Posts with «industrials» label

NASA will give SpaceX more crewed flights to cover for Boeing's delays

Boeing's continued Starliner delays have prompted NASA to hedge its bets. SpaceNewsreports NASA plans to order as many as three more crewed SpaceX flights to ensure "uninterrupted" US trips to the International Space Station as soon as 2023. The company's Crew Dragon is the only system that meets partner country and safety requirements in the necessary time window, the agency said. In other words, NASA doesn't want to be without a ride to the ISS if Boeing isn't ready.

NASA was happy Boeing was focusing on "safety over schedule" for Starliner after it delayed a second orbital test to investigate an oxidizer isolation valve problem. However, that still left the administration in a bind. It was "critical" to obtain additional flights now to maintain a US foothold on the ISS, associate administrator Kathy Lueders said.

This doesn't put Boeing's capsule in danger. NASA still wanted two different crew systems to guarantee redundancy, and it planned to alternate between Crew Dragon and Starliner once both were available. Officials also stressed that the deal didn't prevent NASA from changing the contract to obtain additional flights.

Even so, the intended purchase is a blow for Boeing. Starliner plays a key role in Boeing's commercial spaceflight program and, unofficially, serves as proof the transportation veteran can compete with a fast-moving 'newcomer' like SpaceX in the private space race. The Crew Dragon backup plans reflect some lost confidence in Boeing, even if the move is only temporary.

NASA backs Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef space station

Following October's news that Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin spaceflight company planned to build its own commercial space station in low Earth orbit, NASA announced on Thursday it has selected the program for funding through a Space Act Agreement to further develop the the station's design. The funding is part of NASA’s Commercial LEO Development program, which aims to "develop a robust commercial space economy in LEO, including supporting the development of commercially owned and operated LEO destinations." 

Blue Origin

“We are pleased that NASA supports the development of Orbital Reef, a revolutionary approach to making Earth orbit more accessible to diverse customers and industries,” Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin, said in a prepared statement. The station would be an orbital "mixed-use space business park" that would offer any number of turnkey services as well as reduced operational costs for burgeoning low-g industries "in addition to meeting the ISS partners’ needs." 

Blue Origin is partnering with Sierra Space in this project with the former focusing on the architecture and infrastructure of the station — everything from its design and construction to managing lift logistics using the New Glenn heavy launch system — while the latter is tasked with developing the station's LIFE (Large Integrated Flexible Environment). Boeing is also helping out, designing the operations-maintenance-science module and leveraging its Starliner crew capsule. Genesis Engineering Solutions is involved as well. It's working on a single person spacecraft that tourists and employees alike will be able to putter around in. 

Thursday's announcement, ironically, comes a the end of a year in which Blue Origin protested NASA's “fundamentally unfair” decision to award a lunar lander contract to rival SpaceX to the GAO, which quickly dismissed the claims. Blue Origin then sued NASA — literally, sued NASA —"in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA's Human Landing System," a spokesperson for Blue Origin told Engadget in August. The company subsequently lost that suit as well but, hopefully, Thursday's deal will serve as a balm for Bezos' critically wounded ego.

Northrop Grumman

The Orbital Reef team hopes to have its first modules in orbit by the end of the decade with further expansions happening throughout the 2030s. But Orbital Reef isn't the only egg in NASA's commercial LEO basket. Northrop Grumman announced on Thursday that it too had signed a Space Act Agreement — to the tune of $126 million — to design a "free flying" space station that will be a permanent presence in LEO for at least 15 years.

"Our station will enable a smooth transition from International Space Station-based LEO missions to sustainable commercial-based missions where NASA does not bear all the costs, but serves as one of many customers,” Steve Krein, Northrop Grumman's vice president of civil and commercial space, said in a statement. The company plans to leverage its existing Cygnus spacecraft, its Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) and its Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), as the basis for the station's design. 

As part of its agreement with NASA, these development proposals will have to account for every aspect of the station's "commercialization, operations and capabilities," according to Northrop Grumman, "as well as space station requirements, mission success criteria, risk assessments, key technical and market analysis requirements, and preliminary design activities."

Satellite space debris forces ISS astronauts to seek shelter aboard docked capsules

On Monday, astronauts on the International Space Station had to seek safety aboard their transport craft when the station passed uncomfortably close to a field of orbital debris. According to the Associated Press, US Space Command started tracking the space junk in the early hours of the morning. The situation saw the station pass the debris field every 90 minutes, forcing those on board to close and reopen several compartments multiple times throughout the day. The four American, one German and two Russian astronauts aboard the ISS will need to stay on alert for the next several days.

"Thanks for a crazy but well-coordinated day, we really appreciated all the situational awareness you gave us," US astronaut Mark Vande Hei told NASA mission control before he and the other crew members aboard went to bed at 12PM EST. "It was certainly a great way to bond as a crew, starting off our very first workday in space." Four of the astronauts arrived at the station late last week. 

The U.S. State Department confirms and condemns that Russia conducted an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) test in low Earth orbit.

Full statement:

— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) November 15, 2021

Neither NASA nor the US government has said what created the debris field that put the ISS in danger. However, later in the day, the US State Department condemned a Russian missile test that destroyed one of the country’s own satellites and created more than 1,500 trackable pieces of orbital debris. “The test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”

The State Department said the US would work with its allies to respond to Russia’s act. Per Reuters, the country has yet to comment on the incident.   

Along with their partners, NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency frequently move the International Space Station to avoid incoming space junk. They did that last week when the station was threatened by fragments of a Chinese satellite that was destroyed in a 2007 missile test.

The best gadgets for your pets

Whether they be cat or dog lovers, Engadget’s editors have our fair share of fur babies. With all the comfort and joy our pets have given us, especially over the past year, we think they deserve gifts just as much as any other member of the family this holiday season. Here’s a list of things we’ve given our own little furry friends that we think your pet will enjoy too.

BarkBox monthly subscription


You can buy your pet the cutest, squeakiest toys but you know they won't last forever: your dog will tear even the sturdiest plush to shreds eventually. You can at least stay ahead of them with a Barkbox subscription, which will deliver a themed box full of funny toys and delicious treats once a month. The themes will make you laugh, while your dog will love having a package that's all for them. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor

Shop BarkBox

Cat Person cat food subscription

Cat Person

Prior to last year, my husband and I usually bought cat food at the grocery during our weekly shop. Then, sometime during lockdown, all of the cat food was suddenly sold out. As I was browsing online to see if we could get some delivered, I came across CatPerson, a subscription service for cat food. On top of that, the food looked high-quality, with natural ingredients and 50 percent more protein than the industry standard. I decided to try it out, and my household hasn't looked back. The cat absolutely loves it and we like that there are 16 different flavors so she’ll never get bored. Bonus: the delivery box easily converts into either a toy or a kitty chalet for the cat to play around in. — Nicole Lee, Senior Editor

Shop CatPerson subscriptions

Catastrophic Creations "The Lift" Cat Hammock

Catastrophic Creations

When I first saw this, $80 felt like a big splurge for a piece of cat furniture I wasn’t even sure if my kitty would like. But after more than a year with Catastrophic Creations’ “The Lift,'' I'm so glad I took the chance. The wall-mounted hammock is exceptionally well made, and comes in a variety of colors and finishes so you can match your existing decor. Most importantly: my cat absolutely loves having her own space, a few feet above the couch, where she can nap in the sun and silently judge us from above. The company makes a range of other wall-mounted cat furniture as well, so you can set up an entire elevated playground, complete with mini Indiana Jones-style rope bridges, scratching posts and feeding stations. But even if you’re not ready for all that (or just lack the wall space), the cat hammock is the best of both: a comfy nap spot and a new place to run to when the zoomies hit. — Karissa Bell, Senior Editor

Buy The Lift at Amazon - $58

Catit Senses 2.0 Flower Fountain

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Catit

Cats generally prefer drinking moving water; if you ever see your kitty splashing her water around in the bowl, that’s why. It’s also one of the reasons many people suggest getting a water fountain for your cat. We ended up getting the Catit Senses 2.0 Flower Fountain for our little one. It has three different water flow settings and a triple-action filter that helps ensure the water is as fresh as possible. On top of that, we love that it looks like a little plastic flower pot. — N.L.

Buy flower fountain at Amazon - $30

K&H heated cat bed

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / K&H

In my house, we’ve nicknamed this bed “the hottub,” because our resident cat loves to sit in here for hours, especially in the winter months. The K&H bed is simple, yet effective. There’s a built-in heating pad stashed in the base of the bed that keeps it at a consistently cozy (and safe) temperature. The cover is also removable, so it’s easy to wash up, which is a good thing when your cat spends hours a day in there. — K.B.

Buy heated cat bed at Amazon - $45

Pet Cube Bites 2 Lite treat slinger

Pet Cube

From the affordable Cam to the more luxurious Bites 2, PetCube offers several different pet camera models, but we like the Bites 2 Lite for its balance of price and features. You get a treat dispenser with a 1080p camera that features automatic night vision and 8x digital zoom. It also comes with support for two-way audio. The Bites 2 Lite doesn’t come with Alexa built-in, but there’s a good chance you don’t need Amazon’s voice assistant on a device you use to check on your pet and toss them treats when they’ve been a good boy or girl. — Igor Bonafacic, Associate Editor

Buy Bites 2 Lite treat dispenser at Amazon - $149

PetKit Dog Water Bottle


If your doge is anything like mine, they’re mostly floof and easily get thirsty on warm, sunny days. After trying several different dog-specific water bottles, I found the travel bottle from PetKit ideal for helping my canine companion stay hydrated. It’s only $13 but can hold up to 14 ounces of liquid and features a clever design that limits spillage. A silica gel gasket and lock ring also help ensure that the bottle won’t leak in your backpack. I take it on almost every walk with my dog and he always seems thankful when he can drink from it. — I.B.

Buy travel bottle at Amazon - $20

PrettyLitter subscription service


My husband and I love our cat very much, but boy, does her poop stink up the joint. After seeing an ad for PrettyLitter online, we decided to try it out to see if it would help us. Fortunately, it does, and more. Not only does it have super absorbent silicon crystals that trap odor, but it actually changes color to tell you if your cat has any urinary tract issues. Of course, this doesn’t replace going to the vet, but it’s nice to know what’s going on with your cat’s health. Since the litter is so efficient at keeping odor away, we’ve found that we actually use less litter than before, which helps reduce waste. Plus, our cat seems to like it too. On top of that, the company offers a subscription service, delivering a new bag to your door every month. — N.L.

Shop PrettyLitter

Ruffwear Dog Cooling Vest


The Ruffwear Dog Cooling Vest is ideal for hiking and camping fans in warm climates, and it’s incredibly simple to use. Dunk the vest in water, wring it out and buckle it onto your dog — that’s it, and your buddy is ready to run around in the sun. The Ruffwear vest has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating of 50+, a built-in leash slot and a three-layer design that encourages evaporative cooling. It comes in sizes from x-x-small to x-large, and it costs around $60, or about as much as a Patagonia workout shirt (for humans, that is). — Jessica Conditt, Senior Editor

Buy cooling vest at Amazon - $60

Timbuk2 Muttmover luxe dog backpack


Hopefully, your pet will be too comfortable in this bag to care that it’s called a “Muttmover.” This backpack from Timbuk2 is designed to carry your dog (or cat, we guess), their water bowl, and even your own gadgets, with padded shoulder straps and plenty of external pockets. The main bag has a zippered hole big enough for your pet’s head to poke through while you walk, while the entire front panel unzips for easy extraction. The interior is easy to wipe down and made of durable ripstop nylon fabric, and it even comes with a collapsible dog bowl. — J.C.

Buy Muttmover bag at Amazon - $139

Blue Origin announces plans for a commercial space station

Blue Origin has more ambitious plans than simply space tourism. Today, the spaceflight company owned by Jeff Bezos announced that it is working on creating its very own space station as well. Called Orbital Reef, it promises to be something of an industrial and commercial hub, and is meant to start operating in the second half of this decade. 

It will be developed, owned and operated in partnership with Sierra Space, a subsidiary of the Sierra Nevada corporation. Sierra Space is perhaps better known for Dream Chaser, a spacecraft that’s set to begin operating in 2022 and carry cargo to the International Space Station. Orbital Reef is also backed by Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Arizona State University. The company hopes to use Boeing’s Starliner and Sierra Space’s aforementioned Dream Chaser to ferry both cargo and passengers to Orbital Reef.

Think of Orbital Reef as essentially a “business park,” but in space. In a press release, Blue Origin said that the destination “will offer research, industrial, international, and commercial customers the cost competitive end-to-end services they need including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations including onboard crew.” Anyone who wants to “establish their own address in orbit” can do so.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin said that Orbital Reef would be habitable for up to 10 people, which is almost as much as that of the International Space Station. It will feature “human-centered space architecture” with “world-class services and amenities.” There will be multiple ports for visiting spacecraft and modules. Orbital Reef will apparently feature an open system that will enable any customer or nation to use it. As the market for such facilities grows, Blue Origin promises that Orbital Reef will scale the amenities and utilities to match.

“Seasoned space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, and future-minded investors all have a place on Orbital Reef,” said the company in a press release.

“For over sixty years, NASA and other space agencies have developed orbital space flight and space habitation, setting us up for commercial business to take off in this decade,” said Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin. “We will expand access, lower the cost, and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalize space flight. A vibrant business ecosystem will grow in low Earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainments, and global awareness.”

Blue Origin’s only successful project is a suborbital tourist program that sends passengers to the edge of space (and back) on the New Shepard. It has already flown eight people, which includes Bezos as well as Star Trek’s William Shatner. Other projects, such as the New Glenn rocket (which the company hopes to use to launch some of Orbital Reef’s modules) and the Blue Moon lunar lander are still in development. 

Surprise Soyuz thruster firing tilted and turned the ISS

The astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station had to initiate emergency protocols after the spacecraft tilted and turned by 57 degrees on Friday. All is well now, but the Roscosmos and NASA ground teams had to spring to action and alert their personnel in space after noticing the change in orientation. According to The New York Times, the incident happened while cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky was testing the engines aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that's currently docked with the station. 

NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshier told the publication that "the thruster firing unexpectedly continued" when the engine testing was scheduled to end. By 5:13 AM Eastern time, the ISS lost control of its orbital positioning. Russian controllers in Moscow immediately told Novitsky that the station turned 57 degrees, while NASA's mission control in Houston told its astronauts to begin emergency procedures. Flight controllers were able to regain control of the station around 30 minutes later. The Soyuz spacecraft that caused the incident is expected to fly a Russian fillm crew — that same one that flew to the ISS to shoot the first feature film there earlier this month — back to Earth.

"During the Soyuz MS-18 engines testing, the station’s orientation was impacted. As a result, the International Space Station orientation was temporarily changed. The station’s orientation was swiftly recovered due to the actions of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operating Control Group specialists. The station and the crew are in no danger," Roscosmos said in its announcement.

As The Times notes, this is the second such emergency on the station. Back in July, the thrusters on Russia's Nauka module fired "inadvertently and unexpectedly" causing the ISS to tilt by about 45 degrees. At the time, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said the ISS lost "attitude control," which is also what happened in this case, and that the event was quite rare.

MIT researchers create fabric that can sense and react to its wearer's movement

Textile production may be one of the oldest technologies known to humans, but it hasn't proven easy to adapt the advances of the information age to our garments. Sure, we've seen efforts like Google's Project Jacquard try to bring clothes into the modern era, but those haven't been particularly successful.

Not that that's stopping a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Sweden. They've created a smart fiber that can sense and respond to the movement of its wearer. Dubbed OmniFiber, the soft robotic fabric features a hollow center channel that allows a fluidic medium to travel through it. With the help of compressed air, the fibers can bend, stretch, curl and pulse on demand. That's something that allows them to provide tactile feedback in real-time, making them akin to an artificial muscle.

Artificial muscle fibers aren't a new idea; other research teams at MIT have approached the technology in their own way. However, what makes OmniFiber notable is that it doesn't need heat to change its shape. Immediately that makes it more practical since overheating the skin is not an issue. It has other advantages too. It's possible to make the fabric with relatively inexpensive materials, and the fibers don't require a delicate weaving process.

The team envisions their fabric making its way into garments that could help teach athletes and singers how to control their breathing better. Another even more exciting application could see an OmniFiber garment help someone recover their natural breathing pattern after a respiratory disease like COVID-19.

It may be some time before we see OmniFiber make its way into the real world, but that's not to suggest the project is done. Ozgun Kilic Afsar, one of the researchers who worked on the fabric, told MIT News she plans to continue working on the system. Among the things she wants to do is develop a manufacturing system that allows the creation of even longer filaments.

Boeing's next Starliner test flight moves to first half of 2022

Those murmurs of lengthy delays for Boeing's next Starliner test flight turned out to be true. Space.comreports Boeing and NASA are now targeting an Orbital Flight Test-2 launch sometime in the first half of 2022. Engineers have narrowed down the likely causes of the oxidizer isolation valve problem that forced the team to scrap the August 2021 launch, but it remains a "complex issue" that requires a "methodical approach" to solve, according to Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich.

Boeing has several possible solutions in the works, ranging from small tweaks to the existing crew capsule through to modifying a capsule still in production. The exact launch timing hinges on both the readiness of the hardware itself as well as the rocket manifest and access to the International Space Station.

While this does suggest Starliner is moving forward, the delay further hurts Boeing's chances to compete with SpaceX in crewed capsule missions. SpaceX has already sent two crewed missions to the ISS, and it may have sent two more by the time the Starliner OFT-2 mission lifts off — Elon Musk's outfit will be a seasoned veteran before Boeing is cleared for its first occupied Starliner flight. It could be a long while before the two companies are taking turns ferrying people to orbit.

Polestar made a working version of its electric cargo sled

Polestar's electric cargo sled now exists as more than just a pretty 3D render. The EV maker has unveiled its first working prototype of the Re:Move it introduced half a year earlier. The three-wheeler hasn't changed much since March, but it's now clear just what the machine could do.

The Re:Move demo unit is about as fast a typical e-bike with a 15MPH top speed and a 2.2kWh battery. However, it can haul a lot more. The 400lbs maximum load isn't as heavy as the 600lbs Polestar claimed early on, but that still makes it a viable alternative to delivery vans in some cases. It's nimbler than vans, too, with a 29-inch width (easily enough for a bike lane) and a 23-foot turning radius.

You can also expect always-on lighting, brake lights and a horn, although indicators are optional in Polestar's vision. The Re:Move should be more eco-friendly thanks to composite frame covers that replace the usual plastic and flax.

Polestar still hasn't said how likely it is to produce the Re:Move, let alone offer pricing or availability. The automaker certainly has roles in mind for the Re:Move, however. It pictures the sled filling in for lighter delivery duties, such as online orders. The machine might also help in rural areas where there isn't much infrastructure for conventional vehicles. Don't be surprised if you see this or vehicles like it in villages where more 'conventional' EVs just wouldn't be an option. 

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic space flights during anomaly investigation

Virgin Galactic is having a particularly bad day. Reutersreports the Federal Aviation Administration has barred Virgin from flying SpaceShipTwo while the agency investigates an anomaly in the descent of Richard Branson's spaceflight. The regulator wants to be sure the "mishap" leading to the aircraft's deviation from its cleared route won't hurt public safety. Officials didn't estimate when Virgin might resume flights.

We've asked Virgin for comment. The space tourism firm previously acknowledged that the flight went off-course, dipping below the intended airspace for one minute and 41 seconds. However, it also maintained that it didn't fly outside the "lateral confines" of the allowed airspace.

This comes at an unfortunate time for Virgin. The company just announced its first flight carrying commercial research, with a launch due in late September or early October — that schedule might be in doubt if the FAA probe lasts long enough or prompts significant changes to the plan. It could also add another delay to Virgin's first space tourist flights, now slated for early 2022. That's concerning for a company that's bleeding cash and might not turn a profit until it's carrying passengers.