Bigelow and ULA plan outpost in lunar orbit

Lunar depot

An artist’s conception shows a Bigelow B330 expandable module in lunar orbit, with United Launch Alliance’s ACES propulsion stage attached. (Bigelow Aerospace Illustration)

NASA is shifting its attention to the moon, and so are Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance: Today the two companies said they’d work together to put an outpost in orbit around the moon by as soon as 2022.

The plan builds on the companies’ earlier partnership to send one of Bigelow’s B330 expandable space modules into Earth orbit.

Now the idea is to launch a B330 into low Earth orbit on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle, get it outfitted as a platform for lunar-orbit operations and send up 70 tons of propellant on two Vulcans. Then ULA’s Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage would fuel up, attach itself to the B330 and push onward to the moon.

Billionaire Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said the lunar station could play a role in NASA’s plans to establish a moon base and move on to Mars.

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AI2’s search engine gets a biomedical boost

AI2's Marie Hagman

AI2’s Marie Hagman drew upon person experience during her work on Semantic Scholar. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

As senior product manager at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, Hagman played a key role in figuring out how to incorporate documents from PubMed and other biomedical databases in the academic search tool.

She drew upon her personal experience from 15 years earlier, when she was a software engineer suffering from two stomach ulcers and gastritis. Her specialist gave her a prescription to deal with the issue, but told her she’d probably have to keep taking pills for the rest of her life.

“I was thinking, ‘Hmm … I’m young and healthy. That just doesn’t sound right,’” Hagman recalled. “They still couldn’t tell me why I had this problem. So I decided to be my own advocate.”

She searched through the medical literature on stomach ulcers, and found a study in which researchers pointed to a type of bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori as a potential cause. Armed with that knowledge, she persuaded another specialist to put her on a two-week round of antibiotics.

“I’ve been cured ever since,” Hagman told GeekWire.

Now her objective is to help researchers, and even regular folks, find the most relevant studies that address the medical questions they want to answer.

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Airbus-Bombardier deal complicates jet dispute

Airbus and Bombardier jets

An artist’s conception puts Bombardier’s CS100 jet alongside Airbus’ A320neo. (Airbus Illustration)

Airbus added a twist to a U.S.-Canada trade dispute by announcing a plan to partner up with Bombardier, the Boeing Co.’s Canadian rival.

The plan calls for Airbus to take on a majority stake in Bombardier’s C Series line of passenger jets, which is due to be hit by U.S. tariffs of nearly 300 percent.

Europe-based Airbus will own 50.01 percent of the C Series limited partnership, leaving Bombardier with about 31 percent and Investissement Quebec with 19 percent. The partnership’s headquarters and primary assembly line will remain in Quebec, but Airbus said it would expand C Series production to its manufacturing site in Alabama.

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Systima’s pyrovalves debut on spy satellite launch

NROL-52 launch

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket lofts a payload into space for the NROL-52 mission. (ULA Photo)

After more than a week of delays, the National Reconnaissance Office was glad to see its latest spy satellite go into orbit on Oct. 15 — and so was Kirkland, Wash.-based Systima Technologies.

When a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched the NROL-52 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Systima’s pyrotechnic valves played a mission-critical role as part of the reaction control system on the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

“This marks the first flight of Systima’s pyrovalves, RCS hardware, as well as the first time Systima has supported an Atlas 5 launch,” Taylor Banks, Systima’s controller and contracts manager, told GeekWire in an email. “Systima is thrilled to be part of the ULA team and would like to congratulate all that supported the successful mission.”

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Russia makes late cargo delivery to space station

Almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies were delivered to the International Space Station today aboard a robotic Russian Progress cargo spaceship. The spacecraft was launched on Saturday from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, two days after an initial countdown was scrubbed.

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Scientists spot neutron stars as they clash and flash

Neutron star merger

An artist’s conception shows two neutron stars merging, and sending out radiation as well as gravitational waves in the process. (NSF / LIGO / Sonoma State University Illustration / A. Simonnet)

For the first time ever, researchers have recorded the cataclysmic smash-up of two neutron stars by virtue of their gravitational waves as well as their electromagnetic emissions, producing data that could unlock cosmic secrets galore.

The findings from the Aug. 17 event, detailed today in more than a dozen research papers, represent the best example of “multi-messenger astronomy.”

More than 70 observatories and thousands of scientists contributed to the findings, headed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO.

“We did it again — but this time, we all did it,” David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said at today’s news briefing announcing the results.

By combining the gravitational-wave readings with observations in wavelengths ranging from radio signals to gamma rays, scientists are gaining new insights into how neutron stars evolve, and how gold and other heavy elements are forged in their furnaces.

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SpaceX wants to test satellite antennas near Seattle

Image: SpaceX Redmond

SpaceX’s Redmond office is the center for its satellite operations. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to begin ground testing of a satellite communications system between its facilities in Redmond, Wash., as early as this month.

Redmond is the base of operations for SpaceX’s multibillion-dollar effort to create a 4,425-satellite constellation in low Earth orbit for global broadband internet access and remote imaging. This week’s filing suggests that the company is getting closer to deploying its first prototype satellites.

The filing first came to light on Reddit’s SpaceX discussion forum.

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