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Our view of black holes may change … again

Brian Greene
Columbia physicist Brian Greene delves into Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in “Light Falls,” a theater piece that made its debut at the World Science Festival. (Greg Kessler Photo / World Science Festival)

After decades’ worth of mystery, it feels as if physicists are finally closing in on the nature of black holes, thanks to Nobel-winning breakthroughs like the first detections of black hole mergers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory.

But Columbia University physicist Brian Greene warns that those matter-gobbling monsters may have a few surprises in them yet.

“To watch the history of this subject unfold from a purely theoretical idea to one that now is driving observational tests is enormously exciting,” Greene told GeekWire.

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Blue Origin gets in on NASA’s space resource studies

Blue Moon lander
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander. (Blue Origin Illustration)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is among 10 teams that will share about $10 million in NASA funding to look into techniques for using resources from the moon and Mars.

The studies are aimed at advancing technologies for in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU.

Such technologies could, for example, make use of ice in lunar soil to produce drinkable water, breathable oxygen and rocket propellants for refueling spacecraft. To cite another example, carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere could contribute to the production of methane fuel.

Relying on ISRU resource processing would reduce the amount of fuel and supplies that’d have to be launched from Earth for missions heading to the moon, Mars or other space destinations.

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Elon Musk and Malala tweet cute over parody

Starman and Malala
Human rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai and SpaceX’s Starman Roadster are paired in a parody posting. (Clickhole Illustration)

Billionaire Elon Musk hasn’t exactly had a smooth week in press relations, but today brought a string of feel-good tweets over a fake-news story on the ClickHole website.

The headline? “More Bad Press for Elon: The Car Elon Musk Launched Into Orbit Has Fallen Back Down to Earth and Crushed Malala Yousafzai.”

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Kavli Prizes run the gamut from genes to galaxies

CRISPR graphic
This computer-generated graphic shows a schematic representation of the molecular CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system. The Cas9 enzyme (orange) cuts the DNA (blue) in the location selected by the RNA (red). Image courtesy of Carlos Clarivan / Science Photo Library / NTB Scanpix via Kavli Prize)

Three inventors of the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 technique for editing DNA are among the recipients of this year’s Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientific breakthroughs in fields outside the sweet spots for Nobel Prizes.

Other Kavli laureates include three neuroscientists who trace the biological mechanisms behind hearing (and hearing loss), as well as an astrophysicist who has shed light on the chemical and physical processes in interstellar clouds.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced the winners today in Oslo, during a ceremony that was also live-streamed at the World Science Festival in New York.

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‘The Expanse’ sticks to space realities … mostly

Scene from 'The Expanse'
Spaceship pilot Alex Kamal (played by Cas Anvar) turns a zero-gravity somersault in a scene from “The Expanse.” (Alcon / Syfy via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES — The sci-fi saga known as “The Expanse” has attracted a huge fan following in part because it gets the details of life in space so right, from how to handle zero gravity to what happens when you open up your helmet visor in a hard vacuum.

But there’s one space reality that the producers have thrown out the air lock.

In space, no one can hear your spaceship scream, because there’s no medium to transmit the sound waves. But in “The Expanse,” as in “Star Wars” and other space operas, spaceships whoosh, crash and roar with regularity.

“We actually tried with Season 1 to do it realistically, to not have the ships make a sound,” showrunner Naren Shankar said last week in Los Angeles at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference.

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Tethers Unlimited’s printer-recycler goes to NASA

Refabricator
Tethers Unlimited’s Refabricator is a recycler and 3-D printer in one unit, which is about the size of a dorm-room refrigerator. This is the tech demonstration unit that’s been undergoing tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The unit is to go to the space station next year. (NASA Photo / Emmett Given)

Tethers Unlimited Inc. says it’s delivered a combination 3-D printer and plastic recycler to NASA for testing on the International Space Station.

Tethers Unlimited CEO Rob Hoyt told GeekWire that the Refabricator payload, about the size of a mini-refrigerator, was built under the terms of a $2.5 million Phase 3 contract from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR. It’s on its way to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is due to be sent to the station on a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight later this year, Hoyt said in an email.

The formal delivery to NASA marks the culmination of three months of performance and certification testing both at Tethers Unlimited’s lab in Bothell, Wash., and at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the company said today in a news release.

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Boeing HorizonX invests in Agylstor storage systems

Drone
Agylstor says its ruggedized computational storage systems are well-suited for aerospace applications, including autonomous drones. (DJI Photo)

The latest investment by Boeing’s HorizonX venture capital arm is going to Agylstor, a Silicon Valley startup that’s developing ruggedized computational storage systems with potential aerospace applications.

Boeing HorizonX Ventures led the Series A funding round, with other private investors also participating, Agylstor said today in a news release. The size of the investment wasn’t immediately disclosed, but HorizonX investments typically range from millions of dollars to the low tens of millions.

Agylstor was founded just two years ago and is headquartered in San Jose, Calif. The company said the newly announced funding round adds to the support it has received through private financing and support from its business partners, including Amazon Web Services.

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Amazon patents messaging system for drones

Drone signal system
A diagram shows a drone projecting squares of light labeled “Yes” or “No.” Depending on which box the package recipient stands in, the drone could determine whether or not to leave a package in the drop zone designated as DZ. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

For an earlier generation, one of the sweetest sounds of summer was the music coming from an ice-cream truck. For the next generation, will it be the tune of a delivery drone?

That’s just one of the possibilities covered in a patent issued to Amazon today: It addresses methods by which a drone could signal its approach, as well as techniques for signaling back.

The application was filed by a group of Seattle-area inventors on Amazon’s behalf almost two years ago.

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Virgin Galactic takes another step toward space

SpaceShipTwo rocket firing
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space plane fires up its hybrid rocket motor during a test flight. (MarsScientific.com and Trumbull Studios)

Virgin Galactic sent its VSS Unity space plane skyward for a second supersonic rocket-powered test flight today, bringing the company one step closer toward reaching the space frontier.

“It was great to see our beautiful spaceship back in the air and to share the moment with the talented team who are taking us, step by step, to space,” Virgin Group billionaire founder Richard Branson said in a post-flight recap. “Seeing Unity soar upwards at supersonic speeds is inspiring and absolutely breathtaking. We are getting ever closer to realizing our goals.”

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Jeff Bezos: ‘We will have to leave this planet’

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, discusses his vision for space settlement with GeekWire’s Alan Boyle at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. (Keith Zacharski / In The Barrel Photo)

LOS ANGELES – Deep thinkers have been saying for generations that we have to get off this rock and head for the stars, but the idea takes on a little more weight when the world’s richest person says it.

“We will have to leave this planet, and we’re going to leave it, and it’s going to make this planet better,” Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon retailing giant and the Blue Origin space venture, told me here on May 25 during a fireside chat at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference.

Bezos had just received the nonprofit society’s Gerard K. O’Neill Memorial Award for Space Settlement Advocacy, and our chat demonstrated why he was given the award.

Get the full transcript (and podcast) on GeekWire.