Check out Hayabusa 2 mission’s asteroid close-ups

Ryugu close-up

This image of the asteroid Ryugo was captured by the Hayabusa 2 probe’s ONC-T camera at an altitude of about 64 meters (210 feet). Image was taken on Sept. 21. A large boulder is at bottom left, along with a scale bar indicating the length of 1 meter. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST)

The scientists and engineers behind Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission made history last week when the mission’s mothership dropped two mini-rovers onto the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, 180 million miles from Earth, but they’re not resting on their laurels.

The first rovers to hop around an asteroid’s surface have continued to send back pictures of their travels — and so has the main spacecraft, which is keeping watch dozens of miles above them.

One of the pictures shows a high-resolution view of Ryugu’s surface from above, highlighted by a big boulder’s sharp shadow. The image was captured by the main spacecraft’s telescopic optical navigation camera, or ONC-T, as it closed in on Ryugu for the rover drop on Sept. 21.

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Stratolaunch lifts the veil on PGA rocket engine

Stratolaunch PGA rocket engine

An artist’s conception shows Stratolaunch’s PGA rocket engine. (Stratolaunch Illustration)

The name of Stratolaunch Systems’ home-grown rocket engine leaves no doubt about who’s footing the bill: It’s called the PGA, as in Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

Stratolaunch has made glancing references to its in-house propulsion system development program over the past few months — for example, in its announcement about the full line of rocket-powered vehicles intended for midflight launch from its super-jumbo airplane, or in its proposed roadmap for hypersonic flight tests.

But the PGA rocket engine took center stage today in a report from Aviation Week and in a series of photos released by the Stratolaunch team.

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Boeing wins $9.2B Air Force contract for T-X jets

T-X training jets

The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing T-X advanced pilot training system, which features an all-new aircraft designed, developed and flight-tested by Boeing and Saab. (Boeing Photo / John Parker)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $9.2 billion for a new fleet of T-X training jets that it originally thought would cost twice as much.

In today’s announcement, the Air Force said the deal covers the purchase of 351 T-X aircraft, 46 simulators and the associated ground equipment to replace its 57-year-old fleet of T-38 Talon training jets. There’s an option to raise the purchase to up to 475 jets and 120 simulators.

The original service cost estimate was $19.7 billion for 351 aircraft, the Air Force said.

“This new aircraft will provide the advanced training capabilities we need to increase the lethality and effectiveness of future Air Force pilots,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a news release. “Through competition we will save at least $10 billion on the T-X program.”

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SEC charges Tesla’s Elon Musk with securities fraud

Elon Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks to shareholders in June. (Tesla via YouTube)

Update: Elon Musk and Tesla settle with SEC.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Tesla’s billionaire CEO and chairman, Elon Musk, with securities fraud over a series of controversial tweets focusing on the electric-car company’s future financial status.

If the SEC is fully successful in arguing its claims, Musk could be barred from serving as an officer or director of Tesla or any other publicly traded company.

The complaint in federal court focuses on what the SEC calls “false and misleading tweets” about a potential transaction to buy up Tesla’s publicly traded shares at a premium price of $420 and take the company private.

“Funding secured,” Musk said in Aug. 7’s most controversial tweet.

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How to boost Washington’s $1.8B space industry

Blue Origin factory

Hardware is spread across Blue Origin’s New Shepard assembly area in Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin Photo)

newly published economic report estimates the space industry’s contribution to Washington state’s economy at $1.8 billion and 6,200 jobs in 2018 — and goes on to suggest ways to boost the industry to a higher orbit.

“The central Puget Sound region is already a worldwide leader in aerospace and information technology, and we plan on being a world leader in the space industry as well,” Terry Ryan, a member of the Snohomish County Council and president of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Economic Development Board, said today in a news release.

The regional council’s 60-page report, titled “Washington State Space Economy,” may be the first economic study of the Evergreen State’s aerospace industry that doesn’t lead off with Boeing.

Instead, the study highlights the role of Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos in 2000.

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Arch Mission gets set to send DNA library to moon

Peregrine lander

An artist’s conception shows Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander on the lunar surface. (Astrobotic Illustration)

DNA-based data storage systems have been proposed as a theoretical way to preserve information for millennia on the moon, but the idea isn’t so theoretical anymore.

The Arch Mission Foundation says it’s partnering with Microsoft, the University of Washington and Twist Bioscience to send an archive of 10,000 crowdsourced images, the full text of 20 books and other information on Astrobotic’s 2020 mission to the moon.

All of the data for those files will be encoded in strands of synthetic DNA that could easily fit within a tiny glass bead. The Microsoft-UW-Twist team has already demonstrated how the method can be used for efficient storage and retrieval of data files, including an OK Go music video.

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Blue Origin’s rocket engine wins ULA’s backing

Blue Origin BE-4 engine

Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine is on display in Colorado Springs in April. (Blue Origin Photo)

After years of development and months of suspense, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has won a high-stakes race to provide United Launch Alliance with its BE-4 rocket engine.

First word of the win came unofficially in a Wall Street Journal report, and was confirmed hours later by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture. United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno confirmed that BE-4 engines would be used on the first stage of ULA’s yet-to-be-built Vulcan rocket.

“We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Blue Origin and look forward to a successful first flight of our next-generation launch vehicle,” Bruno said in a news release.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said he was “very glad” to see the BE-4 engine selected as the Vulcan rocket’s prime propulsion system.

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