#Engineering & Technology

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Blue Origin lofts NASA and student experiments in New Shepard tomorrow morning
Devin Coldewey

The 11th mission for Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle is slated for takeoff Tuesday morning. The craft will be carrying 38 (!) experimental payloads from NASA, students, and research organizations around the world. You'll be able to watch the launch live tomorrow at about 6 AM Pacific time.

This robotic arm slows down to avoid the uncanny valley
Devin Coldewey

Robotic arms can move fast enough to snatch thrown objects right out of the air… but should they? Not unless you want them to unnerve the humans they’re interacting with, according to work out of Disney Research. Roboticists there found that slowing a robot’s reaction time made it feel more normal to people. Disney has […]

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explains how startups can help with Artemis Moon missions
Darrell Etherington

At this week’s International Astronautical Congress, where the space industry, international space agencies and researchers from around the world convene to discuss the state of space technology and business, I asked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine about what role he sees for startups in contributing to his agency’s ambitious Artemis program. Artemis, named after Apollo’s twin […]

Take a virtual tour through Rocket Lab’s New Zealand rocket launch facility
Darrell Etherington

Rocket Lab is one of the extremely small group of rocket launch startups that is actually sending payloads to space, and the company sends all of its spacecraft up from a scenic peninsula located on the East Coast of New Zealand. Why? It’s ideally placed for high frequency launch windows, which should help Rocket Lab […]

These robo-shorts are the precursor to a true soft exoskeleton
Devin Coldewey

When someone says "robotic exoskeleton," the power loaders from Aliens are what come to mind for most people (or at least me), but the real things will be much different: softer, smarter, and used for much more ordinary tasks. The latest such exo from Harvard is so low-profile you could wear it around the house.

Fleet Space Technologies raises $7.35M for its space-based IoT tech
Darrell Etherington

Australian satellite startup Fleet Space Technologies has raised a $7.35 million round of funding to help launch its next generation of nanosatellites, extremely small satellites it employs to delivery Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to customers globally. Fleet’s satellites are roughly the size of shoeboxes, which are much cheaper and easier to launch than traditional […]

Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft is lost during historic lunar landing attempt
Devin Coldewey

Israel's SpaceIL almost made history today as its Beresheet spacecraft came within an ace of landing on the surface of the Moon, but suffered a last minute failure during descent. Israel missed out on the chance to be the fourth country to make a controlled lunar landing, but getting 99 percent of the way there is still an extraordinary achievement for private spaceflight.

Watch JAXA’s HTV-8 mission launch aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIB rocket live
Darrell Etherington

  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’s Launch Services division is all set to send a crucial cargo payload to the International Space Station from JAXA today. The launch is scheduled for 6:33 AM Japan Standard Time (5:33 PM ET/2:33 PM PT), and will take off from Tanegashima Island, at JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center. The rocket used for […]

Freedom Robotics raises $6.6M to take the hassle out of founding a robotics startup
Brian Heater

After years — decades even — of promises, the robotics industry is finally beginning to realize its potential. Nowhere is this phenomenon clearer than in the world of warehouse automation. Freedom Robotics, a new Bay Area-based startup, came out of stealth this week with plans to help ease the barrier of entry for companies to […]

These robo-ants can work together in swarms to navigate tricky terrain
Devin Coldewey

While the agility of a Spot or Atlas robot is something to behold, there's a special merit reserved for tiny, simple robots that work not as a versatile individual but as an adaptable group. These "tribots" are built on the model of ants, and like them can work together to overcome obstacles with teamwork.

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping
Frederic Lardinois

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order. […]

Max Q: NASA signs up new Moon delivery companies
Darrell Etherington

Sign up here to receive Max Q weekly in your inbox, starting December 15. There were lot of highlights in the space industry this past week (even though a rocket launch that was supposed to happened is now pushed to Monday). The biggest news for commercial space might just be that NASA signed on five […]

Against Gravity is building a VR world that won’t stop growing
Lucas Matney

The quest to create a social auditorium in virtual reality has eaten many VC dollars over the years. While plenty of contenders have emerged, it’s likely Against Gravity’s Rec Room has been the most creative in its approach to capturing a niche market while plotting how to build a sustainable business based on users in […]

New NASA app puts you in the pilot’s seat of Boeing’s Starliner or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon
Darrell Etherington

NASA has a new app (or web-based game, if you’re on desktop) that provides a simplified simulation of what it’s like to plan and run a commercial crew mission – meaning one of the planned varieties of mission that will actually take place aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner once they begin flying […]

NASA taps SpaceX, Blue Origin and 11 more companies for Moon and Mars space tech
Darrell Etherington

NASA has selected 13 companies to partner with on 19 new specific technology projects it’s undertaking to help reach the Moon and Mars. These include SpaceX, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin, among others, with projects ranging from improving spacecraft operation in high temperatures to landing rockets vertically on the Moon. Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin will […]

SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch
Devin Coldewey

As wild as it sounds, the race is on to build a functioning space internet — and SpaceX is taking its biggest step yet with the launch of 60 (!) satellites tomorrow that will form the first wave of its Starlink constellation. It’s a hugely important and incredibly complex launch for the company — and […]

Crowdfunded spacecraft LightSail 2 prepares to go sailing on sunlight
Devin Coldewey

Among the many spacecraft and satellites ascending to space on Monday's Falcon Heavy launch, the Planetary Society's LightSail 2 may be the most interesting. If all goes well, a week from launch it will be moving through space — slowly, but surely — on nothing more than the force exerted on it by sunlight.

Tesseract makes spacecraft propulsion smaller, greener, stronger
Devin Coldewey

Launch vehicles and their enormous rocket engines tend to receive the lion's share of attention when it comes to space-related propulsion, but launch only takes you to the edge of space — and space is a big place. Tesseract has engineered a new rocket for spacecraft that's not only smaller and more efficient, but uses fuel that's safer for us down here on the surface.

NASA calls for more companies to join its commercial lunar lander program
Darrell Etherington

NASA has opened up a call for companies to join the ranks of its nine existing Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) providers, a group it chose in November after a similar solicitation for proposals. With the CLPS program, NASA is buying space aboard future commercial lunar landers to deliver to the surface of the Moon […]

SpaceX contracted by NASA to launch black hole and neutron star research craft
Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has been awarded a new contract by NASA to launch the agency’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE. This research spacecraft will study polarized light from sources including neutron stars, pulsar wind nebulae and supermassive black holes, and provide much more imaging than existing space-based observation resources. The mission will help scientists in the […]

Robotics VCs on what’s real, what’s coming, and what to keep in mind
Connie Loizos

Last week, at TechCrunch’s robotics event at UC Berkeley, we sat down with four VCs who are making a range of bets on robotics companies, from drone technologies to robots whose immediate applications aren’t yet clear. Featuring Peter Barrett of Playground Global, Helen Liang of FoundersX Ventures, Eric Migicovsky of Y Combinator and Andy Wheeler […]

This robot scientist has conducted 100,000 experiments in a year
Devin Coldewey

Science is exciting in theory, but it can also be dreadfully dull. Some experiments require hundreds or thousands of repetitions or trials — an excellent opportunity to automate. That's just what MIT scientists have done, creating a robot that performs a certain experiment, observes the results, and plans a follow-up... and has now done so 100,000 times in the year it's been operating.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will go reusable, with the company aiming for mid-air helicopter recovery
Darrell Etherington

Private rocket launch startup and SpaceX competitor Rocket Lab made a big announcement today: It’ll be looking to re-use the first stage of its Electron rockets, returning them to Earth with a controlled landing after they make their initial trip to orbit with the payload on board. The landing sequence will be different from SpaceX’s […]

iRobot acquires education startup, Root Robotics
Brian Heater

In a bid to expand its educational offerings, iRobot has acquired local Massachusetts-based startup, Root Robotics. The company is the creator of the eponymous coding robot, a two-wheeled device designed to draw on whiteboards and other surfaces, scanning colors, playing music and otherwise playing out coding instructions. We had the company at our CES stage […]

Small rocket launch startup Firefly teams up with Aerojet Rocketdyne
Darrell Etherington

In a perfect example of a small, new space startup teaming up with a legacy industry heavyweight with plenty of experience, Firefly is teaming up with Aerojet Rocketdyne. Firefly Aerospace was founded in 2013, and has raised $21.6 million so far to bring its first product, the Alpha small satellite launch vehicle, to market. Firefly […]

Orbit Fab raises $3M to make orbital refueling easier, cheaper and more accessible
Darrell Etherington

Orbit Fab, one of the companies competing in this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco this week, has closed a seed round of $3 million. The funding comes from Type 1 Ventures, TechStars and others, and will help Orbit Fab continue to build on the great momentum it has already bootstrapped with its space-based […]

KickSat-2 project launches 105 cracker-sized satellites
Devin Coldewey

Move over, Starlink. SpaceX's global internet play might have caught the world's attention with its 60-satellite launch last month, but little did we know that it had already been upstaged — at least in terms of sheer numbers. The KickSat-2 project put 105 tiny "femtosats" into space at once months earlier, the culmination of a years-long project begun by a grad student.

From launch to launch: Peter Beck on building an orbital business from scratch
Devin Coldewey

Breaking into the launch industry is no easy task, but New Zealand's Rocket Lab has done it without missing a step. The company has just completed its third commercial launch of 2019, and is planning to increase the frequency of its launches until there's one a week. It's ambitious, but few things in spaceflight aren't.

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