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Orbite plans to build a space camp for grown-ups

If the 2010s were the decade when small satellites revolutionized the space industry, the 2020s will be when commercial space odysseys finally go mainstream.

At least that’s the gamble that Jason Andrews, the co-founder and former CEO of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, is taking with French-born tech entrepreneur Nicolas Gaume.

Today Andrews and Gaume are taking the wraps off Orbite, a Seattle startup that will focus on getting would-be spacefliers ready for those future odysseys. “You’re going to go to a space camp for the next generation,” Gaume said.

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Passenger air traffic plunges at Sea-Tac

Restaurants at Sea-Tac International Airport are continuing to serve passengers on a grab-to-go or order-to-go basis. (Port of Seattle Photo)

The number of airline passengers taking off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has fallen by two-thirds, due to the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on air travel, officials at the Port of Seattle said today.

Sea-Tac typically sees 50,000 people going through its checkpoints daily at this time of year, but that number has fallen to around 16,000 to 17,000, Lance Lyttle, the airport’s managing director, told reporters at a news briefing.

“That does not include the connecting passengers that would be coming through,” he said. “Normally we would probably have over 140,000, 150,000 passengers in the airport as a whole.”

While passenger traffic has dropped sharply, domestic cargo traffic is at higher than usual levels due to increased online ordering, Lyttle said.

A Port of Seattle blog posting lists 10 shops and restaurants that have temporarily closed, primarily due to restrictions on food service. About two dozen other restaurants remain open on a grab-and-go or order-to-go basis.

Lyttle said Sea-Tac will be joining with other airports around the country in seeking a $10 billion aid package from the federal government to help them cope with the outbreak’s financial effects. That would be in addition to an aid package sought by the nation’s airlines, which is said to amount to $50 billion.

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Trump mulls travel bans for U.S. virus hotspots

President Donald Trump discusses the coronavirus outbreak at a White House press briefing. (Global News via YouTube)

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, restrictions on European travel will be extended to Britain and Ireland on March 16 – and President Donald Trump said today that limits on travel from domestic hotspots such as the Seattle area were under consideration as well.

During a White House briefing on the administration’s response to the outbreak, Trump was asked whether he was thinking about domestic travel limitations.

“Specifically from certain areas, yes, we are,” the president replied. “We’re working with the states, and we are considering other restrictions.”

Seattle and the surrounding area in King County have been among the hottest hotspots in the early phases of the U.S. epidemic. As of March 13, King County accounted for about a quarter of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases, and nearly two-thirds of deaths.

Tara Lee, communications director for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said the topic of domestic travel restrictions hasn’t come up.

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How much do travel bans help in a pandemic?

Drive-through testing
UW Medicine nurses get set to check fellow employees at a coronavirus testing station in a parking garage at University of Washington Medical Center Northwest. (UW Medicine Photo / Katie Chen)

A fresh analysis of the numbers behind the coronavirus outbreak suggests that it’s reached the point where more intensive testing and social distancing will help far more than bans on travel.

Travel restrictions have come to the fore over the past day or so: During an address on March 11, President Donald Trump announced that he was banning most travel by non-U.S. residents coming from 26 European countries, including Germany and France but not including Britain and Ireland.

Today, Trump said he’d also consider banning domestic travel to places like Washington state and California “if an area gets too hot.”

Such strategies led Trevor Bedford, an epidemiologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, to run the numbers for likely infections from abroad as well as from community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

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OceanGate puts off this year’s Titanic dives

OceanGate Titan sub
OceanGate’s Titan submersible is designed to withstand Titanic pressures. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate has had to postpone this summer’s deep-sea dives to the Titanic shipwreck, just as they were about to start, due to complications relating to the expedition’s intended mothership.

The complications have to do with the status of the Norwegian-flagged MV Havila Harmony under Canadian maritime law, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush told GeekWire today. The ship’s operators at Reach Subsea feared that the ship might be impounded if the expedition went forward as planned, Rush said.

Rush said that the issue cropped up on June 7, and that the resulting complications couldn’t be resolved in time to do this year’s Titanic Survey Expedition. The first departure from St. John’s, Newfoundland, had been scheduled for June 28.

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Paine Field celebrates first passenger flights

Water cannon arch
Fire trucks shoot out sprays of water to form a celebratory arch for the first Alaska Airlines jet to take off on a scheduled passenger flight from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

EVERETT, Wash. — Today marks a “first” for the new passenger airline terminal at Everett’s Paine Field, thanks to Alaska Airlines’ kickoff of daily service. But it’s a “second” for Thomas Paine, the grandnephew of the airport’s namesake.

Paine and another grandnephew, Nicholas Moe, were here in 1955 when the airport dedicated a bust of their granduncle, airmail pilot Topliff Olin Paine, who grew up in Everett. The bust has since disappeared, but to mark today’s terminal opening, dignitaries dedicated a bronze statue of the elder Paine, standing right on the curb where passengers walk in to catch their flights.

Thomas Paine and Moe pulled the veil off the statue, rekindling 64-year-old memories in the process. “Things have changed a lot since then,” Paine said.

When it’s fully up and running, the 30,000-square-foot terminal will offer 24 daily nonstop flights to eight destinations in the western U.S., providing a quicker alternative to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for northern Puget Sound communities.

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Alaska Airlines adds VR to in-flight entertainment

Alaska Airlines VR
Alaska Airlines offers SkyLights’ Allosky virtual reality headset for in-flight entertainment. (Alaska Airlines Photo)

Alaska Airlines is adding virtual reality to its in-flight entertainment menu in an experiment aimed at recreating a movie theater experience at 35,000 feet.

The Seattle-based airline has partnered with SkyLights, a French-American immersive-media company, to offer VR headsets and noise-canceling headphones to first-class customers on 10 flights that go between Seattle and Boston, and Boston and San Diego.

The users can watch 2-D and 3-D films such as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” or “Ready Player One.” They can also click into 360-degree, head-tracking virtual-reality videos.

SkyLights’ lightweight Allosky VR headsets have been adopted for tryouts on other airlines, ranging from Joon and XL Airways to Lufthansa, but Alaska Airlines’ experiment ranks among the most ambitious yet.

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Alaska Airlines to serve 8 cities from Everett

Paine Field passenger terminal
An artist’s conception shows the passenger terminal that’s planned for Everett’s Paine Field. (Propeller Airports Illustration)

Alaska Airlines says it’ll offer daily nonstop flights to eight cities including San Jose, Calif., from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., with the aim of helping travelers circumvent traffic jams on the road in Seattle and in the terminals at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

In addition to San Jose, the destinations served will include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County in California, Phoenix, Portland in Oregon, San Diego and San Francisco.

Seattle-based Alaska estimates that the flights from Everett will provide a closer-to-home travel option for more than a million people living in the north Puget Sound region. The routes to Silicon Valley and San Francisco could be particularly attractive for techies.

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Titanic sub’s launch pad is ready for liftoff

OceanGate platform
Workers install an air tank on the mobile subsea platform that OceanGate will use to deploy its Cyclops 2 submersible. (OceanGate Photo)

Construction work is complete for an essential part of the dive system that’s due to carry scientists and amateur adventurers down to the world-famous Titanic shipwreck this summer.

The nearly 11-ton mobile subsea platform will be used to launch a five-person submersible into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and bring it back to the surface at the end of each dive.

Everest Marine. a division of Burlington, Wash.-based Penn Cove Shellfish, spent five months on the custom fabrication of the 38-foot-long aluminum platform. It’s designed to be used with the Cyclops 2 deep-sea submersible that’s been assembled by OceanGate at its headquarters in Everett, Wash.

The submersible and its platform are due to go through a round of shallow-water dives in Puget Sound this month, followed by deep-water testing in the Bahamas in April.

Those tests will lead up to the inaugural Titanic campaign in June, which will make a series of dives to the ship’s remains, 13,000 feet beneath the surface of the North Atlantic.

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OceanGate wins more funding for Titanic sub

OceanGate team with Cyclops 2
OceanGate’s workers get into the holiday spirit as they work on the Cyclops 2 submersible at the company’s Everett headquarters. (OceanGate Photo via Twitter)

OceanGate is in the midst of a $5.1 million investment round aimed at pushing the Everett, Wash.-based company closer to a Titanic undersea adventure.

The round was reported today in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Joel Perry, OceanGate’s director of media and marketing, told GeekWire that the privately held company’s existing investors have already filled out much of the funding. He declined to identify the investors.

The money will give OceanGate “a little more runway” as it finishes work on its Cyclops 2 deep-sea submersible, Perry said.

OceanGate’s team has nearly completed construction of Cyclops 2 at the company’s Everett marina workshop. Perry said the pressure vessel underwent testing this week to make sure there were no leaks.

“It’s a perfect seal,” Perry said.

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