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Three future frontiers for Seattle space ventures

Image: Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos shows off the concept for Blue Origin’s launch system during a September news conference in Florida. Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is headquartered in Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin photo)

What is it about Seattle that’s led some folks to call it the “Silicon Valley of space,”and how far can space entrepreneurs go in the next 20 years? One of the panels at Friday’s Xconomy Seattle 2035 conference tackled those questions – and added a couple of shorter-term predictions as well.

Jason Andrews, the CEO of Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc., listed three reasons why Seattle is up there with Southern California, Silicon Valley, Texas and Florida’s Space Coast when it comes to commercial spaceflight.

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NASA vet Lori Garver does a Mars reality check

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Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver chats with Alan Boyle during the GeekWire Summit.

If we want to send astronauts to Mars, we better find a way to do it within 10 years. And if we want to discover a blue planet around an alien sun, there’s a good chance it could happen within five years.

That’s how former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver sized up the future of space travel and exploration at the GeekWire Summit on Thursday.

Today, Garver is general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association. But back in 2008, she helped set the space policy trajectory for the Obama administration, and then took the No. 2 spot at the space agency as Administrator Charles Bolden’s deputy. During her four years in that role, she played a key part in NASA’s shift from the space shuttle era to the commercial spaceflight era.

So what’s ahead? Find out what Garver had to say during Thursday’s fireside chat.

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Moon Express aims for 2017 launch to moon

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Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards shows off a model of the MX-1 lunar lander in 2013. (Credit: Moon Express via YouTube)

Moon Express says it has reserved three lunar lander launches from a startup called Rocket Lab starting in 2017, with an eye toward putting robots on the moon’s surface and winning the lion’s share of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.

If the mission is successful, Moon Express could become the first privately backed venture to achieve a soft lunar landing.

“This will be the space equivalent of the four-minute mile,” Moon Express’ co-founder and CEO, Bob Richards, told GeekWire on Thursday. “This is a new era we just could have dreamed about as kids.”

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Spaceflight buys SpaceX rocket for satellites

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off in April, sending cargo to the International Space Station. The payloads included Planetary Resources’ A3R satellite, which was flown under an arrangement with Seattle-based Spaceflight. (Credit: SpaceX)

In the first deal of its kind, Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s buying a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will be set aside exclusively for launching other people’s small satellites into orbit.

The first dedicated rideshare launch is due to go into sun-synchronous low Earth orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during the latter half of 2017, said Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight’s launch business. Sun-synchronous orbits are particularly popular for Earth imaging satellites, and Spaceflight anticipates buying a dedicated SpaceX Falcon 9 every year to service the market.

“By purchasing and manifesting the entire SpaceX rocket, Spaceflight is well-positioned to meet the small-sat industry’s growing demand for routine, reliable access to space,” Blake said in a statement issued Wednesday.

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NASA vet sees ‘endless’ frontier for space biz

Image: Lori Garver
During her stint as NASA’s deputy administrator, Lori Garver visited Seattle’s Museum of Flight in 2011 for a NASA Future Forum. (Credit: Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight)

Former NASA official Lori Garver’s resume is filled with highlights from politics and government service – going back to John Glenn’s presidential campaign – but when it comes to America’s space program, her heart’s with commercial ventures.

“The opportunities in commercial space are endless,” she told GeekWire. “Government opportunities are not endless.”

Garver, who helped draw up the Obama administration’s space policy and served as NASA’s deputy administrator from 2009 to 2013, will lay out the opportunities for commercial space ventures – and the limitations of government space efforts – at the GeekWire Summit on Thursday.

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Jeff Bezos will unveil Florida launch plans

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Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, inspects Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas before a test flight in April. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is heading to Cape Canaveral next month to make a “significant announcement regarding the emerging commercial launch industry” — most likely about plans for his Blue Origin space venture to build and launch rockets on Florida’s Space Coast.

The media invitation went out this week for the Sept. 15 event at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. No further details were provided about the subject of the announcement, but Blue Origin has been working for years to secure a Florida facility.

Bezos’ privately financed venture aims to send tourists and researchers to the edge of space in a vertical-launch-and-landing suborbital vehicle called New Shepard. An uncrewed prototype blasted off for its first developmental test flight in April at Blue Origin’s West Texas rocket range. The company is also working on an orbital launch system, with the aim of winning NASA contracts to ferry crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Developing that system is expected to be the focus in Florida.

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