Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun is coming to Disrupt SF – gpgmail


Sebastian Thrun can’t be described easily.

He’s a serial entrepreneur and educator, a computer scientist and inventor. He helped bring self-driving cars out of academia through X, the Google moonshot factory he founded. (That little project is now known as Waymo.) Thrun went on to co-found Udacity, the $1 billion online education startup where he is executive chairman.

Now, Thrun is pushing the “future of transportation” idea beyond self-driving cars. As CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, Thrun is working on bringing two aircraft to market — the one-person Flyer and a two-person autonomous taxi called Cora. Boeing and Kitty Hawk recently formed a strategic partnership with Boeing on Cora and more broadly on urban air mobility, particularly around safety and how autonomous and piloted vehicles will co-exist.

We’re excited to announce that Thrun will be joining us onstage at gpgmail Disrupt SF to give a behind the scenes look at Kitty Hawk and what the future of flight might look like.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

Thrun’s visits to Disrupt SF always deliver something new. Who can forget the puppy? This year, we’re focused on flying cars, what they’ll look like, and how Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google’s Larry Page, will deliver on this promise of the future. 

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NASA Astronaut Accused of World’s First ‘Space Crime’ Denies Allegations


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Decorated US astronaut Anne McClain had been accused of committing the first crimes in space. McClain is going through an acrimonious divorce and her spouse, Summer Worden, has alleged that McClain committed financial improprieties by accessing financial records while serving aboard the ISS (International Space Station) and has filed a complaint with the FTC and NASA’s Office of Inspector General, accusing McClain of identity theft and improperly accessing records.

The claims of financial harm are now being investigated by NASA, but McClain is strongly denying any intent or wrongdoing:

The question of jurisdiction in space is a complex one. The five space agencies that operate the space station — US, Russia, Japan, China, and Europe — have agreements in place to hammer out issues that might occur while aboard, but to the best of anyone’s knowledge, this is the first time there have been allegations of any kind of illegal activity occurring in space (at least, as far as something an astronaut might personally do). The New York Times points out that with the advent of space tourism, these kinds of questions are going to be raised on a more regular basis. What does legal discovery look like, for example, when it impacts a NASA network? In any kind of scenario in which individuals from more than one nation are involved in a dispute, how should said dispute be adjudicated, and under what auspices?

These sorts of questions are esoteric at the moment because we have no serious space-tourism industry. At present, seven space tourists have made eight spaceflights. From 2001-2009, the Russian Space Agency provided space flights, but they ceased doing so after 2009 because the expanded crew capabilities of the ISS require the Soyuz to carry more passengers to and from the station. On June 7, 2019, NASA announced that it would allow private astronauts to return to the ISS using either SpaceX’s Dragon2 module or Boeing’s Starliner. Bigelow Aerospace wants to launch an inflatable space habitat, the BA 330, into LEO by 2022.

McClain was scheduled to take part in the first all-female spacewalk earlier this year, but she had to back out due to a spacesuit sizing issue (NASA has two medium-size spacesuit available on the ISS, but only one was properly outfitted for spacewalking and it was already scheduled to be in-use by her astronaut partner). NASA opted to change the spacewalk roster rather than spend hours fitting the other suit for simultaneous operation. The complaint filed against McClain accuses her of identity theft but acknowledges that funds had not been moved out of the account.

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Second docking adapter for commercial crew vehicles installed on International Space Station – gpgmail


The International Space Station is now more than ready for crew-carrying spacecraft flown by commercial companies to pay it a visit: The second planned International Dock Adapter (IDA) was installed on the Space Station during a spacewalk by NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan earlier today.

The dock adapter, actually IDA-3 since the first IDA was lost during the SpaceX launch failure of its CRS-7 mission on June 28, 2015. IDA-2, which was intended to be the second installed on ISS, instead became the first and was delivered in July 2016 during the SpaceX CRS-9 resupply mission.

IDA-2 has already proven effective, too: It received its first docking vehicle on March 3 of this year, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 test vehicle used the automated docking procedure designed for this adapter to demonstrate how it will work eventually when crew are on board.

IDA-3 is the second working dock adapter that uses this automated procedure, which makes it so that vehicles arriving at the ISS don’t have to be caught and guided in manually by astronauts with the help of the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. The automated procedure is designed as an industry standard of sorts, and should mean that any commercial crew craft, from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to Boeing’s CST-100, and any other potential future craft, can easily and automatically dock with the ISS to transfer over passengers and cargo.

Boeing is the company that was contracted to design and build these docking adapters. Each weight about 1,150 lbs and, they’re about 42-inches hight and 63-inches wide, which means it’s a bit of a tight squeeze for crew to come through (these aren’t big step-through passageways like you sometimes see in movies).

Having both the IDAs installed on the Space Station is key milestone in the commercial crew program, but there are still plenty of hurdles left to clear – including the first test flights of commercial Crew vehicles with astronauts on board.


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Kitty Hawk’s Flyer personal VTOL has now flown over 25,000 times – gpgmail


Flying cars, or at least their functional equivalent, edge closer to reality every day – and startup Kitty Hawk wants you to know it’s putting in the flying time to make it happen. The company, led by former Google self-driving car visionary Sebastian Thrun, has now flown its first aircraft, the one-person Flyer, over 25,000 times. That includes both its excursions as a prototype that resembled a flying motorcycle or ATV, and in its current, more refined, mostly enclosed cockpit design.

Flyer is now one of two aircraft that Kitty Hawk is working on bringing to market, alongside its Cora two-person, autonomous taxi built in collaboration with Boeing. Flyer is a one-person, human piloted aircraft designed primarily for recreational use, and Kitty Hawk has said it’s refined the vehicle to the point where someone with no experience can learn to fly it in 15 minutes. The company is currently looking for applications for potential partners who want to deploy it in their communities, and it does seem like the type of thing that might do well as an organized excursion activity at a travel destination or resort.

There’s no info on pricing or actual availability yet, but there was a limited Founder Series pre-order for individual purchasers with deep pockets. The aircraft features pontoons and is designed for use over water, and it can fly between three and 10 ft above the surface with vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

Personally, I’d probably opt for the flying jet-ski over paragliding if it was on offer at a vacation spot, so here’s hoping this actually finds a path to commercialization somewhat soon.


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NASA’s Space Launch System May Have Set Back Orbital Refueling by a Decade


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NASA has been working on the Space Launch System (SLS) as a replacement for the Space Shuttle for a decade, and the project has already consumed $14 billion in funding. It’s not exactly a secret that pure political will has kept the SLS going, but there may have been some casualties along the way. A former United Launch Alliance (ULA) engineer has chimed in on Twitter to tell an anecdote about how the SLS smothered the development of orbital refueling. 

Ars Technica reporter Eric Berger had just posted a string of tweets about opposition to refueling depots in congress back when the SLS program picked up steam. Then, former ULA manager George Sowers replied with his perspective. According to Sowers, his ULA advanced programs group had published several papers on the use of orbital refueling depots. He claims his team demonstrated that pre-existing commercial rockets could do the job of something like the SLS. The key was a platform being developed at ULA called the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES. 

In 2011, ULA wanted to test ACES in space to show that it could serve as a refueling depot to get rockets to more distant locations. Sowers said Boeing (which operates ULA along with Lockheed Martin) was incensed by his team’s push for refueling depots. Boeing was, and still is, the primary contractor on the SLS launch vehicle. A shift toward cheaper refueling technology could cost it a juicy government contract.

Sowers says Boeing executives tried to get him fired, but his direct managers held the line. However, ACES was quietly shelved. Around the same time, Berger reports that Alabama Senator Richard Shelby told NASA, “No more f—ing depots.” His home state is home to Marshall Space Flight Center and stood to benefit greatly from SLS development. 

ULA says ACES is still on its roadmap, but that could mean any number of things. We do know that NASA is taking another look at orbital refueling. As part of its new lunar push, the agency has partnered with multiple firms on new technology. Among them is SpaceX and its orbital refueling ambitions. SpaceX needs to develop advanced technology to transfer fuel in orbit for future Starship missions, and NASA wants a piece of that. 

Meanwhile, the SLS could launch on an uncrewed test mission as soon as next year. The launch has been pushed back a few times already, so it’s just as likely the rocket won’t fly until 2021.

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