Advent at Grakn Labs: Space Exploration!

#GraknLovesTech: 23rd December 2016

Nicholas D
Dec 23, 2016 · 5 min read

Here at Grakn Labs we love technology. So much so, that, this month, we’ve decided to share our favourite technology moments from 2016. Each weekday during December, we will open a window on our virtual advent calendar, and peek inside to recall some of the greatest innovation or news that the past year has brought us.

Please recommend and share with hashtag #GraknLovesTech if you enjoy our posts. And if you have any favourite links you’d like us share, just leave us a comment or tweet us @graknlabs!

With today being the last work day before Christmas, it appears that our daily, sugary, month-long interwebs adventure is coming to a close. Fret not, dear tech-enamoured reader: for today we have the most glorious adventure, yet. To infinity, and beyond! Well, maybe…

SpaceX Pushes Forward

This year has been a big year for space exploration, both for the usual suspects (read: NASA) and the ‘new’ guys. This past April, SpaceX, which has been active in the private space game since 2002, marked a major milestone on its quest for more accessible, reliable, and commercially viable space transport. Specifically, with the 23rd flight of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, on 8 April 2016, SpaceX for the first time successfully launched and recovered a reusable first-stage from a rocket back from orbit. Only nine minutes after takeoff, having already released its International-Space-Station-bound payload into orbit, the first stage landed gracefully upright — somewhere off the coast of Florida — on the impressive floating drone ship known as Of Course I Still Love You.

This was the fifth such attempt at marine recovery and a crucial step towards a rapidly reusable launch vehicle. While SpaceX suffered an unfortunate setback this past September, with this explosion of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle carrying a Facebook communications satellite, the overall success the company has achieved, against incredible odds, should not be understated. Even if you’re a space transport skeptic, there’s no denying the infectious enthusiasm of April’s Falcon 9 landing video:

While significantly longer, more detailed, and less immediately exuberant, this next video is perhaps as momentous, for its depth of vision, and ambition, regarding the future of human movement and settlement. This is Elon Musk’s keynotes address, in full, from the International Aeronautical Congress, which was held in Guadalajara in late September. Discussing, with the hour-long minutiae you might expect at an academic conference for some of the best minds in space technology, Musk sets out a roadmap for the colonization of planets other than earth, starting with Mars — possibly as soon as 5 years from now. While there are no doubt critical obstacles to be explained — not the least of which the financing of a project with such radical scope— Musk’s methodical and assiduous approach suggests that the grandness of his vision might not be, indeed, so far off.

Virgin Galactic: Back on the Map

Of course, Elon Musk isn’t the only billionaire with a spaceship — or the only one with serious academic connections. Back in February, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, ‘the world’s first commercial spaceline’, unveiled its newest spaceship, SpaceShipTwo, with a passenger capacity of six. In a naming ceremony delivered, via a video recording, by none other than Professor Stephen Hawking, the newest addition to Branson’s fleet was given the name VSS Unity. This name is in reference to what Hawking described as the unifying power of international space travel initiatives.

This spaceship is an updated version of the SpaceShipTwo that crashed in the Mojave desert in 2014, tragically killing one of its pilots. As of early December, the VSS Unity was conducting its first flight, safely landing 10 minutes after takeoff. Despite this success, with much testing still to be conducted before any orbital launch, let alone passenger services, Prof Hawking may have to wait a while to take up Branson’s offer to fly on Virgin Galactic. Nonetheless, Prof Hawking’s personalized message is very inspiring. We can only hope that he might one day be able to be one of Virgin Galactic’s first passengers.

Asteroid Mining

Not all of the private space initiatives are focused on extending individual people’s personal relationship with the universe. Deep Space Industries, a space tech company based in Silicon Valley, has a somewhat more instrumental — though no less ambitious — focus, with in-space resource extraction and use its chief aim. By sending its advanced spacecrafts into deep space to carefully survey, analyze, and mine useful resources from asteroids, and then return back to processing facilities nearer to earth, DSI envisions a future in which extraterrestrial resources can be harvested and integrated into the future supply chain of space exploration and settlement.

Most recently, in May, DSI signed a partnership agreement with the government of Luxembourg, to assist in the funding of its first low Earth orbit spacecraft launch. This first launch, of the small Prospector-X, will provide the initial proving grounds for subsequent launches into deep space. The partnership between DSI and Luxembourg followed after, a few months prior, Luxembourg announced its plans to support, both through investment and regulations, commercial resource extraction operations in space. As part of this arrangement, DSI will open up a second facility in Luxembourg, where development and testing of Prospector-X will also proceed.


The future space infrastructure that DSI envisions won’t be realized any time soon. In the meantime, we still have the trusty — and of course also incredibly technically impressive — International Space Station. And it happens to also take gorgeous photos of Earth, all year long. This next video, curated by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, shows some of the top photos from the past year.

A wee bit further away than the International Space Station, NASA’s Juno probe also sent back some impressive imagery this year, after arriving safely to Jupiter, its final destination, in early July. Though the second probe to orbit Jupiter, Juno is the first to be powered with solar arrays. This video, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, provides a nice overview of Juno.

What might be most impressive about Juno (at least to us non-JPL scientists), however, is the footage of Jupiter that it has been sending back. Impressively clear photos of one of the massive planet’s ‘pearls’ have been captured, along with photos of amazingly powerful storms and strange atmospheric conditions, totally unique within our solar system, at Jupiter’s north pole.

We are almost at the end of our Grakn Loves Tech Advent Calendar. Stay tuned for our final post tomorrow on Christmas Eve. In the meantime, I randomly stumbled across this song on while making this. On point!

GRAKN.AI is an open-source knowledge graph data platform that brings knowledge ontologies and transactional data together to enable highly intelligent querying of data. Querying is performed through Graql, a declarative, knowledge-oriented graph query language for retrieving explicitly stored and implicitly derived information, and for performing graph analytics and automated reasoning. Grakn and Graql will help you effectively manage and harness large-scale graph data by allowing you to model it expressively, migrate it efficiently, and to draw insightful knowledge from your deep information network.

Find out more about Grakn Labs from our website!


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