space | KUOW News and Information


The next generation of great space telescopes is heading into its final round of ground tests. The nearly $9 billion James Webb Space Telescope will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope. It's designed to provide unprecedented images of the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the universe.

But before the telescope can get to work, there are still a lot of engineering challenges to overcome.

Courtesy of NASA

Kim Malcolm talks with GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle about the potential impact of President Elect Donald Trump on Washington state's commercial space industry.

Many Oregon motels are sold out and reservable campsites are going fast for an event that doesn't happen until the second half of next year. If you don't want to miss a total solar eclipse, mark August 21, 2017 on your calendar.

Three space travelers landed safely back on Earth late Saturday night.

The journey began in the evening, 5:12 p.m., ET to be exact, when the hatch to the International Space Station closed, and Kate Rubins, Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi climbed into the cramped Russian-made Soyuz spacecraft that would bring them home.

The Schiaparelli Mars lander got very close to the red planet before something went wrong. It entered the planet's atmosphere, managed not to burn up as it hurtled down and unfurled its parachute. It's unclear what happened in the final minute of descent, but it wasn't what the European and Russian space agencies had planned.

For years, President Obama has been saying the U.S. must send humans to Mars. Permanently.

There was the 2010 speech when he said, "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."

Scientists in Michigan have found a new dwarf planet in our solar system.

It's about 330 miles across and some 8.5 billion miles from the sun. It takes 1,100 years to complete one orbit.

But one of the most interesting things about the new object, known for the time being as 2014 UZ224, is the way astronomers found it.

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk says his space transport company, SpaceX, will build a rocket system capable of bringing people to Mars and supporting a permanent city on the red planet.

"It's something we can do in our lifetimes," he said in a speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico that was streamed online and watched by more than 100,000 people. "You could go."

Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET.

A rocket took off Thursday evening from Cape Canaveral, Fla., as part of a mission by NASA and the University of Arizona to send a robot to an asteroid. The goal: Bring back ancient dust.

Solar eclipse seen from in Yokohama in 2012.
Flickr Photo/J Lippold (CC BY NC 2.0)/

Bill Radke talks with Geekwire's Alan Boyle about  North American eclipse of the sun expected August 2017. It's first of its kind in almost a hundred years. But the best places to see it in the Northwest are already getting pretty crowded. 

They aren't saying it's alien, but they are saying it's "interesting."

The SETI Institute — the private organization that looks for signals of extraterrestrial life — has announced that it is investigating reports of an unusual radio signal picked up by Russian astronomers.

The signal was detected on a much wider bandwidth than the SETI Institute uses in its searches, and the strength of the received signal was "weak," SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak wrote in a blog post.

An artist's rendering shows what Proxima b and its star, Proxima Centauri, might look like.
European Southern Observatory

The discovery of a planet that could hold life just a few light-years away is enough to make Alan Boyle teary.

"When we look back millennia from now, we're not going to be so focused on who won such and such an election or who made the most money," the GeekWire aerospace editor told KUOW's Kim Malcolm. "People are going to remember big steps that were taken on the frontier, and this could be one of them."

Maybe it was a meteor? Or space junk? People on the West Coast weren't sure what the bright object was that streaked across the sky Wednesday night, but they knew it was spectacular. Now comes word that the object — which separated into bright fragments — was a stage of China's large new rocket.

More than 2 tons of supplies and gear are speeding toward the International Space Station, after a SpaceX Falcon rocket launched early Monday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The cargo includes a new port that will standardize how spacecraft connect to the station.

NASA has released the first picture of Jupiter taken since the Juno spacecraft went into orbit around the planet on July 4.

The picture was taken on July 10. Juno was 2.7 million miles from Jupiter at the time. The color image shows some of the atmospheric features of the planet, including the giant red spot. You can also see three of Jupiter's moons in the picture: Io, Europa and Ganymede.

Updated 1:40 a.m. ET with Juno orbit maneuver

After a nearly five-year journey, NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft achieved orbit around Jupiter on Monday night. Juno navigated a tricky maneuver — including slowing by around 1,212 mph — to insert itself into orbit in what NASA calls "the king of our solar system."

At 11:18 p.m. ET, Juno transmitted a radio signal to Earth that meant its main engine had switched on. It stayed on for 35 minutes, placing Juno into exactly the orbit that mission managers had planned for.

An image from the Hubble space telescope.
Flickr Photo/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY 2.0)/

Kim Malcolm talks with Geekwire's Alan Boyle about how the Seattle area became a major hub for the entrepreneurial space industry. This week, Seattle is hosting NewSpace 2016, the industry's largest annual conference.

Scientists announced Wednesday that they have once again detected ripples in space and time from two black holes colliding far away in the universe.

The discovery comes just months after the first-ever detection of such "gravitational waves," and it suggests that smaller-sized black holes might be more numerous than many had thought.

The luminous glow of light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of people in North America from seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.

That's according to a new atlas of artificial night sky brightness that found our home galaxy is now hidden from more than one-third of humanity.

Sometimes astronomy can be challenging, but spotting Mars this weekend should be a breeze.

Step 1: Head outside right after sunset and look toward the southeastern sky.

Step 2: Find the full moon. (So far, so good, right?)

Step 3: Look up and to the right, and find what looks like a bright red star.

That's Mars, our planetary neighbor — getting up close and personal.

Gently bouncing up and down in microgravity aboard the International Space Station, NASA's Jeffrey Williams delivered a message to the people of Earth.

"Monday, May 16, 2016, at 06:10 at GMT, the ISS will begin its 100,000th orbit as it crosses the equator," Williams said in a video, calling the feat a "significant milestone."

NASA announced Tuesday the discovery of an unprecedented number of planets beyond our solar system — astronomers have confirmed the existence of 1,284 new worlds orbiting distant stars.

These planets beyond our solar system — exoplanets — were discovered with the help of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which launched in 2009.

Its name will be "Red Dragon." And if the latest partnership between SpaceX and NASA works out, the privately funded craft will land on Mars to collect scientific data — possibly within the next two years. The plan is to use the Dragon capsule, but without a human crew.

"SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018," the company said via Facebook Wednesday. "These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars."

A new era for living in space may be about to start.

A prototype habitat is headed to the International Space Station for a two-year trial. What makes the module unique is it's launched folded up, and it's inflated to its full size once in orbit.

Scientists have discovered a supermassive black hole that may be the biggest ever spotted — and its location in a ho-hum group of galaxies suggests that cosmic monsters like this one might be more common than astronomers previously thought.

Recently returned from a groundbreaking 340-day space mission, astronaut Scott Kelly announced Friday he will retire from NASA on April 1, but still continue to participate in research related to his space travel.

Blue Origin team members Bretton Alexander and Jeff Ashby, founder Jeff Bezos, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, and team members Rob Meyerson and Robert Millman at the company’s headquarters in Kent in 2011.
Flickr Photo/NASA HQ Photo (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/

Audio Pending...

Bill Radke interviews reporter Alan Boyle about his recent tour of Blue Origin -- the Jeff Bezos' space tourism and rocket factory that opened its doors to reporters for the first time this week.  

Tuesday's solar eclipse as seen from Alaska Airlines flight 870
Courtesy of American Astronomical Society/Mike Kentrianakis

The view of a lifetime: That's what passengers on board Alaska Airlines flight 870 got on Tuesday.

A group of astronomers convinced the airline to change the flight plan for a plane headed from Anchorage to Honolulu. Why, you ask? So they could get a perfect view of a solar eclipse in progress. 

In 1957, humans launched a satellite into orbit, Sputnik-1.

The same mission also created our first piece of space junk: the rocket body that took Sputnik into space.

By the year 2000, there were hundreds of satellites in orbit — and thousands of pieces of space junk, including leftover rockets and pieces of debris.

Commercial spaceflight company SpaceX launched a rocket with a group of communications satellites into orbit. But it was the landing that received most of the attention and made history.

The Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off Monday evening in Florida, was carrying 11 small satellites for communications company Orbcomm.