Goodbye to the Philae lander, living spaceships and Google’s investment in SpaceX

Philae_on_the_comet_Front_view

Ground control bids farewell to Philae comet lander

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission dropped the robot onto Comet 67P in November 2014. But after a troubled landing and 60 hours of operation, there has largely been radio silence from Philae. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which led the consortium behind Philae, said the lander is probably now covered in dust and too cold to function.

The probe’s historic landing famously happened several times in succession – with its first bounce looping nearly 1km back from the comet’s surface and lasting a remarkable 110 minutes. When it finally settled, its precise location was unknown but images and other data suggested it was sitting at an awkward angle, in the shade.

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Why did Google invest $1 billion in SpaceX?

It’s no surprise that Alphabet is interested in space. After all, Amazon.com, Virgin Group, Facebook, and Qualcomm, are among tech companies that have invested in the development of either rockets or satellites. Space offers another frontier for the information and communication that technology companies hold so dear — particularly Google. And it gives big companies a bigger purpose to strive for. But what was surprising about Alphabet’s SpaceX investment was how big it was. The company, along with Fidelity, together invested $1 billion into SpaceX for 10% ownership of the private U.S. space company.

Based on Harrison’s statement, the origins of the company’s motivation for the investment was likely rooted in SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s announcement just before Google’s investment. Musk noted SpaceX would set out to build and deploy the world’s largest global communications systems via a network of hundreds of satellites.

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Space technology: trees at the root of living spaceships

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 09.23.34While a full-blown bioship is a long way off, space engineers are investigating whether living cells could be used to grow individual components of a spacecraft. Scientists already imitate nature for some spacecraft functions such as the heat pipes in large satellites that use fluid to transfer thermal energy in a similar way to the nutrient transport system in trees.

Now David Barnhart, director of the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Centre, has written a proposal to “grow a tree in space”, in collaboration with Nicole Atudosiei, a professor of plant science at Bioterra Bucharest University in Romania. The pair believe that if they can create a tree capable of surviving in space, it would demonstrate technologies that could eventually lead to a more elaborate bioship.

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