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NOAA and Vulcan team up for ocean science

Deployment of Deep Argo float
Elizabeth Steffen, a scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and the University of Hawaii, deploys a Deep Argo float off Hawaii in 2018. The float was tested in preparation for its use in a data-tracking array in the western South Atlantic. NOAA and Vulcan Inc. have been collaborating in the project. (University of Hawaii Photo / Blake Watkins)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it has forged a new agreement with Vulcan Inc., the Seattle-based holding company created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, to share data on ocean science and exploration.

The memorandum of understanding builds on an existing relationship between NOAA and Vulcan.

“The future of ocean science and exploration is partnerships,” retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator, said today in a news release. “NOAA is forging new collaborations, such as the one with Vulcan, to accelerate our mission to map, explore and characterize the ocean, which will help NOAA support the conservation, management and balanced use of America’s ocean and understand its key role in regulating our weather and climate.”

Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said the agreement furthers his company’s mission, which includes developing new technologies for conservation and addressing environmental challenges relating to the world’s oceans. Vulcan’s projects include the Allen Coral Atlas, which uses satellite imagery and other data sets to monitor the health of coral reefs; and Skylight, which provides real-time intelligence about suspicious maritime activity.

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Stratolaunch says it’s under new ownership

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s plane soars during its first test flight in April. (Scaled Composites Photo)

Stratolaunch, the company that was founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen in 2011 to build a flying launch pad for rockets, says it’s under new ownership.

The transition serves as the latest sign that Jody Allen — Paul Allen’s sister, who took control of his Vulcan Inc. holding company as the trustee and executor of his estate — is paring back and refocusing his many enterprises. Earlier this week, word spread that Vulcan was trimming a significant number of jobs.

Stratolaunch reported the ownership handover today on Twitter and its website, without saying who the new owner is. However, information gleaned from the grapevine at Mojave Air and Space Port, where Stratolaunch’s flight operations are based, suggests that private investors are playing a role.

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Vulcan trims jobs, a year after Paul Allen’s death

Jody and Paul Allen
Jody Allen has taken the helm at Vulcan Inc. in the wake of the death of her brother, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. (Allen Institute / Kevin Cruff Photos)

Vulcan Inc., the holding company created by the late Seattle billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is in the midst of a round of job reductions, sources have told GeekWire.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cuts publicly. Several of them referred GeekWire to Vulcan’s public relations staff for comment.

“Vulcan continually assesses its size and structure to ensure effectiveness and impact,” the company said in a statement emailed to GeekWire. “We do not comment on personnel decisions. Be assured that Vulcan remains committed to tackling the world’s toughest problems.”

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Elephant-watching EarthRanger team widens focus

An elephant herd makes its way through the Serengeti in East Africa. (Vulcan / EarthRanger Photo)

Years ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen backed a project called the Great Elephant Census that highlighted a crisis for Africa’s elephant population, brought about primarily by illegal poaching.

Allen passed away last year at the age of 65, but the software-based successor to that project, known as EarthRanger, lives on. What’s more, EarthRanger has adapted to dramatic changes — not only in the challenges facing Africa’s endangered elephants, but also in the way old and new technologies are being used to address those challenges.

“I think the most important thing that’s happened … is the maturity of those of us who are technologists in this space, in what we’re now truly calling conservation technology,” said Ted Schmitt, principal business development manager for conservation technology at Vulcan Inc., Allen’s holding company.

Schmitt and his partners in the EarthRanger effort highlighted technology’s role in saving the elephants today during a news briefing at Vulcan’s Seattle headquarters. Along the way, they delivered a piece of good news from the Mara Elephant Project, which works with Kenyan authorities to protect elephants in the greater Mara ecosystem, part of East Africa’s Serengeti plains.

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Shipwreck-hunting project wins TV spotlight

Vulcan's Rob Kraft
Rob Kraft is Vulcan’s director of subsea operations. (Image © 2019 Navigea Ltd. / R/V Petrel)

The voyages of the R/V Petrel, funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, are the focus of a National Geographic documentary premiering on Aug. 12 – and as a prelude to the show, the leader of the Petrel team is talking about what it takes to find historic shipwrecks in the Pacific.

“Our missions have led to discovery of over 30 historically significant shipwrecks, diverse ecosystems and encounters with rare marine species,” Rob Kraft, Vulcan’s director of subsea operations, says in an online Q&A. “The environment we operate in brings inherent dangers, challenges and risk that most people will never experience.”

That all sounds like a natural fit for the next episode of “Drain the Oceans,” a National Geographic series that delves into what we’d find beneath the waves if the world’s oceans could magically disappear.

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Sources: Stratolaunch space venture is up for sale

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s plane soars during its first test flight in April. (Scaled Composites Photo)

Sources say Vulcan Inc. is looking to sell Stratolaunch, the space venture founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, and one report says the asking price could be as high as $400 million.

That price tag was reported today by CNBC, quoting unnamed sources who were said to be familiar with the discussions.

Vulcan had nothing new to say about Stratolaunch’s fate, which has been the subject of rumors for months. “Stratolaunch remains operational,” Alex Moji, manager of corporate communications at Vulcan, told GeekWire in an emailed statement. “We will provide an update when there is news to share.”

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Paul Allen’s research vessel finds the USS Hornet

Hornet gun
This 5-inch gun is part of the wreckage from the USS Hornet. (Photo courtesy of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

Chalk up another historic shipwreck discovery for the Petrel, the research vessel funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen: This time it’s the USS Hornet, the World War II aircraft carrier that was sunk by Japanese forces in 1942.

The Hornet is best-known as the launching point for the Doolittle Raid, the first airborne attack on the Japanese home islands after Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war. Led by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the raid in April 1942 provided a boost to American morale and put Japan on alert about our covert air capabilities.

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Vulcan builds drones to protect African wildlife

EarthRanger monitoring
The EarthRanger software platform pulls together data from drones, animal collars, vehicle tracking and other sources. (Vulcan Photo)

One of the legacies left behind by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who passed away last October, is a drone development program aimed at providing aerial intelligence for Africa’s anti-poaching efforts.

The program takes a share of the spotlight in a behind-the-scenes report about Allen’s philanthropic operation at Vulcan Inc., published last week by Inside Philanthropy.

Vulcan has been working for years on a surveillance program for elephants and other African species, including the use of autonomous aerial vehicles to patrol protected areas. Allen’s team sought a regulatory exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration three years ago to test drones such as the DJI Phantom 3and the UASUSA Tempest for conservation purposes.

The in-house drone program has advanced significantly since then. Inside Philanthropy reports Vulcan is adapting off-the-shelf equipment to create affordable drones that are optimized for anti-poaching surveillance.

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Stratolaunch space venture scales back sharply

Stratolaunch plane
A photo taken during a high-speed taxi test shows the nose gear on Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage airplane rising from the runway at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. (Stratolaunch Photo)

Stratolaunch, the Seattle-based space venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen seven years ago, says it’s discontinuing its programs to develop a new type of rocket engine and a new line of rockets.

The company said it would continue work on the world’s largest airplane, which is designed to serve as a flying launch pad for rockets. Last week, Stratolaunch put its 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane through a high-speed taxi test that many saw as a precursor for its first test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port.

“Stratolaunch is ending the development of their family of launch vehicles and rocket engine. We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We are immensely proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to first flight in 2019.”

The dramatic turn of events comes three months after Allen’s death.

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Paul Allen’s team finds USS Helena shipwreck

Helena remains
The “50” painted on the hull helped identify the shipwreck as the USS Helena, which was sunk during World War II. The inset image shows the ship’s sonar signature. (Paul G. Allen Photo)

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s seagoing sleuths are reporting one more find in their quest to locate sunken military vessels from World War II.

This time it’s the USS Helena, a St. Louis-class light cruiser that was hit during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 but went on to meritorious service in three Pacific naval battles. Its service was so meritorious that the Helena became the first U.S. ship to receive a Navy Unit Commendation.

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