PNNL plays role in new AI research center

Roberto Gioiosa

Roberto Gioiosa, a senior research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, will lead a new research center focusing on challenges in artificial intelligence. (PNNL Photo)

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is joining forces with two other research powerhouses to pioneer a new $5.5 million research center created by the U.S. Department of Energy to focus on the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence.

The Center for Artificial Intelligence-Focused Architectures and Algorithms, or ARIAA, will promote collaborative projects for scientists at PNNL in Richland, Wash., at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, and at Georgia Tech. PNNL and Sandia are part of the Energy Department’s network of research labs.

ARIAA will be headed by Roberto Gioiosa, a senior research scientist at PNNL. As center director, he’ll be in charge of ARIAA’s overall vision, strategy and research direction. He’ll be assisted by two deputy directors, Sandia’s Rajamanickam and Georgia Tech Professor Tushar Krishna.

The creation of the new center is in line with the White House’s efforts to encourage partnerships in AI research. Last month, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced the establishment of the DOE Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office to serve as a coordinating hub for all the work that’s being done in his department.

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First Mode and WWU will make a gizmo for Mars


A goniometer is a tool that either measures an angle or helps position an object at a very precise angle for measurement. (First Mode Illustration / Peter Illsley)

Seattle’s First Mode team and Western Washington University say they’ve won a NASA contract to advance the technology for sizing up rocks on Mars.

The project, funded under NASA’s Solar System Workings program, will support the development of an automated tool known as a goniometer. Such a tool could be used on future Mars missions to measure angles precisely in three dimensions.

“If you used a protractor in grade school to measure angles, you used a simple version of a goniometer,” First Mode’s Kathleen Hoza and Rhae Adams explained in a blog posting about the project.

On Mars, such a device should facilitate spectral observations of rock samples at different angles, opening the way for more detailed chemical analyses. One of the cameras on NASA’s Curiosity rover has been used to make goniometer measurements in Mars’ Gale Crater.

Melissa Rice, a planetary scientist at Western Washington University, is principal investigator for the newly announced project.

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Space short-timer and two crewmates return home

Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates is carried to a medical tent shortly after he and fellow spacefliers Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin landed in their Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

Today’s landing of a Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan brought one of the shortest recent stays on the International Space Station to an end, as part of a plan for one of the longest stays.

The first representative of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, was part of the returning trio, along with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin. All three seemed to be in good shape as they were brought out of their Soyuz and underwent an initial round of medical checks.

Almansoori spent a mere eight days on the station, under an arrangement with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. The other two wrapped up a 203-day tour of duty in orbit.

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Elephant-watching EarthRanger team widens focus

An elephant herd makes its way through the Serengeti in East Africa. (Vulcan / EarthRanger Photo)

Years ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen backed a project called the Great Elephant Census that highlighted a crisis for Africa’s elephant population, brought about primarily by illegal poaching.

Allen passed away last year at the age of 65, but the software-based successor to that project, known as EarthRanger, lives on. What’s more, EarthRanger has adapted to dramatic changes — not only in the challenges facing Africa’s endangered elephants, but also in the way old and new technologies are being used to address those challenges.

“I think the most important thing that’s happened … is the maturity of those of us who are technologists in this space, in what we’re now truly calling conservation technology,” said Ted Schmitt, principal business development manager for conservation technology at Vulcan Inc., Allen’s holding company.

Schmitt and his partners in the EarthRanger effort highlighted technology’s role in saving the elephants today during a news briefing at Vulcan’s Seattle headquarters. Along the way, they delivered a piece of good news from the Mara Elephant Project, which works with Kenyan authorities to protect elephants in the greater Mara ecosystem, part of East Africa’s Serengeti plains.

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Blue Origin CEO says space trips won’t be cheap

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith shows a video of a BE-4 rocket engine firing during the Aerospace Futures Alliance Summit in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has always shied away from saying how much it will cost to fly to the edge of the final frontier on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

But today, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith hinted at a ballpark figure.

“It’s going to not be cheap,” Smith said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference.

Although he stressed that the price for passengers hasn’t yet been published, he indicated that Blue Origin now has a price range in mind.

“Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space.

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Amazon and OneWeb update their satellite plans

An artist’s conception shows a OneWeb satellite in space. (OneWeb Satellites Illustration)

Filings with the Federal Communications Commission are providing fresh details about the plans being laid by Amazon and OneWeb to set up networks of satellites for global broadband internet access.

OneWeb, for example, is seeking FCC approval for up to 1.5 million ground terminals that customers would use to receive and transmit satellite data.

Amazon, meanwhile, is answering questions from the FCC about how the satellites in its Project Kuiper constellation would be maneuvered and deorbited. The answers make clear that Project Kuiper’s satellite design is still very much in flux.

That’s in contrast to SpaceX, which has already launched 60 of its Starlink satellites and is expected to send another batch into orbit as early as this month.

SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb are considered the leading competitors in the nascent market to offer high-speed internet access from low Earth orbit, or LEO, to the billions of people who are currently underserved. Other players in the LEO broadband market include Telesat and LeoSat.

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Relativity raises $140M for 3D-printed rockets

Relativity Space factory

Relativity Space co-founders Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone check out a fully 3D-printed rocket segment at the company’s L.A. headquarters. (Relativity Space Photo via Business Wire)

Four years after it was founded in Seattle, Relativity Space has landed its biggest infusion of capital to date — and says the $140 million investment will fully fund its drive to launch the world’s first all-3D-printed rocket into orbit and enter commercial service in 2021.

The company, now based in Los Angeles, was founded by two rocket engineers with connections to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture: CEO Tim Ellis, who worked on propulsion development and 3-D printing at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash.; and chief technology officer Jordan Noone, who was a Blue Origin intern and went on to work at SpaceX as a propulsion development engineer.

The newly announced $140 million Series C funding round was led by Bond and Tribe Capital. The new investors include a few well-known personalities from the worlds of technology and entertainment, including former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, former Disney President Michael Ovitz and actor Jared Leto (who played a high-tech villain in “Blade Runner 2049″).

Others in on the round include new investors Lee Fixel and Republic Labs, plus current investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital and Mark Cuban.

“Relativity was founded with the long-term vision of 3-D printing the first rocket made on Mars and expanding the possibilities for human experience in our lifetime,” Ellis said in a news release. With the close of our Series C funding, we are now one step closer to that vision by being fully funded to launch Terran 1 to orbit as the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket.”

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