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Quake drill tests Kymeta’s emergency links

Kymeta antenna on emergency vehicle
An overhead view shows Kymeta’s flat-panel antenna installed like a white stop sign on top of a Redmond Fire and Rescue medical response vehicle. (Kymeta Photo

When disaster strikes, cellphone connections are among the first things to go by the wayside — so what will emergency responders who rely on that connectivity do?

That’s one of the big questions that first responders in Redmond, Wash., addressed this month during a two-day emergency preparedness drill called Cascadia Rising Solutions. And it was up to Kymeta, a Redmond-based startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, to provide answers.

Kymeta is creating a hybrid connectivity platform that makes use of standard cellular networks as well as satellite links and Wi-Fi to keep responders connected even when the cell towers go down. And Cascadia Rising Solutions provided the perfect opportunity to put Kymeta’s platform to a hometown test.

“It’s all up, all the time,” Ben Posthuma, Kymeta product manager for advanced connectivity, told GeekWire after the Oct. 18-19 exercise was over. “We have a platform that identifies the right pathway for the right type of information. The responders get connected to their vehicle as easily as they would connect to a Wi-Fi network.”

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Hubble features ghostly galaxy for Halloween

AM 2026-424
This Hubble image of the merged galaxy known as AM 2026-424 was taken on June 19 in visible light by the Advanced Camera for Surveys. The system resides 704 million light-years from Earth. (NASA / ESA / UW / Dalcanton, Williams and Durbin)

Now here’s something really scary for Halloween: Imagine two galaxies slamming into each other and creating a monstrous wraith with ghostly glowing eyes.

It’s not that far of a stretch. The Hubble Space Telescope captured just such an image, for a team of astronomers based at the University of Washington.

The visible-light picture, taken in June by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, shows a galactic smash-up that took place about 700 million light-years away in the constellation Microscopium. The cosmic collision is known as Arp-Madore 2026-424 or AM 2026-424, because it’s noted that way in the Arp-Madore Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations.

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Scientists track the arms race in your gut

Gut bacteria
The mixture of bacteria shown in this photomicrograph contains five different species of the genus Bacteroides. (UW Medicine Photo / Mougous Lab / Kevin Cutler)

The balance of bacteria in your gut can make the difference between sickness and health — and now scientists report that different species of bacteria share immunity genes to protect themselves against each other’s toxins and maintain their balance of power.

In effect, closely related species of bacteria acquire each other’s defense systems to fend off threats from alien invaders.

The findings appear in a paper published today in the journal Nature. The senior authors are Joseph Mougous, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine; and Elhanan Borenstein, a former UW Medicine geneticist who now works at Tel Aviv University.

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OceanGate will go deeper with its next subs

OceanGate Titan sub
OceanGate’s Titan submersible is designed to withstand pressures at Titanic depths. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate says it’ll build not just one, but two deep-sea submersibles capable of taking crews as far down as 6,000 meters (3.7 miles) beneath the ocean surface, into a zone of perpetual darkness.

The vessels will take advantage of the same carbon-fiber and titanium design that was pioneered for OceanGate’s Titan submersible, which was built for exploration of the Titanic shipwreck site, nearly 4,000 meters (2.4 miles) down.

Interest in the Titanic trips, which are due to begin next summer, is one of the factors behind the planned expansion of OceanGate’s fleet.

“Increasing demand for Titanic missions, deep-sea research and environmental supervision of deep-sea mining have further reinforced the business case for adding to our dive capacity,” OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said Tuesday in a news release.

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Allen Institute maps out ‘org chart’ for brain

Allen Institute researchers
Researchers Hongkui Zeng, Julie Harris and Hannah Choi check out a brain connectivity image at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. (Allen Institute Photo)

Researchers at Seattle’s Allen Institute say a new and improved map of the mouse brain reveals not only how different regions are connected, but how those connections are ordered in a hierarchical way.

They add that the mapping techniques behind their study, which was published today by the journal Nature, could shed light on how diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or schizophrenia tangle up connections in the human brain.

The map produced by the study is technically known as a medium-scale “connectome.” It’s been variously compared to a wiring diagram, organizational chart or subway map for the brain. An initial version of the map was published five years ago — and at the time, it was hailed as a landmark for brain science.

Like that earlier version of the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas, the newly published map was created by injecting glow-in-the-dark viruses into the brains of mice, and then tracking how brain impulses lit up different types of brain cells.

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Pivotal Commware raises $10M as it gets set for 5G

Echo 5G in home office
In this scenario for a wireless application, Pivotal Commware’s Echo 5G device consists of a paddle-like antenna placed on the exterior of a window, and a power puck installed on the inside. (Pivotal Commware Photo)

Pivotal Commware, one of several metamaterials startups backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, says it has secured $10 million in convertible-debt financing to help it roll out signal repeater systems for 5G wireless data services.

The company, based in Kirkland, Wash., takes advantage of the electronic properties of metamaterials to produce flat-panel antennas with no moving parts.

One product line, the Echo 5G, can be used by wireless customers to boost the millimeter-wave broadband signals transmitted by 5G operators. Another product line, the Pivot 5G, can be used by operators to extend the range of 5G signals and wrap them around corners, to places that might otherwise be dead spots.

Chris Brandon, Pivotal Commware’s chief operating officer, told GeekWire that the company is due to start shipping the Echo 5G to wireless network operators sometime in December. He said it was premature to disclose which operators will be using them, but they should start showing up next year.

“2020 is a big year for us,” Brandon said.

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Virgin Galactic’s stock soars and then levels off

Virgin Galactic at NYSE
British billionaire Richard Branson rings the New York Stock Exchange’s First Trade Bell to celebrate the listing of Virgin Galactic Holdings as a publicly traded company. (Virgin Galactic Photo / Courtney Crow)

Like the rocket plane it operates, Virgin Galactic’s stock price blasted off on its first day as a publicly traded company, and then glided to a somewhat lower altitude.

The company, founded 15 years ago by British billionaire Richard Branson, now bills itself as the “world’s first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company.” It went public today thanks to a merger with a special-purpose vehicle known as Social Capital Hedosophia, or SCH.

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First Mode backs plan for marathon moon rover

Intrepid moon rover
This artist’s conception provides a rough idea of what the Intrepid moon rover would look like. (ASU / First Mode Graphic)

Seattle-based First Mode is working with Arizona State University and other partners to draw up a concept for a rover that could travel more than 1,100 miles across the moon’s surface over a four-year period.

NASA is funding the concept study, which is due next June.

The rover, dubbed Intrepid, would travel farther than any previous rover in NASA’s history to check out more than 100 sites for signs of lunar water ice.  Intrepid would also map radiation, solar wind and the chemical makeup of lunar soil. The mission’s proposed landing site is in the region of the moon’s Reiner Gamma magnetic anomaly, north of the lunar equator, and the rover would wend its way northward to Aristarchus Crater.

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Lessons from a 15-year Mars rover mission

Steve Squyres
Planetary scientist Steve Squyres, who headed the science team for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers and now serves as Blue Origin’s chief scientist, demonstrates how the rovers were parked on slanted slopes to soak up maximum solar energy during the Martian winter. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For 15 years, planetary scientist Steve Squyres’ life revolved around Mars, with good reason. He was the principal investigator for one of the longest-running NASA missions on the surface of another world, executed by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

If anyone has a sense of the lay of the land on the Red Planet, it’d be Squyres. So what does he think of the idea of setting up permanent cities on Mars?

“My take on this one is no, I don’t think so,” Squyres said here today at Penn State University during the ScienceWriters 2019 conference.

He’s not opposed to sending people to Mars. Far from it. “Human research base? Absolutely, as soon as possible,” Squyres said. It’s even possible that super-rich tourists will want to travel to Mars and back, he said.

But based on the problems that Spirit and Opportunity encountered during their longer-than-anticipated operating life on the Red Planet, plus Squyres’ experience as a researcher in Antarctica and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, he isn’t convinced that Mars can ever be a place to raise a family.

“Antarctica is international territory,” he said. “If you want to build a home, if you want to go homesteading, set up shop, build a community, build a town, nobody’s going to stop you. … And yet, nobody does it. Why? Antarctica is a terrible place, it really is. And Mars is just so much worse.”

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X-37B space plane lands after 780 days in orbit

X-37B landing
The Air Force’s X-37B space plane lands at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (Air Force Photo)

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane landed today after spending a record-setting 780 days in orbit testing hush-hush technologies for long-duration spaceflight.

Touchdown at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida came at 3:51 a.m. ET (12:51 a.m. PT), the Air Force said in a statement. The landing marked the end of the fifth test mission for the uncrewed mini-space shuttle, which experts say appears to be part of an effort to develop more versatile, faster-acting and longer-running spacecraft for remote sensing and satellite deployment.

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said in today’s statement. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said the X-37B “successfully completed all mission objectives.”

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