 billion of net debt, for a total of $4.25 billion, Boeing said.

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Pluto’s champions tell the tale of an epic mission

Image: Pluto stamp
The 1991 stamp that served as the rallying cry for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto is “updated” by members of the New Horizons science team on July 14, 2015, the day the spacecraft flew past Pluto. Principal investigator Alan Stern is at far left. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)

It took nine years for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to get to Pluto, and laying the groundwork for that history-making space mission here on Earth took nearly twice as long.

The drama and intrigue surrounding New Horizons during those decades, as chronicled in a new book titled “Chasing New Horizons: Inside the First Mission to Pluto,” might be enough for any planetary scientist. But Alan Stern — the book’s co-author, the mission’s principal investigator and arguably Pluto’s most ardent defender — is ready to do it all again.

Stern doesn’t expect his campaign to send an orbiter to Pluto to face quite as many challenges, now that the world knows so much more about the dwarf planet with a giant heart.

“I hope it’s a more straightforward process,” Stern told GeekWire. “First of all, there are now a lot more people who are interested in going back to Pluto. … Now that we’ve done the flyby, there isn’t a planetary scientist in the world that isn’t impressed.”

Last month, Stern and other New Horizons scientists signed onto a white papercalling for NASA to fund an in-depth study of potential Pluto orbiter missions. That grass-roots approach mirrors how the “Pluto Underground” campaign for New Horizons got started around a restaurant table in Baltimore,  back in 1989.

“Chasing New Horizons,” written by Stern and astrobiologist David Grinspoon, traces the twists and turns that led from there to the piano-sized spacecraft’s launch in 2006 and its Pluto flyby in 2015.

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Jeff Bezos strikes a fashion pose for Blue Origin

Bezos with boots
Jeff Bezos shows off his “Gradatim Ferociter” boots. (Jeff Bezos via Twitter)

If being Amazon’s CEO ever gets tiresome for Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest human, he could always turn to a career modeling Western wear.

Bezos demonstrated that today after the successful test flight of his Blue Origin venture’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. In his apres-landing photo shoot, shared via Twitter, Bezos wears a cowboy hat, Blue Origin shirt, jeans, sunglasses and cowboy boots as he leans against the New Shepard crew capsule.

The boots are the piece de resistance.

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Blue Origin sends suborbital rocket to new heights

New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship, dubbed RSS H.G. Wells, blasts off from its West Texas launch pad. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture notched another record today when it sent its New Shepard suborbital spaceship on its highest-ever round trip to space.

It was the eighth uncrewed test flight for the New Shepard program, and the second go-around for this particular spaceship, which is dubbed RSS H.G. Wells in honor of the English science-fiction writer and futurist.

RSS H.G. Wells flew for first time last December, and was refurbished in line with Blue Origin’s strategy for rocket reusability. On that flight, the craft rose to a height of 99.39 kilometers, just shy of the 100-kilometer Karman Line that defines the internationally accepted boundary of outer space.

The target altitude for this flight was a record-setting 106.7 kilometers, or 350,000 feet. After today’s picture-perfect launch and landing, Bezos reported in a tweet that the craft reached 351,000 feet (107 kilometers).

“That’s the altitude we’ve been targeting for operations,” he said. “One step closer.”

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NASA reworks moon rover mission amid outcry

Resource Prospector prototype
A prototype for the Resource Prospector rover undergoes field testing. (NASA via YouTube)

An influential group of advisers on lunar exploration says NASA is canceling its Resource Prospector mission to explore the moon’s surface in the 2020s — and urged the agency’s newly sworn-in administrator, Jim Bridenstine, to reverse the decision.

In response, NASA pledged today that “selected instruments from Resource Prospector will be landed and flown on the moon” as part of an expanded robotic campaign that will make use of commercial landers and rovers.

The tumult over the $250 million mission comes as Bridenstine and the White House’s National Space Council are ramping up their back-to-the-moon campaign. Resource Prospector appears to have been caught up in that campaign’s fast-moving paradigm shifts.

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Jeff Bezos gets set for Blue Origin test launch

New Shepard on pad
Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship stands on its pad for a 2016 test flight. (Blue Origin File Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture is targeting the next test flight of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship for Sunday.

Word of the launch came today in a tweet. And yes, there will be streaming video.

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Animated GIF shows ‘snow’ on Rosetta’s comet

It’s been 19 months since the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko ended, but the probe’s pictures stirred up a fresh flurry of excitement this week.

Or are those snow flurries?

The excitement is over 33 pictures that were snapped back on June 1, 2016, and posted to Rosetta’s online archive last month. The sequence, captured from a distance of several miles over the course of about 25 minutes, shows the comet’s Cliffs of Hathor with boulders strewn about.

One by one, the pictures are interesting enough. But when a Twitter user with the handle Landru79 (a.k.a. Jacint Roger Perez) put them together in a one-second animated GIF, the scene really came to life.

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Trace Gas Orbiter sends its first color view of Mars

Korolev Crater
An image from the CaSSIS camera on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter shows the rim of Korolev Crater on Mars. Click on the image for a larger version. (ESA / Roscosmos / CaSSIS Image)

The first color image to come from a camera aboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in its Mars-mapping orbit shows the ice-coated rim of Korolev Crater in sharply shadowed detail.

“We were really pleased to see how good this picture was, given the lighting conditions,” Antoine Pommerol, a member of the science team for the Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System, said today in a news release. “It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars.”

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a mission jointly supported by the European and Russian space agencies, is built to measure the composition of Mars’ thin atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy. Its top task is to look for methane and other trace gases that could hint at biological or geological activity.

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Plasmonic modulator could lead to new chips

Electro-optic modulator
Artist’s rendering shows an electro-optic modulator. (VCU Illustration / Nathaniel Kinsey)

Researchers have created a miniaturized device that can transform electronic signals into optical signals with low signal loss. They say the electro-optic modulator could make it easier to merge electronic and photonic circuitry on a single chip. The hybrid technology behind the modulator, known as plasmonics, promises to rev up data processing speeds.

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