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Scientists revise scale for weighing E.T. contact

Image: Jill Tarter
SETI pioneer Jill Tarter pays a visit to the Allen Telescope Array in California, one of the prime sites for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. (Credit: SETI Institute)

For almost 60 years, efforts to pick up signs of extraterrestrial civilizations have yielded a big fat zero, but there have been plenty of false alarms to contend with.

To provide a reality check, the International Academy of Astronautics adopted a 1-to-10 rating system for claims of contact, known as the Rio scale, back in the early 2000s. Now a group of astronomers is proposing a “Rio 2.0” scale that brings the reality check up to date.

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Electron ion collider gets thumbs up from experts

report from the National Academies endorses the idea of building a large-scale electron ion collider to probe the next level of subatomic mysteries. Such a collider would smash electrons into beams of protons or heavier ions — in contrast with the Large Hadron Collider, which smashes protons together.

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Wash. Gov. Inslee voices concern over automation

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the coming age of wider automation and smarter artificial intelligence will require upgrades in educational and training systems — as well as improvements in the social safety net for those who would otherwise be left behind.

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Pivotal Commware demonstrates 5G wireless link

Echo 5G unit
Pivotal Commware’s glass-attached Echo 5G unit picks up a millimeter-wave signal and boosts the signal for wireless customers. (Pivotal Commware Photo)

Pivotal Commware, the Kirkland, Wash.-based startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, says it’s demonstrated its solution to a wireless annoyance: getting 5G reception inside a building.

Millimeter-wave 5G signaling is the next wave in cellular technology, revving up data transfer speeds by an order of magnitude over 4G. The new wireless standard also promises to bring less lag time and wider bandwidth.

But deploying 5G also brings technical challenges: Because of the physics of high-frequency radio waves, the signal typically needs a boost on the subscriber side to provide connectivity inside the home.

Pivotal Commware’s strategy is to use a metamaterials-based technology called holographic beam forming to intercept and amplify the signal. Its Echo 5G repeater is designed to be attached to a window, without the need for external wiring or drilling through walls.

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Life on the moon? It could have happened

Moon and Earth
The moon passes across Earth’s disk in a 2015 image captured by the DSCOVR satellite from its observation point, a million miles out in space. (Credit: NASA / NOAA)

The moon is one of the last places in the solar system you’d expect to find life today, but astrobiologists say life could have found a foothold there billions of years ago.

The life-on-the-moon question could provide a focus for future science missions to the moon in the years ahead, and mesh with similar searches on more promising worlds such as Mars, the Jovian moon Europa and the Saturnian moon Enceladus.

In a study published online today by the journal Astrobiology, Washington State University’s Dirk Schulze-Makuch and the University of London’s Ian Crawford pinpoint two spans of time when conditions on the moon might have supported simple lifeforms.

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Boeing works on ways to fill future pilot gap

Flight simulation
Boeing and the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training have developed a pilot training program that makes use of a virtual-reality co-pilot avatar. (Boeing Photo)

If Boeing is projecting a doubling in the global commercial airplane fleet over the next 20 years, it only makes sense that the pilot workforce may have to double as well.

That’s the conclusion that Boeing reaches in its 2018 Pilot & Technician Outlook, released today. The upshot? There’ll be a demand for 790,000 pilots over the next 20 years, representing “the most significant demand in the outlook’s nine-year history,” Boeing says.

“Despite strong global air traffic growth, the aviation industry continues to face a pilot labor supply challenge, raising concern about the existence of a global pilot shortage in the near term,” Keith Cooper, vice president of training and professional services at Boeing Global Services, said in today’s news release. “An emphasis on developing the next generation of pilots is key to help mitigate this.”

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WARR wins Elon Musk’s Hyperloop III pod races

Elon Musk and Mitchell Frimodt
SpaceX/Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Washington Hyperloop team member Mitchell Frimodt check out the UW team’s racing pod at the Hyperloop competition. (Washington Hyperloop via Twitter)

WARR’s Hyperloop pod registered a world-record top speed of 290 mph in its final run through the mile-long enclosed test track at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

That’s higher than the top speed that WARR reached during last August’s Hyperloop contest (201 mph), as well as the speed reported for Virgin Hyperloop One’s test pod last December (240 mph). WARR also posted the top speed in the first round of Hyperloop pod races, conducted in January 2017.

“Very impressive,” Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, told the WARR team after today’s record-breaking run.

Dutch-based Delft Hyperloop was the runner-up in the finals with a top speed of 88 mph, and Switzerland’s EPFLoop team was No. 3 with 53 mph.

Although Washington Hyperloop didn’t make it to the three-team finals, the UW team’s leaders said they had an “amazing competition experience” over the past week.

“We finished in the final four, and #1 in the U.S.,” they said in a text message exchange with GeekWire. “After a week of insanely hard work, we powered through the testing stages and managed to get some open-air runs in the tube.”

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Anomaly deals setback to Boeing’s space taxi plans

Engine test
Aerojet Rocketdyne conducts a 2016 test firing of the launch abort engines designed for use on Boeing’s Starliner. The engines feature a new type of propellant valve. (Aerojet Rocketdyne Photo)

Boeing confirms that it experienced an anomaly last month during tests of the engines that would be used on its CST-100 Starliner space taxi in the event of a launch emergency.

The anomaly resulted in an unwanted leak of propellant, and although no hardware was destroyed, the issue is likely to contribute to further delays for NASA’s plan to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station on the Starliner.

An updated flight schedule for the first flights of the Starliner as well as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is due to be released within the next week or two. The most recently issued schedule, which is now out of date, called for uncrewed and crewed demonstration flights to take place by the end of 2018.

Word of last month’s anomaly was first reported by Ars Technica. In a follow-up statement, Boeing confirmed that the anomaly came at the end of a hot-fire test of the launch abort engines at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. The firing was conducted in preparation for a full test of the launch abort system, a crucial milestone in the Starliner development effort.

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SpaceX launches heaviest telecom satellite

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from its Florida launch pad, sending the Telstar 19V satellite into space. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket executed a textbook launch to put the heavy-duty Telstar 19 Vantage telecommunications satellite into orbit tonight and bring back the first-stage booster for an at-sea landing.

The successful mission kicked off what’s expected to be a rapid-fire series of three liftoffs in less than two weeks’ time.

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Loon strikes deal to beam internet access in Kenya

Loon balloon launch
A balloon equipped with a transceiver takes off from Loon’s test facility in Nevada. (Loon Photo)

A week after becoming an independent business under Alphabet’s wing, the venture formerly known as Google’s Project Loon has struck its first commercial deal to provide balloon-powered 4G/LTE internet service to regions of central Kenya starting next year.

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