Astro Biz: Rising Sun Produce

Rising Sun ProduceMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Rising Sun Produce in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. Rising Sun is at NE 65th Street and 15th Avenue NE, just about a block south of Roosevelt High School. The store is hard to miss, what with the barbershop quartet of singing bananas painted big and tall on the side of the store. Rising Sun has been in operation since 1979, and moved across the street from its original location about four years ago.

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Juno at Jupiter, lots of nearby events this week, too

Happy Independence Day! After a five-year flight NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrives at Jupiter today, and there are astronomy club meetings and events galore on the calendar for the rest of the week.

Juno at Jupiter

The Juno mission arrives at Jupiter with some science objectives that may explain much about our solar system’s largest planet, and could help shed some light on planet and system formation as well. Check out our previous post and podcast with Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs for a preview of the mission.

Club events

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 5 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. The program topic will be the final of three parts on the synthesis of elements. A show and tell is planned as well, as club members have been busy with astrophotography.

The Tacoma club also will hold a star party July 7-10 on the property of a club member near Goldendale. It’s for members and guests only, but what a perfect time to join!

Spokane Astronomical SocietyThe Spokane Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 8 at the Riverview Retirement Community, 2117 East North Crescent in Spokane. Guest speaker Michelle Boss, meteorologist with KREM TV, will give a presentation about astronomical weather patterns.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association will offer three events on Saturday, July 9 at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park BPAA logoon Bainbridge Island. Their BPAstro Kids programs at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. will share information about the scale and size of our solar system, and participants will get to make their own solar systems to hang up at home! (Check our post and podcast with Dr. Erica Saint Clair, who heads up BPAstro Kids.) Following at 8:30 p.m. astronomer Steve Ruhl, in a belated tribute to David Bowie, will give a presentation about “space oddities” in our Solar System. Observing will follow if weather permits. Events are free for BPAA members, small donation suggested for non-members.

Stargazing at a volcano

Mt. St. HelensThe Mount St. Helens Sky and Star Party will be held Saturday, July 9 at the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater. The event is part of the 2016 Summer on the Mountain Series of public events at Mount St. Helens and is co-hosted by the Mount St. Helens Institute, Rose City Astronomers, the Friends of Galileo Astronomy Club, and the United States Forest Service/Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Festivities get under way at 1 p.m. with solar viewing, crafts, and other activities. There will be guest speakers, a buffet dinner, and observing after dark if the weather holds.

Open house at TJO

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryAnother of the twice-monthly open houses is coming up at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 6 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Student talks will be given by Lev Marcus about the colonization of space, and Isaak Nanneman about eccentric scientists. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will give tours of the observatory and, if weather is clear, offer a look through its vintage telescope.

Up in the sky

The great summer of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn continues with all three planets marvelously placed for viewing. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.


Astro art and artifacts update

An astronomy device that had been damaged is back in operation, while a city-wide solar system model is, alas, showing signs of decay.

We reported back in August of last year that the Foucault pendulum in the Physics/Astronomy building at the University of Washington was out of commission. While the UW wasn’t saying specifically, we suspected the damage may have been caused by people not well versed in engineering trying to take a ride on the pendulum.

We’d noticed construction happening at the pendulum on some visits to campus in late winter and early spring, and we’re happy to report that it’s back in the swing of things again.

Back in February we told you about a fun project out of Three Dragons Academy, an arts program for elementary-aged children. The students created a scale model of the solar system, a city-wide art installation in which the Sun is an 18-foot circle painted and chalked onto the south plaza of the University Heights Center at NE 50th Street and Brooklyn Avenue NE. Uranus, at this scale, was down on Alki beach, not far from Seattle Astronomy headquarters.

MercuryOn a recent trip to the U-District we stumbled upon Mercury, which is, in an interesting twist, right outside Neptune Music. (Spoiler alert for a possible future Astro Biz.) Since we were so close, we sought out the Sun and found it still as advertised at the center. That’s the University Heights Center, not the center of the universe. As Copernicus discovered, that’s in Fremont.

Mercury is a little worse for wear, given nearly half a year out in the elements. Uranus has vanished from Alki; perhaps it’s moved along in its orbit! You can read about the project (click the “projects” icon at the bottom of the page) on the Three Dragons website.

The Sun The Sun





(Photos by Greg Scheiderer.)


Seattle’s place in new space

Seattle is seen as a hub or epicenter of the “new space” industry, so much so that the annual NewSpace conference produced by the Space Frontier Foundation came to the city for the first time last week. The conference attracted a who’s who of the industry for networking and discussion.

John Thornquist


One question tackled at the event was why Seattle? John Thornquist, director of the state Office of Aerospace, said the state has the four essential elements that the space industry needs:

  • Businesses and a highly skilled workforce in manufacturing, software, tech, engineering, and big data
  • A culture of entrepreneurship
  • Strong university education and research
  • Support of state leaders

“We’ve been on the forefront designing and building some of the most advanced, successful commercial and military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and scientific exploration vehicles the world has ever known,” Thornquist said in welcoming remarks to the conference.

Panel: Why Seattle for new space

OK, but it’s his job to pump the state. A panel of space company leaders gave their reasons for choosing Seattle and Washington.

Fred Wilson


Fred Wilson, director of business development for Aerojet Rocketdyne, said the reason the company chose the Seattle area is simple. Its four founders were Boeing engineers who started the company in 1959.

“Boeing and the aerospace engineering pool that Boeing brought to the Seattle area was a key spawning ground for space companies,” Wilson said, adding that Aerojet Rocketdyne is now doing the same thing. “Having been in the Seattle area for close to 60 years, we’ve spawned off a lot of engineers to companies in the Seattle area.”

Jason Andrews


Jason Andrews, CEO of Spaceflight Industries, backed Thornquist up on his assessment, noting that space companies need great software, big data, and capital.

“Seattle is an epicenter for all three,” Andrews said. Combine that with the city’s other positives, and you have an easy choice.

“Seattle is a great place,” Andrews said. “It is unique here because of the visionary people and the pioneering culture that Seattle has had from the very beginning.”

Rob Meyerson


Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, picked up on that concept as well.

“Space companies come here because so many companies before us have come and made this a really, really fantastic place, when you combine it with the natural resources around us,” Meyerson said. He also said the educational institutions are a good draw, from Raisbeck Aviation High School to the state’s universities.

“It’s a unique place, it’s a beautiful place to live, it’s a very, very intelligent community, a high rate of STEM education, a very literate group,” Meyerson said. “The infrastructure here is really well suited for what we want to do.”

Chris Lewicki


Chris Lewicki worked for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California before moving north with the founding of Planetary Resources, of which he is president and CEO. He said Seattle was a conscious choice for the company; it’s ambition is mining asteroids, and that will take a while to develop.

“It’s going to take you two, three, four, five, ten—maybe longer—years to build a successful business in the space industry,” Lewicki said. “You’ve got to enjoy where you live, and Seattle is spectacular for that.”

The future of new space

Andrews of Spaceflight Industries said it’s hard to predict how the industry will evolve, as so many companies have different goals and objectives, from asteroid mining to satellite launching.

“The ultimate holy grail is about creating a permanent human presence in space; three of the companies leading that are here,” Andrews said, noting Space X, Blue Origin, and Vulcan Aerospace.

“Seattle is really at the beginning of its space growth curve,” he added. “Companies here are going to have other entrepreneurs that come, work for five years, and spawn off and create new businesses that fill niche markets around this ecosystem that we’re creating in Seattle.”

“The capital, the people, the resources, the attitude—Seattle is going to be on the map for a long time,” Andrews concluded.

Charles Beames


“The companies here are either a part of the revolution itself, or they’re enabling it in some fashion,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace. “In terms of jobs, the biggest growth is actually going to be all of the new space startups that are highly innovative, that are going to survive, and they’re going to employ all kinds of people and grow new companies.”

“I don’t think you can constrain where the Seattle space economy and industry is going to go,” said Wilson of Aerojet Rocketdyne. “I think it’s going to be innovative and creative and it’s going to pop up in many different areas we don’t even realize right now.”

It turns out, then, that Washington’s aerospace director Thornquist, and everyone else in the state, has good reason to be optimistic.

“New space has come to Washington,” Thornquist said, “and we’re more than ready for it.”


Sorting out new space and old space

The Space Frontier Foundation has put on a NewSpace conference every year since 2006 as a way to bring together people involved in the space industry—be they from established companies, startups, or government agencies—with investors and tech innovators. The confab ventured out of the Silicon Valley and landed in Seattle for the first time last week, in a nod to the growing number of new-space companies located in the area. Interestingly, one of the takeaways from the conference is that NewSpace may be something of a misnomer, an unnecessary distinction given the direction in which the industry is headed.

“This future, we call next space,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace.

Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson

Aerojet Rocketdyne would qualify as old space if you want to make a distinction; the Redmond-based company was founded back in the 1950s and has built more than 15,000 rocket engines that have powered missions to every planet in the solar system.

“There’s a lot of talk of new space versus old space, but I think the key relevant thing to me is innovating versus stagnating,” said Fred Wilson, director of business development at Aerojet, who noted that the company’s track record is no guarantee of future success. “It’s the successful innovators that grow over time. Even though we’ve been around for 50-60 years, if we quit innovating we’re not going to be around much longer.”

Distinction without a difference


Debra Facktor Lepore

Debra Facktor Lepore, vice president and general manager of strategic operations at Ball Aerospace, finds the dichotomy to be a false one.

“It’s about old and new and everything in between, both working together to advance the future of space,” Lepore said. She noted that the relationships between entrepreneurs and startups and more established companies can evolve to meet the specific business or technical needs in each situation, and that an us-versus-them approach can be disruptive. Lepore called the relationship synergistic.

“In the end it is all about the people and being passionate about going to space: why we go there, how we get there, what we do there, what we discover when we’re there, and making a difference for our lives here on Earth and in pioneering discoveries to make a difference for beyond our planet and the solar system,” Lepore said.

Building real businesses

Charles Beames

Charles Beames

Beames, of Vulcan, noted that one aspect of new space that really is new is that the laws of economics are beginning to apply to low-Earth orbit. It isn’t enough for companies to simply go to space; they must have concrete business plans, real products or services, and customers who want those things. Vulcan aims to support startups to help them get there.

“It’s all about enabling access to the entrepreneur; the entrepreneur that wants to create a business, the entrepreneur that has an idea to solve a really tough problem,” he said. Sometimes, the challenge for space businesses is the long wait to get a project launched and off the planet. Beames said providing convenient and timely access to low-Earth orbit could help raise confidence among investors.

“Keeping the proverbial two-men-in-a-garage together for two years, that’s a long time to be paying salary without being able to either generate revenue or to raise equity,” he observed.


Jim Simpson

Jim Simpson, senior vice president of strategy and business development with Aerojet Rocketdyne, said space companies, new or old, need to remember a key fact. His voice lowered to a near whisper, as if he were divulging a well-kept secret: “Businesses need to make money,” he said, echoing the point about sound economic practices.

While there’s a lot that is new about the space industry, Simpson reminded conference attendees that one old player can’t be ignored. He pointed out that two-thirds of all space missions are still government missions, and that the government remains a big economic player in the industry.

“There’s going to be a struggle between the government and commercial space applications as far as the dynamics are concerned,” Simpson said, adding that he expects that will lead to a healthy evolution.

“Old space and new space: it’s about the ideas, the drive, the people, the innovation and the partnerships,” said Lepore of Ball Aerospace. “All of us are really working to make a difference to pioneer discoveries, explore the universe, have a sustainable planet, improve our quality of life. Is it new? Is it old? Is it mid? Is it next?” she asked.

“It’s always about what’s next,” she concluded.


Astro Biz: Astro apartments

Astro ApartmentsMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is the Astro Apartments in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. They’re relatively new and on the pricey side, with a 535 square foot studio apartment going for nearly $2,000 per month. They also have one- and two-bedroom units. The location is great; they’re right on First Avenue North, just moments from the Seattle Center and all of the recreation, entertainment, and dining options nearby.

It’s our most literal Astro Biz to date!

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Astronomy on Tap, and star parties this week

Star party season continues and Astronomy on Tap is back with its monthly gathering in a busy week of astronomy events.

AoT watches Cosmos

Astronomy on Tap June 2016Astronomy on Tap Seattle this month is Cosmos on tap. They’ll watch episode 4, “Heaven and Hell,” of the original Carl Sagan series at Hilliard’s Beer Taproom in Ballard beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 29. The evening’s festivities will include trivia contests based on the show, and astronomers will be on hand to discuss what has changed in the science since the original program first aired in 1980. Astronomy on Tap Seattle is organized by astronomy graduate students at the University of Washington, who prove each month that astronomy and beer is a great combination. Buy the official AoT mug and get discounted brew. Get there early or bring your own chair; the event typically draws more people than Hilliard’s has seats.

Star parties

Seattle Astronomical SocietySeveral years back the Seattle Astronomical Society started holding star parties around Labor Day at Brooks Memorial State Park near Goldendale. The event proved so popular they’re now doing it twice per summer, and this week marks the first. Club members will gather at the park, which has outstanding dark skies, from Thursday, June 30, through Monday, July 4. This is a members-only event; what better time to join the SAS? The second Goldendale star party is set for Sept. 1-5.

Olympic Astronomical SocietyOlympic Astronomical Society has been hosting summer star parties at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park south of Port Angeles for 19 years. The first of this year is set for this Saturday, July 2 at the ridge. They’ve also planned star parties for July 30, August 6, and September 3 at Hurricane Ridge. The events are free and open to the public.

Up in the sky

Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn all remain great observing targets. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have more observing highlights for the week. Follow our calendar for updates on local events, including planetarium shows from Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center and the Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton.