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Greg Bear, 1951-2022: Author influenced the sci-fi world

Greg Bear, a Seattle science-fiction author who played a leading role in defining how global audiences saw future final frontiers, died Nov. 19 of complications following heart surgery.

Astrid Bear, the 71-year-old writer’s wife, said he died peacefully in a Seattle-area hospital. “He was not alone,” she wrote in a message to friends.

Born in San Diego, Greg Bear had his first short story published in 1967 and began writing full time in 1975. He wrote more than 50 books — including award-winning series, a Star Trek novel and a Star Wars novel, plus a trilogy set in the Halo video-game universe. His final novel, “The Unfinished Land,” was published last year.

Bear’s influence on the science-fiction community extended far beyond the written page: He was one of the founders of San Diego’s Comic-Con International and served a two-year stint as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, now known as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association. Bear was a guest on podcasts and talk shows including “The Daily Show,” and once appeared as himself in the “Funky Winkerbean” comic strip.

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GeekWire

Defense Innovation Unit explores Northwest tech frontier

If space is the next frontier for national security, then the Pacific Northwest may well be the new frontier for that next frontier.

That’s the word from Steve “Bucky” Butow, an Air Force brigadier general who is now director of the space portfolio at the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit.

“I really think that the best news story out of the Pacific Northwest is just how impactful this region is in the new space economy,” Butow told me. “It’s not widely recognized, but I think that’s going to be changing here in the near future.”

Butow and his teammates at the DIU got an on-the-ground look at Seattle’s tech frontier this week during a series of meetings and site visits in the region. Among the tour’s highlights were meetings with executives at Amazon and Microsoft (which just won contracts to help build the Pentagon’s Hybrid Space Architecture), a roadshow workshop with entrepreneurs and venture capital investors, and a stopover at SpaceX’s satellite facility in Redmond, Wash.

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GeekWire

Gravitics raises $20M to build space station modules

A space venture called Gravitics has emerged from stealth with $20 million in seed funding and a plan to build space station modules at a 42,000-square-foot facility north of Seattle, in Marysville, Wash.

As NASA makes plans to phase out the International Space Station in the 2031 time frame, Gravitics and its backers are betting on a rush to launch commercial outposts to low Earth orbit. The operators of those outposts just might need subcontractors to provide the hardware.

Gravitics’ main offering will be a super-sized module known as StarMax. The general-purpose module would provide up to 400 cubic meters (14,000 cubic feet) of usable habitable volume — which represents nearly half of the pressurized volume of the International Space Station.

Multiple StarMax modules could be linked together in orbit like Lego blocks. “We are focused on helping commercial space station operators be successful,” Colin Doughan, Gravitics’ co-founder and CEO, said today in a news release. “StarMax gives our customers scalable volume to accommodate a space station’s growing user base over time. StarMax is the modular building block for a human-centric cislunar economy.”

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Universe Today

Artemis 1 snaps pictures of Earth as it heads for the moon

As it heads for the moon, NASA’s Orion space capsule is sending back snapshots of Earth that evoke the “blue marble” pictures taken by Apollo astronauts five decades earlier.

This time around, the photographer is basically a robot, built into the camera system for the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission. The round-the-moon odyssey got off to a spectacular start early today with the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System, and over the next 25 days it’s due to blaze a trail for future crewed trips to the lunar surface.

Hours after liftoff, a camera mounted on one of Orion’s four solar arrays pivoted around to capture a view of the spacecraft’s European-built service module in the foreground — with our half-shadowed planet set against the black background of space.

“Orion looking back at Earth as it travels toward the moon, 57,000 miles away from the place we call home,” NASA’s Sandra Jones intoned as the imagery came down.

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GeekWire

Microsoft and Lockheed Martin team up on defense tech

Lockheed Martin and Microsoft say they’re deepening their strategic relationship to help power the next generation of computing and communications technology for the Department of Defense.

Cloud-based services play a key role in that relationship. Under the terms of an agreement announced this week, Lockheed Martin will become the first non-governmental entity to operate independently inside the Microsoft Azure Government Secret cloud.

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GeekWire

NASA’s mega rocket lifts off to begin moon mission

NASA succeeded spectacularly in the third attempt to launch its Space Launch System rocket on an uncrewed round-the-moon mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for future Artemis lunar landings.

Artemis 1’s liftoff from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida came at 1:47 a.m. ET Nov. 16 (10:47 p.m. PT Nov. 15).

The 322-foot-tall, 5.5 million-pound SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built for NASA, surpassing the power of the Apollo era’s Saturn V rocket. The SLS evoked the legacy of Saturn V as it rose on a bright pillar of flame and disappeared into the night sky.

“You guys have worked hard as a team for this moment. This is your moment,” launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson told her teammates in the control room after liftoff. “You have earned your place in history. You are part of a first. It doesn’t come along very often — once in a career, maybe. But we are part of something very special: the first launch of Artemis. The first step in returning our country to the moon, and on to Mars.”

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GeekWire

Axiom Space joins effort to put the cloud in orbit

When Houston-based Axiom Space starts putting together its commercial space station, some out-of-this-world infrastructure for cloud computing could be close behind — and Microsoft could help make it happen.

That vision of “infrastructure as a service” in low Earth orbit, or LEO, is what’s behind a strategic collaboration agreement involving Axiom Space, Microsoft Azure Space and a Virginia-based venture called LEOcloud. The deal sets the stage for developing and delivering space-based cloud services from commercial assets.

“It’s been an amazing ride to bring all this to this level of reality,” LEOcloud founder Dennis Gatens told me.

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Cosmic Space

Capstone probe settles into a strange lunar orbit

Four and a half months after it was launched, a nanosatellite called Capstone has begun circling the moon — in a peculiar type of orbit where no probe has gone before.

The complex path, known as a near-rectilinear halo orbit, is the same type of trajectory that NASA hopes to use for crewed missions to the moon starting in the mid-2020s. Capstone is an acronym, standing for “Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment.” But it’s also a metaphorical capstone for the Artemis moon program’s mission architecture.

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GeekWire

Air Force lab agrees to support hypersonic test flight

Stratolaunch, the company created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen more than a decade ago, says it’s won a contract from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to support next year’s flight test of Stratolaunch’s first Talon-A hypersonic vehicle.

The rocket-powered Talon-A is designed to be deployed from Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage Roc aircraft, which is the world’s largest airplane. Last month, Stratolaunch flew a stand-in for the hypersonic test vehicle during Roc’s eighth flight test, and it’s planning to execute Roc’s first air launch with TA-1 in the first quarter of 2023.

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GeekWire

Software tool estimates what quantum computing can do

What’ll it take to solve the quantum computing challenges of the future? Microsoft has an app for that — and now developers around the world can have it, too.

The app is called the Azure Quantum Resource Estimator. It’s a software tool that was originally developed for Microsoft’s internal use. The tool is already guiding the company’s effort to develop full-stack quantum computers, and now it can also help outside developers figure out how much computing power they’ll need to execute a given quantum algorithm in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s a key question, because the guidelines used for classical computing don’t necessarily apply to the quantum frontier. Unlike classical computers, quantum computers take advantage of an environment where a quantum bit — better known as a qubit — can represent a one and a zero at the same time.

Quantum approaches can be far more efficient than the standard binary computing approach for solving particular kinds of problems: optimizing a network, for example, or figuring out how to design a synthetic molecule to perform a specific chemical task.

“We’ll be able to study, for example, how to help remove harmful gases from the atmosphere,” Krysta Svore, distinguished engineer and vice president of quantum software at Microsoft, told me.

“Ten years ago, we thought it would take a billion years’ run time on a quantum computer,” Svore said. “That’s a really long time to wait. But over the last decade, we’ve been able to bring that down to a month’s run time on a quantum computer … using exactly the resource estimator, this tool, to understand the cost of the algorithm. And we’ve been able to redesign our hardware accordingly as well.”