NASA has awarded Cedar Park company Firefly Aerospace with $93.3 million to deliver a module of 10 science experiments and technology demonstrations to the moon in 2023.
The company, which specializes in providing spacecraft and other space technologies, will not perform the launch itself but will create the spacecraft and lander, known as the "Blue Ghost," for the mission.
The award is a part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services, an initiative that brings American companies into upcoming lunar projects.
Firefly's lander will head for the Moon's Mare Crisium basin, a basin on the "light" side of the moon facing Earth. The spacecraft will be loaded up with technologies meant for testing the moon's mantle, a laser that will identify the exact distance from Earth to the Moon and other tools to test the Moon's surface. The project is also a part of the Artemis project and will help gain information for future human habitation.
Firefly will develop the "Blue Ghost" at its Cedar Park location, according to lander program manager Shea Ferring.
"We are utilizing our Austin-based AS9100-certified engineering, test, and production facilities to build and operate world-class spacecraft," Ferring said. "NASA's support for our lunar program allows us to increase our capabilities for in-space services to the benefit of both U.S. government and commercial customers."
Although this isn't Firefly's first NASA order, it is the first delivery project awarded to the company and by far its largest-scale project to date. Dr. Max Polyakov, founder of Firefly's largest investor Noosphere Ventures, said in a press release that the contract is rewarding and will help the company gain recognition toward national projects in years to come.
"This award is further validation of Firefly, its team and its mission to become a versatile provider of a broad range of space-related services,'' Polyakov said. "It's extremely gratifying to know that NASA recognizes the tremendous talent we've assembled at Firefly. Our recently appointed board members bring the highest level of U.S. Government expertise and provide strategic guidance to further strengthen the company as we move into this next phase of accelerated growth. It's an exciting time.''
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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Plans for an Amazon warehouse in Round Rock—a $250 million project slated to be a large distribution center—are on hold.
This comes just after the tech giant had its worst financial quarter in seven years.
- Late last year, it announced an expansion at the Domain adding 2,000 more corporate and tech jobs.
- Amazon still owns the site in Round Rock. Plans for it are unclear.
- Early this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is aiming to scrap warehouse space as it faces a slowdown in its e-commerce operations.
Part of that effort involves exploring the possibility of ending or renegotiating leases with outside warehouse owners. Another aspect is a plan to sublease warehouse space.
“It allows us to relieve the financial obligations associated with an existing building that no longer meets our needs,” an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. “Subleasing is something many established corporations do to help manage their real estate portfolio.”
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