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BlackSky will track COVID-19 impact for Air Force

BlackSky, a satellite data venture with offices in Seattle, says it’s won a U.S. Air Force contract to track the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on military interests worldwide.

The contract calls for BlackSky to monitor U.S. military bases overseas and assess the status of supply chains, using its AI-enabled Spectra geospatial data analysis platform.

Spectra can analyze satellite data as well as news feeds and social media postings to identify anomalies worth following up on with additional imagery or investigation. The data inputs include imagery from BlackSky’s own satellite constellation as well as from other sources.

BlackSky has benefited from Pentagon contracts for years, but this latest project focuses on impacts related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The approach was demonstrated for GeekWire back in May, when BlackSky executives showed how satellite images could be compared to detect an unusual rise or fall in, say, the number of cars parked in a lot outside a given installation. That could point to places where social distancing is decreasing or increasing.

Spectra can also analyze activity at airports, loading docks, maintenance facilities, fuel storage depots and other key installations to assess how supply chains might be affected by pandemic-related bottlenecks.

Such analyses can be compared with reported infection numbers coming from local governments, and integrated into computer models to predict the risk to deployed Air Force personnel and the surrounding communities.

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White House CFO becomes Pentagon’s top techie

White House chief technology officer Michael Kratsios ⁠— who enlisted Amazon, Microsoft and other key players in artificial intelligence and cloud computing to fight COVID-19 ⁠— has himself been recruited for another role as the Defense Department’s top official for technology.

President Donald Trump is designating Kratsios to serve as the acting under secretary of defense for research and engineering — in effect, the Pentagon’s CTO. Kratsios will also keep his CTO role in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The previous under secretary in charge of defense tech, Mike Griffin, stepped down last week to pursue “a private-sector opportunity” along with his deputy.

Kratsios will be in the prime position to help the Pentagon pursue opportunities in emerging technologies such as AI, automation, quantum computing, robotics and 5G wireless services — frontiers that have drawn increasing attention under Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

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SpaceX launches GPS III satellite for Space Force

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the third in a series of next-generation GPS III satellites into orbit today, marking another step forward for America’s satellite-based navigation system and the Space Force that manages it.

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X-37 space plane begins shadowy orbital mission

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a Boeing-built X-37B space plane today on a semi-secret orbital mission under the management of the recently created Space Force.

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Anduril expands to Seattle for defense tech

Anduril HQ
One of Anduril’s sentry towers stands tall at the company’s HQ in California’s Orange County. (Anduril Photo)

Irvine, Calif.-based Anduril Industries says it’s opening a new office in Seattle and will be hiring engineers to work on defense technologies.

“We are building bigger and better systems for our military as quickly as we can,” Palmer Luckey, the venture’s founder, said in a news release. “The incredible pool of talent in the Seattle area helps us accelerate that.”

Founded in 2017, Anduril develops hardware and software centered around Lattice, an AI backbone allowing for real-time information analysis across the company’s range of products. Those products include a surveillance drone called the Ghost, an interceptor drone called the Anvil, medical transport drones and a border monitoring system that relies on sensor-equipped sentry towers.

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Space Force X-37B mission to test power beaming

X-37B space plane
The Pentagon’s X-37B space plane is encapsulated within the payload fairing of its Atlas 5 launch vehicle. (Boeing Photo)

When a Boeing-built X-37B space plane is sent into orbit this month for the test program’s sixth flight, it will try out a technology that’s been more than a decade in the making: space-based solar power.

An experiment designed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory will transform solar power into a microwave beam, potentially for transmission to the ground. If such a power-beaming system could be perfected, concentrated microwave energy from space could conceivably be converted to electricity for far-flung military outposts.

Back in 2007, the Pentagon issued a report saying the U.S. military could be an “anchor tenant customer” for space-based power generation systems. That report piggybacked on a NASA study that was written a decade earlier, assessing the feasibility of wireless power transmission from space.

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Boeing rolls out first ‘Loyal Wingman’ AI drone

A Boeing-led team has presented the Royal Australian Air Force with its first “Loyal Wingman” aircraft, an AI-equipped drone that’s designed to fly in coordination with crewed military airplanes.

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Navy ‘officially’ releases widely seen UFO videos

The Defense Department has authorized the release of three unclassified Navy videos, captured in 2004 and 2015, that purport to show unidentified flying objects — or to use the Pentagon’s preferred term, unidentified aerial phenomena.

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Refactr wins USAF contract for software automation

Seattle-based Refactr has won a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract that calls for the Air Force to evaluate the use of the company’s platform to automate software management processes.

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Boeing to resume building military aircraft

P-8 Poseidon aircraft are lined up in Boeing’s mission system and checkout facility in Seattle. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says it will bring about 2,500 employees back to its facilities in the Puget Sound region and Moses Lake, Wash., starting as early as April 13, for limited operations that will focus on defense programs and 737 MAX storage and maintenance.

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