Satellite fleet will get water-spraying thrusters

Comet propulsion system

Deep Space Industries’ Comet propulsion system uses water vapor as propellant. (DSI Illustration)

California-based Deep Space Industries says it has signed a contract to provide water-spraying thrusters for the BlackSky Earth observation satellites that are due to be built in Seattle.

The contract covers an initial block of 20 Comet water-based satellite propulsion systems. The systems expel superheated water vapor as propellant to adjust the attitude of small spacecraft in orbit.

Twenty satellites are scheduled to go into orbit by 2020 in the first phase of an Earth observation effort managed by BlackSky, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries. The first satellite, dubbed Global-1, is due for launch this year.

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Lockheed Martin wins NASA’s nod for supersonic jet

Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator

An artist’s conception shows the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator at work. (NASA Illustration)

NASA says Lockheed Martin will be its partner in building a supersonic test plane that’s designed to muffle sonic booms and clear the way for a new boom in faster-than-sound passenger flights.

California-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. won the $247.5 million contract to build the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator, or LBFD, after putting in the sole bid for the project, NASA officials said today.

NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, said boom-reducing aerodynamics will be a “game-changer” for civilian flight — a view that was voiced by other officials as well.

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Reused cargo ship launched on reused rocket

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from its Florida launch pad. (NASA via YouTube)

SpaceX sent nearly three tons of supplies, hardware and experiments to the International Space Station today, using a Falcon 9 rocket booster and a Dragon capsule that have both been flown before.

The rocket rose from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. PT).

“We had a perfectly nominal mission, as we like around here,” SpaceX launch commentator John Federspiel said during a webcast from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “Falcon 9 performed its job splendidly.”

It’s the second “refurbish-and-reuse” mission of its kind. The first flight of a refurbished Falcon 9 first-stage booster with a reused Dragon took place last December.

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Report dials down the risk to jobs from automation

Fulfillment center

An automated guided vehicle trundles packages inside an Amazon fulfillment center in Dupont, Wash. Automation is expected to affect a wide range of occupations. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

working paper written for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that about 14 percent of the jobs in 32 OECD countries, including the U.S., are at high risk of being automated.

That raw figure may not sound as dire as some of the previous numbers cited for the effect of automation and artificial intelligence on employment, and that’s what’s been grabbing the headlines over the past couple of days. But a close reading of the report, published last month, shouldn’t lead anyone to brush off the issue — as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did last year.

The authors of the study, Ljubica Nedelkoska and Glenda Quintini, say the level of automation risk varies widely from country to country. Slovakia comes in on the high side (33 percent), while the projected risk is only 6 percent in Norway.

The high-risk percentage for the U.S. is 10 percent, which is significantly lower than the 47 percent that was cited in a provocative 2013 study by Oxford researchers. But even 10 percent translates to about 15 million U.S. jobs.

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Tiangong-1 space lab burns up over the Pacific

Tiangong-1 destruction

An artist’s conception shows the fiery breakup of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab. (AGI Illustration)

China’s Tiangong-1 space lab is no more.

The 8.5-ton spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere at about 5:15 p.m. PT today (00:15 GMT on April 2) over the Pacific Ocean, and any pieces that survived the fiery plunge should have fallen into the central area of the South Pacific, Chinese space officials said.

The U.S. military’s Joint Force Space Component Command issued a similar report, setting the time of re-entry at about 5:16 p.m.

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Elon Musk turns Tesla’s woes into April Fools’ joke

Elon Musk "bankwupt"

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted out a picture of himself seemingly “passed out against a Tesla Model 3, surrounded by ‘Teslaquilla’ bottles, the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks.” (Elon Musk via Twitter)

Between Model S recalls and Model 3 production snags, Tesla has been having a hard time lately — but not as hard as CEO Elon Musk made them out to be today in a hilarious series of April Fools’ tweets.

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Space billionaires take the spotlight

Image: Jeff Bezos and champagne

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, sprays champagne from a bottle after a successful rocket landing in November 2015. (Credit: Blue Origin via YouTube)

Space is hard: That used to be the excuse for explaining why sending people into space would always be something only governments could do. Now it explains why even billionaires find the feat difficult.

As SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told me back in 2010, even before he was officially recognized as a billionaire, rocket science is “super-frickin’ damn hard.”

To persevere, even billionaires have to have a passion for spaceflight, most likely fostered at an early age, and an iron resolve to weather adversity. That comes through loud and clear in two newly published books, plus a TV documentary that’s premiering tonight.

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