Categories
GeekWire

Scientists unveil ‘wiring diagram’ for a tiny bit of brain

Neuroscientists from Seattle’s Allen Institute and other research institutions have wrapped up a five-year, multimillion-dollar project with the release of a high-resolution 3-D map showing the connections between 200,000 cells in a clump of mouse brain about as big as a grain of sand.

The data collection, which is now publicly available online, was developed as part of the Machine Intelligence From Cortical Networks program, or MICrONS for short. MICrONS was funded in 2016 with $100 million in federal grants to the Allen Institute and its partners from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the U.S. intelligence community’s equivalent of the Pentagon’s DARPA think tank.

MICrONS is meant to clear the way for reverse-engineering the structure of the brain to help computer scientists develop more human-like machine learning systems, but the database is likely to benefit biomedical researchers as well.

“We’re basically treating the brain circuit as a computer, and we asked three questions: What does it do? How is it wired up? What is the program?” R. Clay Reid, senior investigator at the Allen Institute and one of MICrONS’ lead scientists, said today in a news release. “Experiments were done to literally see the neurons’ activity, to watch them compute.”

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos sweetens the deal for NASA lunar lander

In an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture will waive up to $2 billion in payments as part of a deal to build a second lunar landing system for NASA’s use.

The offer comes just days after Bezos rode Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship to the edge of space and back. It appears aimed at addressing one of the factors that led NASA in April to issue only one contract for a landing system capable of carrying astronauts to the moon’s surface by as early as 2024.

That $2.9 billion contract went to SpaceX, in part because NASA said Congress didn’t award enough money for two providers. NASA also gave its highest technical rating to SpaceX’s proposal to use a version of its Starship launch system, which is currently under development.

Blue Origin and its industry partners ⁠— including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper ⁠— bid $6 billion to design and build a competing landing system. After SpaceX won the award, Blue Origin’s team and Dynetics, the third competitor for a NASA contract, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is due to rule on those protests by Aug. 4.

Categories
GeekWire

Who’s an astronaut? The FAA weighs in

Hundreds of deep-pocketed tourists are likely to take suborbital space trips as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, as well as the Virgin Galactic venture founded by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, ramp up their commercial operations.

But will they all get astronaut wings?

The answer appears to be no, if you go by the Federal Aviation Administration’s newly issued guidelines for its commercial space astronaut wings program. Those guidelines suggest that astronaut wings can go only to crew members on a licensed spacecraft who contribute to flight safety and rise above the 50-mile altitude mark.

Which leaves a big question: Where exactly will the line be drawn?

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin’s space ticket sales approach $100M

VAN HORN, Texas — Blue Origin hasn’t yet revealed how much it’s charging for suborbital space trips, but founder Jeff Bezos said his space venture has already brought in nearly $100 million in private sales.

And those sales were made even before today’s first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship, with Bezos and three crewmates on board.

The first big step in Blue Origin’s sales effort was last month’s auction for an open seat on today’s flight. A yet-to-be-identified bidder won the reservation at a price of $28 million, but Blue Origin said the bidder had to defer that reservation due to a scheduling conflict. That’s how 18-year-old Oliver Daemen wound up flying today. He became the world’s youngest spacefarer in the process.

After the auction, Blue Origin executives contacted some of the bidders who lost out in the auction to offer seats on follow-up flights.

“One thing we found out through the auction process, and what we’ve been doing as private sales — we’re approaching $100 million in private sales already, and the demand is very, very high,” he said during a post-landing briefing at Blue Origin’s West Texas spaceport.

Bezos hinted that Blue Origin would continue with the private-sales approach. “We’re going to keep after that,” he said.

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos has his ‘best day ever’ in space

VAN HORN, Texas — As of today, Jeff Bezos is not only the richest person on Earth. He’s the richest person to fly to space as well.

The billionaire and three crewmates — including the world’s oldest space traveler and the youngest — took a 10-minute ride on a reusable New Shepard rocket ship that was built by Blue Origin, the company created by Bezos in 2000.

“There’s a very happy group of people in this capsule!” Bezos could be heard saying just after touchdown. “Best day ever!”

Categories
GeekWire

Space shots give a big boost to tiny Texas town

VAN HORN, Texas — When I last visited this West Texas town in 2006, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture was planning to provide suborbital space trips for paying passengers by 2010.

The bad news for Van Horn is that it’s taken a decade longer than expected for Blue Origin’s space boom to come to town. But the good news is that the economic impact is arguably 10 times as great.

Blue Origin’s 15-year-old environmental assessment, which was the subject of the Federal Aviation Administration hearing I attended in 2006, estimated that 20 to 35 full-time employees would be working at the company’s suborbital launch site a half-hour drive north of Van Horn.

Fifteen years later, the actual figure is 275 employees — due not only to Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship, which Bezos and three crewmates are scheduled to ride on Tuesday, but also due to the rocket engine testing program that’s based at Launch Site One.

Categories
GeekWire

Jeff Bezos says he’s not nervous about space trip

VAN HORN, Texas — It’s T-minus 1 day for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ suborbital spaceflight, and he feels fine.

On July 20, the world’s richest individual is due to take a ride on the New Shepard spaceship built by his Blue Origin space venture.

“People keep asking me if I am nervous,” Bezos said today on “CBS This Morning,” during an interview that also included his three crewmates. “I am not really nervous. I am excited. I am curious. I want to know what we are going to learn.”

All four soon-to-be spacefliers seemed in good spirits as the faced the camera in their flight suits.

“We’ve been training,” Bezos said. “This vehicle is ready, this crew is ready, this team is amazing. We just feel really good about it.”

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin says spaceflight customers are lining up

Jeff Bezos and his crewmates are still finishing up their training for the first-ever crewed spaceflight conducted by Blue Origin, scheduled for July 20, but Bezos’ space venture already has customers lined up for the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft’s future flights.

“We intend to have two more flights in 2021, for a total of three flights, and many more in the future,” Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales, said today during a briefing at the company’s suborbital launch site in West Texas. “So we have already built a robust pipeline of customers that are interested.”

A good number of those prospects are coming from the auction that Blue Origin wrapped up last month to sell the open seat on the first flight. The winning bid came in at $28 million, but Blue Origin said that person had to defer the trip due to a scheduling conflict. So, the company turned to Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who had put in a lower bid but was taken on for the second flight.

Daemen took the spot, and the auction winner will fly later.

Blue Origin hasn’t revealed how much follow-up fliers have been signed up to pay; the price is apparently being negotiated on a case-by-case basis. But CEO Bob Smith suggested that the first flights won’t be cheap.

“We think we had 7,500 people in the auction from over 150 countries,” he said. “Generally, there’s really high interest. So the question really gets down to what’s the price point. … Our early flights are going for a very good price. You saw the interest during the auction was quite high. We had people well into the twenties [$20 million], all very interested. Some of that was skewed, obviously, by the auction.”

Categories
GeekWire

Dutch teen set to become world’s youngest spaceflier

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says the beneficiary of the $28 million auction for a spot on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship is Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands.

Daemen is due to take a trip to the edge of space next Tuesday, sitting alongside Bezos and his brother Mark — as well as female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, who at the age of 82 would become the oldest person to go to space. Daemen would become the youngest.

The actual winner of last month’s auction is still anonymous. Blue Origin said the winner had to forgo the milestone flight due to scheduling conflicts, and will instead go on a future flight. (Although there may be more to it than that: Couldn’t someone reschedule things to make history in the company of the world’s richest person?)

A spokesperson for Blue Origin told GeekWire that Daemen was a participant in last month’s auction. After the sale, Blue Origin followed up and arranged for him to go on the second New Shepard flight. His reservation was moved up when the seat on the first flight became available, the spokesperson said.

Categories
GeekWire

Blue Origin spreads the wealth from space ticket sale

There are only so many postcards you can send to space and back, even if you have $28 million to work with.

That’s one reason why the Club for the Future, the educational nonprofit foundation created by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, is giving 19 space-related charities the lion’s share of the proceeds from the $28 million fare that a mystery auction winner is paying to go on a suborbital space trip.