September 19, 2015

Zymergen looks to marry synthetic biology, new materials and machine learning to create a million new genomes

Dr. Zach Serber, co-founder of Zymergen, explains his company's efforts to marry synthetic biology, machine learning and materials science to endow microbes with new genetic programs for creating impossible materials with novel and valuable properties. He spoke at DARPA's "Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum" on Sept. 9, 2015.

Zymergen has a flexible platform to engineer a wide variety of industrially-relevant microbes and improve the economics of new and existing products made via industrial fermentation.

Improving Existing Processes

Zymergen work with our partners to improve the economics of their industrially-fermented products by reducing manufacturing costs and/or increasing revenue. We typically begin with their existing production strains and build upon improvements our partners have already made. Modifying the current production strain helps ensure that process modifications reduce cost and avoid additional capital infrastructure. Progress against process-improvement targets is steady, predictable and trackable. Strains that confer improved economics are shipped to our partners on a routine, agreed-upon schedule.

Video on Impossible Materials

* Rubber was the first major impossible material from 500 years ago. It was far more elastic than anything of its density in the past.
* Rubber was a key material in the industrial revolution
* not much happened in materials for 400 years
* there was an explosion in new materials in the last 100 years (kevlar, plastics etc...)
* there was another slowdown in materials at the end of the 20th century. Kevlar is from 1965 but is considered cutting edge.
* Zymergen is looking beyond petrochemical building blocks
* they are looking at 360 bio candidates for potential impossible materials

DARPA has cheap, network of radiation detectors for cloud based map of radiation

Dr. Vincent Tang, a program manager in DARPA's Defense Sciences Office, describes DARPA's progress toward automated, always-on radiological detection systems designed to detect nuclear materials quickly over vast distances. He spoke at DARPA's "Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum" on Sept. 9, 2015.

DARPA has developed a radiation detector that is small and cheap, integrates with a smartphone and sends its data to the cloud.

The signature of the radiation can be analyzed and its likely source determined.

So, someone fresh from a nuclear medicine procedure at a hospital would be recognized but ignored by the system, while someone carrying illicit nuclear materials would set off alarm bells.

One inexpensive radiation detector

Three detectors working together

A network of detectors sending information to a cloud

It costs about $400 in volume -- significantly cheaper than existing detectors used by public safety agencies -- and provides a more accurate picture of any potential threats.

It sends a radiation reading to a companion smartphone over Bluetooth once every second.

The DARPA SIGMA program aims to revolutionize detection and deterrent capabilities for countering nuclear terrorism. The desire for significantly lower-cost and more capable radiation detectors is a common element of multiple detection concepts-of-operations (CONOPs). A key component of SIGMA thus involves developing novel approaches to achieve low-cost, high-efficiency, packaged radiation detectors with spectroscopic gamma and neutron sensing capability. The program will seek to leverage existing infrastructure to help enable these next-generation detectors and their deployment in order to demonstrate game-changing detection and deterrent systems.

If SIGMA is successful, the ubiquitous availability of cheaper and more efficient detectors will permit ample CONOPs to enhance the security of U.S. citizens and servicemembers around the world.

DARPA looks to revolutionize orbiting satellites with robotic refueling, repair and construction

Pamela Melroy, deputy director of the tactical technology office at DARPA, said such a robotic system could be used to refuel, repair and construct spacecraft at GEO, Cheryl Pellerin writes.

Pellerin reports GEO is a stable space environment that is approximately 36,000 kilometers away from Earth but has high levels of radiation that could be harmful to astronauts to carry out missions.

“We think this is a critical capability to building a transportation hub that allows transportation to and from Earth’s surface, from low Earth orbit to GEO, and even beyond Earth orbit,” Melroy said at DARPA’s three-day Wait, What? technology forum in St. Louis.

The former astronaut said the robotic arm has compliance and reflex controls intended to reduce the risk of collision-related space debris and is similar to the one used to construct the International Space Station, according to the report.

Other topics discussed at the event include prosthetic hands and other advances in the field of neuroscience, artificial intelligence systems and research into extraterrestrial life.

Nextbigfuture notes that the funding and capabilities developed here will mesh well with the NASA and Tethers Unlimited work to develop Spiderfab.

Pamela Melroy, deputy director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, explained in a video how low Earth orbit is booming with new commercial space activity—but another transformation awaits as geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO). Space robotics technology will help us build the infrastructure for vibrant, sustaining presence at GEO and beyond. She spoke at DARPA's "Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum" on Sept. 10, 2015.

DARPA's Targeted Electrical Stimulation of the Brain boosts Memory

DARPA memory research could lead to therapies for wounded warriors and others with memory deficits caused by traumatic brain injury or disease. Electrical arrays implanted in the memory centers of the brain are showing promise for their ability to help patients improve their scores on memory tests, raising hope that such approaches may someday help individuals suffering from memory deficits as a result of traumatic brain injury or other pathologies. The preliminary findings, from DARPA’s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, were presented in St. Louis

Just over one year into the effort, the novel approach to facilitating memory formation and recall has already been tested in a few dozen human volunteers, said program manager Justin Sanchez. The subjects in the study have neurological problems unrelated to memory loss, but volunteered to test the new neurotechnological interventions while they were undergoing brain surgery. In the study, small electrode arrays are placed in brain regions known to be involved in the formation of declarative memory—the relatively simple sort of memory used, for example, to recall lists of objects—as well as in regions involved in spatial memory and navigation.

The study aims to give researchers the ability to “read” the neural processes involved in memory formation and retrieval, and even predict when a volunteer is about to make an error in recall. The implanted electrodes also provide a means of sending signals to specific groups of neurons, with the goal of influencing the accuracy of recall.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious cause of disability in the United States. Diagnosed in more than 270,000 military servicemembers since 2000 and affecting an estimated 1.7 million U.S. civilians each year1, TBI frequently results in an impaired ability to retrieve memories formed prior to injury and a reduced capacity to form or retain new memories following injury. Despite the scale of the problem, few effective therapies currently exist to mitigate the long-term consequences of TBI on memory. Through the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, DARPA seeks to accelerate the development of technology able to address this public health challenge and help servicemembers and others overcome memory deficits by developing new neuroprosthetics to bridge gaps in the injured brain.

The end goal of RAM is to develop and test a wireless, fully implantable neural-interface medical device for human clinical use, but a number of significant advances will be targeted on the way to achieving that goal. To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories—those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places. Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. “Encoding” refers to the process by which newly learned information is attended to and processed by the brain when first encountered.

Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models developed under RAM into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function. These studies will involve volunteers living with deficits in the encoding and/or retrieval of declarative memories and/or volunteers undergoing neurosurgery for other neurological conditions.

Human cyclist reaches a record 85.71 mph human powered speed record

Canadian Todd Reichart has claimed the world record for human powered speed. The annual World Human Powered Speed Challenge draws cyclists from around the world seeking to push the limits of pedal-powered motion, but it was the 33-year-old who left the competition in his wake to clock a top speed of 85.71 mph (137.9 km/h)

The course for the event consists of a 5 mile (8 km) run-up section for the pilots to build speed before a 218 yard (200 m) section on which they are judged. Reichart covered this distance in just 5.22 seconds

China delayed todays launch of the Long March 6 Rocket which first in a new generation of Long March Rockets

China's Long March 6 (CZ-6) carrier rocket was set to be launched in Taiyuan, in North China's Shanxi Province on Saturday, sending 20 small satellites into space. It appears the launch may have been postphoned

Designed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, developer of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft, the CZ-6 is a non-toxic and pollution-free rocket which features a number of next-generation technologies, including a liquid oxygen kerosene engine.

The rocket was developed in China at low cost, high reliability, strong adaptability and good safety.

Another rocket, the Long March 11 carrier rocket (CZ-11) is expected to be launched in Jiuquan, in Northwest China's Gansu Province on September 25, carrying three satellites.

The CZ-11 is the first solid launch vehicle designed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, and takes mere hours to launch in comparison to other rockets which usually take months to prepare.

China outlined its five-year space mission in 2011. Among the items outlined are the launch of manned spaceships, next-generation rockets and the use of cleaner fuel, all of which are expected to help the country realize its goal of building a space station by 2020.

Two more rockets, the Long March-5 and Long March-7, will be launched in 2016.

The LM-7, along with the lighter Long March 6 and heavier Long March 5, will act as China's next generation of space launch vehicles

The LM-7 is a mid-heavy weight, 600 ton launch rocket, similar to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It is likely to replace the man-rated Long March 2 rocket, which is currently used to launch China's manned Shenzhou space missions. However, the LM-7 is estimated to carry 13.5 tons (depending on booster rocket configuration) of cargo in low earth orbit, which is a 50% increase over the LM-2.

The testing LM-7 space launch rocket its attached to the erector pad at Wenchang, China.

September 18, 2015

China will have two 100 petaflop supercomputers in 2016 and they will use domestic chips

Within the next 12 months, China expects to be operating two 100 Petaflop computers, each containing (different) Chinese-made processors, and both coming online about a year before the United States’ 100 Petaflop machines being developed under the Coral initiative

In a separate move to acquire mastery of microprocessor technologies, China’s state owned Tsinghua Unigroup has made a bid to acquire US semiconductor manufacturer Micron Technology for $23 billion, in what could be one of the biggest acquisitions of a US company by a Chinese firm.

Chinese RISC processor

Information in the public domain at the ISC High Performance Conference in Frankfurt in July suggested that China is developing a 100 Petaflop machine that will use its own CPU, designed in China. The computer is expected to start operating before the middle of next year.

Hitherto, international attention has focused on the Tianhe-2 computer developed by the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) and sited at the National Supercomputer Centre in Guangzhou, largely because it retained its position as the world’s No. 1 system for the fifth consecutive time when the most recent Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers was announced in the middle of July.

However, the first Chinese machine to reach 100 Petaflops may be one being developed by the Jiangnan Institute of Computer Technology in Wuxi, near Shanghai. It will use a next-generation, Chinese designed and manufactured, ShenWei chip. A ShenWei processor, the SW1600, currently powers the Sunway BlueLight, which is already in operation at the National Supercomputer Centre in Jinan, and which ranked 86 in the Top500 published in July.

The next-generation ShenWei could come online as early as the end of this year, or towards the beginning of next year.

European Union 5G-Xhaul program to develop 10 gigabit per second cellular data by 2018

Xhaul aims at developing an adaptive, sharable,cost-efficient 5G transport network solution integrating the front haul and backhaul segments of the network. This transport network will flexibly interconnect distributed 5G radio access and core network functions, hosted on in-network cloud nodes,through the implementation of two novel building blocks:

i) A control infrastructure using a unified, abstract network model for control plane integration (Xhaul Control Infrastructure, XCI);

ii) a unified data plane encompassing innovative high-capacity transmission technologies and novel deterministic-latency switch architectures (Xhaul Packet Forwarding Element, XFE).

Xhaul will greatly simplify network operations despite growing techno-logical diversity. It will hence enable system-wide optimization of Quality of Service (QoS) and energy usage as well as network-aware application development

5G-XHaul will use millimeter wave (mmW) modems from Blu Wireless along with fiber optic components in a trial network that aims for less than 1 millisecond latency and up to 10 Gbits/second of data by 2018. The existing wireless network can currently process about 1 Gbit/s.

“Backhaul is a major pain point in [cellular] networks, so with 5G we want to make sure that it is done more efficiently,” said Mark Barrett, chief marketing officer for Blu Wireless.

Off Topic - Bay Area Transit Parking Rule

[San Francisco] Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) requires that you get into the paid area in order to pay for parking. So if you forgot to pay for parking and ask a friend or family member who is not riding on BART to go help you pay for parking for you, they will not be let into the paid area to pay for parking.

In particular the Walnut Creek BART station has the parking payment machines 30 feet inside the turnstiles. The three attendants in the morning will not let you in to pay parking and will not take your money to pay for the parking. The three attendents will just talk to each other and one will answer and tell you how they will not do anything and will not help in any way.

You have to ask someone who is going into ride BART [give them the money] to pay for the parking, otherwise you will have to pay $8.50 in addition to paying the $3.00 for parking.

Federal Reserve reports US Household Net Worth reached a record $85.7 trillion

The net worth of households and nonprofits rose to $85.7 trillion during the second quarter of 2015. The value of directly and indirectly held corporate equities increased $61 billion and the value of real estate rose $499 billion.

Domestic non-financial debt outstanding was $44trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2015, of which household debt was $14trillion, non-financial business debt was $12.5trillion, and total government debt was $17.5 trillion

Household debt increased at an annual rate of 3.9 percent in the second quarter of 2015. Consumer credit grew 8.1 percent, while mortgage debt (excluding charge-offs) grew 2.2 percent at an annual rate

A lot for the top 1%

Top 0.1% really pulling away to Roaring Twenties levels

UK funding combat lasers on Navy ships by 2020 and will use formula 1 flywheel technology to store energy for laser shots

The UK Ministry of Defence is looking to have a land-based cannon by 2017 and a ship-mounted one by 2020.

There were early experiments using lasers to try to blind enemy pilots or to disrupt the electronic systems of planes. But the new types of lasers being developed are intended to destroy, in particular enemy planes, and should be capable of dealing at high speed with multiple targets.

Admiral Sir George Zambellas said technological advances had the power to change how the navy operated. One of those advances, he said, was novel, high-energy weapons. “Energy weapons don’t require conventional ammunition. With a cost-per-shot potentially measured in pence rather than pounds, they offer a route to address the spiralling costs of missile development and production, as well as reducing supply chain demands,” he said.

This year the Ministry of Defence said it had instructed its development arm, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), to look at building a prototype. DSTL is exploring the role that electric flywheel technology, the kind used in Formula 1 racing, could play to generate and store the power required for high-energy weapons

Beacon Power opened a 5 MWh (20 MW over 15 mins) flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York in 2011

A 2 MW flywheel storage facility opened in Ontario, Canada in 2014. It uses a spinning steel flywheel on magnetic bearings.

In July 2014 GKN acquired Williams Hybrid Power (WHP) division and intended to supply 500 carbon fiber Gyrodrive electric flywheel systems to urban bus operators over the next two years.

William KERS flywheels weigh 40 kg and had about four times the energy density of ultracapacitors.

Advanced flywheels, such as the 133 kWh pack of the University of Texas at Austin, can take a train from a standing start up to cruising speed

Advanced FES systems have rotors made of high strength carbon-fiber composites, suspended by magnetic bearings, and spinning at speeds from 20,000 to over 50,000 rpm in a vacuum enclosure

Black Holes, information and What happens Beyond the Event Horizon

The black hole information paradox results from the combination of quantum mechanics and general relativity. It suggests that physical information could permanently disappear in a black hole, allowing many physical states to devolve into the same state. This is controversial because it violates a commonly assumed tenet of science—that in principle complete information about a physical system at one point in time should determine its state at any other time. A fundamental postulate of quantum mechanics is that complete information about a system is encoded in its wave function up to when the wave function collapses. The evolution of the wave function is determined by a unitary operator, and unitarity implies that information is conserved in the quantum sense. This is the strictest form of determinism.

Main approaches to the solution of the paradox
Information is irretrievably lost

    Advantage: Seems to be a direct consequence of relatively non-controversial calculation based on semiclassical gravity.
    Disadvantage: Violates unitarity, as well as energy conservation or causality.

Information gradually leaks out during the black-hole evaporation

    Advantage: Intuitively appealing because it qualitatively resembles information recovery in a classical process of burning.
    Disadvantage: Requires a large deviation from classical and semiclassical gravity (which do not allow information to leak out from the black hole) even for macroscopic black holes for which classical and semiclassical approximations are expected to be good approximations.

Information suddenly escapes out during the final stage of black-hole evaporation

    Advantage: A significant deviation from classical and semiclassical gravity is needed only in the regime in which the effects of quantum gravity are expected to dominate.
    Disadvantage: Just before the sudden escape of information, a very small black hole must be able to store an arbitrary amount of information, which violates the Bekenstein bound.

Information is stored in a Planck-sized remnant

    Advantage: No mechanism for information escape is needed.
    Disadvantage: To contain the information from any evaporated black hole, the remnants would need to have an infinite number of internal states. It has been argued that it would be possible to produce an infinite amount of pairs of these remnants since they are small and indistinguishable from the perspective of the low-energy effective theory

Information is stored in a baby universe that separates from our own universe.

    Advantage: This scenario is predicted by the Einstein–Cartan theory of gravity which extends general relativity to matter with intrinsic angular momentum (spin). No violation of known general principles of physics is needed.
    Disadvantage: It is difficult to test the Einstein–Cartan theory because its predictions are significantly different from general-relativistic ones only at extremely high densities.

Information is encoded in the correlations between future and past

    Advantage: Semiclassical gravity is sufficient, i.e., the solution does not depend on details of (still not well understood) quantum gravity.
    Disadvantage: Contradicts the intuitive view of nature as an entity that evolves with time.

New Proposal that information is bounced form Blackhole

The mechanism by which black holes return the absorbed information to the outside world is reconsidered, and described in terms of a set of mutually non-interacting modes. Our mechanism is based on the mostly classical gravitational back-reaction. The diagonalized formalism is particularly useful for further studies of this process. Although no use is made of string theory, our analysis appears to point towards an ensuing string-like interaction. It is shown how black hole entropy can be traced down to classical gravitational back-reaction

Arxiv - Diagonalizing the Black Hole Information Retrieval Process

September 17, 2015

Private US company Xpresswest and Chinese partner say they will start building a high speed rail from Los Angeles to Vegas Sept 2016

China Railway International USA CO., LTD. and XpressWest have agreed to form a joint venture that will accelerate the launch of the XpressWest rail project connecting Las Vegas, Nevada to Los Angeles, California (the “Southwest Rail Network”). The Project will develop, finance, build and operate the Southwest Rail Network, with stations in Las Vegas, Nevada, Victorville, California, and Palmdale, California, and service throughout Los Angeles. The decision to form a joint venture is the culmination of years of work and builds uponthe significant accomplishments of XpressWest.

Supported by $100 Million in initial capital, this new high-speed rail line (approximately 370 km(s) in length) will create new technology, manufacturing, and construction jobs throughout the interstate corridor and will connect Southern Nevada and Southern California which will drive new economic development and grow the tourism industry which is vital to the economy of the region. The Project will serve as a model of international cooperation and will firmly establish a United States-based high-speed rail industry that will result in significant job creation throughout the Southwest with construction planned to commence as early as September 2016. The Project will immediately undertake all necessary regulatory and commercial activities to advance the reality of regional high-speed rail in the United States. Implementation will begin within the next 100 days.

This is the Desert Express high speed rail line

XpressWest (formerly known as DesertXpress), is intended to improve transit times between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, which has no passenger rail connection. The cost of the initial segment is estimated at between $4bn and $5bn, with trains travelling up to 150 mph (240 km/h) making the 186 mi (299 km) journey in around 84 minutes. The route is not planned to be extended directly to Los Angeles, although there is a further proposal to have it extended as far as Palmdale, where it would interchange with the CHSR network.

The 185-mile link between Las Vegas and Victorville is designed to be double-tracked which is dedicated for the high-speed trains. The costs of this section is estimated at $6.9 billion.

The future phases of the project include a link between Las Vegas and Phoenix, Arizona. Another link will be from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah and terminated in Denver, Colorado. The project was subsequently rebranded to XpressWest to reflect the expanded mission

XpressWest will utilize fully electric, next generation 150 MPH high speed trains that will deliver passengers to Las Vegas in 80 minutes with non-stop service every 20 minutes during peak times and up to every 12 minutes as demand requires

With an average round trip fare of $89, XpressWest will generate enough revenue to pay for its own operating and capital costs.

September 16, 2015

Spiderfab could enable 100+ meter space telescopes by 2022

Spiderfab was presented at the Future in space Operations workshop.

• SpiderFab architecture combines robotic assembly with additive manufacturing techniques adapted for space
• On orbit fabrication enables order.of.magnitude improvements in packing efficiency and launch mass for large systems
>Higher Power, Resolution, Sensitivity and Bandwidth
• On.orbit fabrication with SpiderFab will enable NASA to accomplish 10X more science.per.dollar
• NIAC and SBIR work has validated feasibility of the key processes for SpiderFab
• They are preparing technology for flight demonstrations
• Affordable pathfinder demo can create new mission capability

Modified Mars Sample Return possible in 2022 to 2026

Nextbigfuture previously looked at the NASA analysis for modifying a Spacex Dragon for landing on Mars. They had determined it was possible to land enough mass and volume with a Red Dragon [modified Dragon] to enable a Mars Sample Return mission in which Mars Orbit Rendezvous is avoided, and the return vehicle comes directly back to Earth. NASA has continued the analysis.

In 2014, Nextbigfuture covered a 2 pager on Mars sample return using a Spacex Dragon.

Mars Sample Return (MSR) is the highest priority science mission for the next decade as recommended by the 2013 Decadal Survey of Planetary Science. There is now a 36 page presentation at the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) Working Group Presentations on a Mars sample return using a modified Spacex Dragon.

*‡ Falcon Heavy places Red Dragon capsule on Trans Mars Injection trajectory.
*‡ Red Dragon is modified to carry required hardware
**Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV)
** ± Earth Return Vehicle (ERV)
** ± Mission support hardware
** ± Arm to transfer a sample from a previous rover mission ( i.e. 2020 rover) to the ERV

*‡ Red Dragon performs lifting trajectory EDL with Supersonic Retro Propulsion EDL paper at this 2014 IEEE Aerospace conference

* ‡ Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) launches Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) with sample from the surface to brief Mars phasing orbit.

* ‡ Mission can start in preferred 2022 opportunity or as late as 2026

A Mars Sample Return mission in 2022 opportunity that retrieves samples collected by Mars 2020 rover technically feasible with the use of emerging commercial technologies.

Lockheed offers TR-X Stealth Spyplane to replace the still in service 70 year old U2 Spyplane

Lockheed Martin is offering the US Air Force (USAF) a new spyplane the TR-X. It will be a stealthy, optionally manned high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platform as a replacement for its U-2.

The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is a single-jet engine, ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides day and night, very high-altitude (70,000 feet; 21,000 m), all-weather intelligence gathering. The U-2 has also been used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, and communications purposes.

In late 2014, Lockheed Martin proposed an unmanned U-2 version with greater payload capability, but the concept did not gain traction with the USAF. In early 2015, the USAF was directed to restart modest funding for the U-2 for operations and research, development, and procurement through to FY 2018. The former head of the USAF Air combat Command, Gen. Mike Hostage helped extend the U-2S to ensure commanders receive sufficient ISR intelligence and support coverage; stating "it will take eight years before the RQ-4 Global Hawk fleet can support 90% of the coverage of the U-2 fleet. Although the RQ-4 is planned to replace the U-2 by 2019, Lockheed claims it can remain viable until 2050

The Air Force is looking to retire Lockheed’s U-2 Dragon Lady in 2019

the new aircraft would be a follow-on to both the manned U-2 and the unmanned Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Lockheed is looking into increased power and cooling to accommodate new sensors, electronic warfare suites, and a more advanced communications system with the ability to communicate with both fourth and fifth-generation fighter jets, Winstead said. The plane will comply with the Air Force’s Open Mission Systems standards to keep up with technology advances, and may even employ offensive and defensive laser weapons in future.

TR-X mockup

Lockheed U2

September 15, 2015

Hypersonic passenger planes that use hydrogen from natural gas would have seats at half the price of current business class

Lapcat-II, is a European-designed aeroplane capable of cruising speeds up to eight times faster than sound (8,500 km/h or 5,280 mph) taking passengers from Brussels to Sydney in 2 hours and 55 minutes. At the AIAA Hypersonic Space Plane conference in Glasgow in Scotland in July, a paper submitted by Lapcat-II researchers said their early airliner tests suggested such a design would be greener than current aircraft, just as safe, and would not cost much more than today’s long-haul flights.

Johan Steelant, a senior research engineer at the European Space Agency (Esa) and coordinator of Lapcat-II, with his colleagues, has been testing two prototypes. One is a Mach 5 plane – the Lapcat-A2 powered by a pre-cooled air-turbo ramjet; and a promising – Esa-designed – Mach 8 plane, also powered by a ramjet engine.

Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) is also working on a hypersonic airliner called Hytex intended to cross the Pacific Ocean in two hours at speeds of Mach 5.

Both Lapcat-II and Jaxa are part of a hypersonic knowledge-transfer project between Europe and Japan called Hikari.

The Hytex’s’s turbojet engine has been successfully tested in a flight experiment which simulates speeds up to Mach 1.8. Hytex uses liquid hydrogen both as a fuel and coolant for air travelling at hypersonic speeds.

“We have finished the conceptual design and aerodynamic wind tunnel tests of Hytex. The fuel consumption is one-fifth that of rocket engines".

Liquid hydrogen fuel is not highly combustible mid-flight. Although hydrogen can be ignited, the risks of an explosion or fire are lower compared to conventional airline kerosene fuel

Hydrogen fuel is one main factor for projected high operating costs for hypersonic planes. If the hydrogen can be sourced from natural gas, instead of from the electrolysis of water, the airfare tickets of a hypersonic trip could drop to about half the price of a business-class ticket.

Based on current projections [without cheaper hydrogen] the ticket price will be about three times more expensive on average than current business-class subsonic tickets. One estimate puts the cost at €5,000 (£3,700) per seat for a Brussels to Sydney one-way trip.

Lapcat II website has pictures of the mach 8 plane design
Mach 8 lapcaat

Lapcat A2

Achievements Obtained for Sustained Hypersonic Flight within the LAPCAT-II project

DARPA Seeks New Composite Material and Process for Manufacturing Small Parts to make parts faster and cheaper

New composite feedstocks could reduce the cost and production time of small, lightweight composite parts—increasing military system performance and compressing tool development and fabrication cycles.

The manufacturing process for defense systems—from aircraft to vehicles to ships—is extremely complex and fragmented, often demanding unique materials and processes, complex certification requirements and specifications, and specialized tools and equipment. The almost inevitable result: lengthy production timelines and high costs. The manufacture of diverse small parts for military systems could be made simpler, faster, and less expensive with the development of a tailorable composite feedstock material and a single tailorable forming method.

To achieve this goal, DARPA has launched its Tailorable Feedstock and Forming (TFF) program, which aims to reduce the time and cost burdens associated with current manufacturing design and development cycles for defense platforms. TFF aims to cut the turnaround time for part modifications and redesigns by as much as 50 percent.

Composite materials are extremely strong and lightweight, but automated systems for producing composite parts are currently cost-effective only for parts weighing 20 pounds or more. Parts weighing less than 20 pounds are usually manufactured using metals, such as aluminum, which cost less than composites but are more dense, adding weight to the system.

“Eighty percent of small parts are made of metal due to the prohibitive fabrication cost of composite parts under 20 pounds,” said Mick Maher, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “Although metal parts are cheaper to make, their additional weight leads to sub-optimal performance of the system. Through TFF, we aim to develop a versatile composite material and an adaptable forming process to allow affordable fabrication of multiple part configurations from the same work cell.”

China economy has slowed but still has strength

Michael Ivanovitch is president of MSI Global, a New York-based economic research company. He wrote a piece for CNBC which looks at the positive side of China's economy.

Chinese are just warming up for their big 'Belt and Road'. In the first half of this year, China invested $7 billion – a 22.2 percent increase – in 48 countries that are part of this giant multinational project. Again, the job leaders here are large Chinese publicly-owned firms.

One of them, the China State Construction Engineering, just signed up last week a mega-project to build Egypt's $45 billion new administrative capital east of Cairo over the next seven years.

China will fine-tune its economic growth with a more balanced mix of monetary and fiscal policies. Some of that stimulus is already under way. Public spending in the first seven months of this year rose 13.4 percent. An additional 1.2-1.5 trillion yuan ($190 billion to $240 billion) in public spending is also in the pipelines to support growth through already approved investment projects.

Beijing has just set up a 60 billion yuan fund to assist the functioning and the creation of small- and medium-sized companies - a sort of Chinese Mittelstand. Also, an astounding 10,000 privately-owned companies are reportedly being registered in China every day. And a large number of the seven million college graduates entering the job market every year are becoming start-up entrepreneurs.

First Human head transplant scheduled for December 2017

The world’s first head transplant patient has scheduled the procedure for December 2017. Valery Spiridonov, 30, was diagnosed with a genetic muscle-wasting condition called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, and volunteered for the procedure despite the risks involved. Nextbigfuture has covered the proposed full human body [aka human head transplant] transplant procedure several times. The background information and science behind the procedure is below.

Dr. Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon, will perform the procedure on Spiridonov. The procedure is expected to last up to 36 hours, and it will require Spiridonov’s head be cooled as well as the donor’s body. Canavero calculates it will take two years to plan and prepare for a successful procedure. The surgery will be done once the doctor and the experts are 99 percent sure of its success.

Russian computer scientist Valery Spiridonov, suffering from Werdnig Hoffman's disease, has volunteered for the world's first head-to-body transplant. Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/Corbis

Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero announce a project perform a human head transplant at a keynote lecture at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons annual conference this June.

He believes the patient would be able to speak in his own voice upon waking and that walking could be achieved within a year. "If society doesn't want it, I won't do it," Canavero says. "But if people don't want it in the US or Europe, that doesn't mean it won't be done somewhere else.

Most other surgeons do not believe the procedure will be successful.

New Scientist reports that Xiao-Ping Ren of Harbin Medical University in China recently showed that it is possible to perform a basic head transplant in a mouse. Ren will attempt to replicate Canavero's protocol in the next few months in mice, and monkeys.

CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics - Allogeneic Head and Body Reconstruction: Mouse Model

Ren's approach, pioneered in mice, involves retaining the donor brain stem and transplanting the recipient head. Our preliminary data in mice support that this allows for retention of breathing and circulatory function. Critical aspects of the current protocol include avoiding cerebral ischemia through cross-circulation (donor to recipient) and retaining the donor brain stem. Successful clinical translation of AHBR will become a milestone of medical history and potentially could save millions of people. Ren's mouse experiment confirmed a method to avoid cerebral ischemia during the surgery and solved an important part of the problem of how to accomplish long-term survival after transplantation and preservation of the donor brain stem.

Head Transplant Procedure

* The sharp severance of the cervical cords (donor's and recipient's), with its attendant minimal tissue damage
* The exploitation of the gray matter internuncial sensori-motor "highway" rebridged by sprouting connections between the two reapposed cord stumps. This could also explain the partial motor recovery in a paraplegic patient submitted to implantation of olfactory ensheathing glia and peripheral nerve bridges: A 2-mm bridge of remaining cord matter might have allowed gray matter axons to reconnect the two ends
* The bridging as per point 2 above is accelerated by electrical SCS straddling the fusion point
* The application of "fusogens/sealants": Sealants "seal" the thin layer of injured cells in the gray matter, both neuronal, glial and vascular, with little expected scarring; simultaneously they fuse a certain number of axons in the white matter.

During CSA, microsutures (mini-myelorrhaphy) will be applied along the outer rim of the apposed stumps. A cephalosomatic anastomosee will thus be kept in induced coma for 3-4 weeks following CSA to give time to the stumps to refuse (and avoid movements of the neck) and will then undergo appropriate rehabilitation in the months following the procedure.

In addition, the immunosuppressant regime that will be instituted after CSA is expected to be pro-regenerative

Figure 1: (a) Longitudinal cut along a primate spinal cord depicting the internuncial system (gray matter motor highway) and the nano-size of the proposed severance (left). The red circle on the right side of this panel is the pyramidal tract, shown in two exploded views of a sharply transected cord (middle right) and of the cord in the vertebral canal (lower middle right). (b)Visualization of the severed pyramidal tract. The uppermost image depicts a motor neuron in the cortex sending forth the axonal prolongation. Middle panel: The pyramidal tract (red) and a portion of its severed axons. Lower panel: The sharply severed axonal extensions (adapted from Laruelle 1937 and several images in the public domain)

The project for the first head transplant in man is code-named HEAVEN/GEMINI (Head Anastomosis Venture with Cord Fusion.

I covered the internet and news reactions to the 2013 discussion of technical feasibility of head transplants.

I consider the 2013 proposed procedure in the context of organ donation and xenotransplantation.

The technical hurdles have now been cleared thanks to cell engineering. As described in his paper, the keystone to successful spinal cord linkage is the possibility to fuse the severed axons in the cord by exploiting the power of membrane fusogens/sealants. Agents exist that can reconstitute the membranes of a cut axon and animal data have accrued since 1999 that restoration of axonal function is possible. One such molecule is poly-ethylene glycol (PEG), a widely used molecule with many applications from industrial manufacturing to medicine, including as an excipient in many pharmaceutical products. Another is chitosan, a polysaccharide used in medicine and other fields.

HEAVEN capitalizes on a minimally traumatic cut of the spinal cord using an ultra-sharp blade (very different from what occurs in the setting of clinical spinal cord injury, where gross, extensive damage and scarring is observed) followed within minutes by chemofusion (GEMINI). The surgery is performed under conditions of deep hypothermia for maximal protection of the neural tissue. Moreover, and equally important, the motoneuronal pools contained in the cord grey matter remain largely untouched and can be engaged by spinal cord stimulation, a technique that has recently shown itself capable of restoring at least some motor control in spinal injured subjects.

Surgical Neurological International - HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI)

* a head of a monkey was transplanted in the 1970s but the spinal cord could not be repaired at the time
* Spinal cords have been regrown in rats.
* In 2000, guinea pigs had spinal cords surgically cut and then protected with PEG chemical (like what is proposed here) and they had over 90% of spinal nerve transmission restored with a lot of mobility and function restored

Over the last 30 years, scientists have worked to chemically encourage regrowth. Two chemicals, chondroitinase and FGF, show strong signs of doing exactly that--in rats, at least. Independently, over the past three decades, each chemical has shown some promise in restoring simple but crucial rat motor processes, like breathing, even with entirely severed spinal cords.

Two surgeons in the field figured that a combination of the chemicals might enhance the regrowth even more. The surgeons, from Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, began by entirely severing the spinal cords of 15 rats to ensure no independent, natural regrowth. That shut off the rats' bladder control (a nervous system process that is especially important in rats, since they urinate often and to mark their territory). The researchers then injected the two growth-stimulating chemicals into both sides of the severance, and reinforced the gap in the cord with steel wiring and surgical thread.

The Cleveland clinic has the full description of the rat spinal cord repair.

B3 bomber will be a stealthy AWACS with a lot of missiles and bombs

First and foremost, the new B-3 bomber — will be a stealthy bomb truck built to carry tons of munitions into contested airspace. (What is “contested airspace”? An area guarded by powerful radars and surface-to-air missiles that could easily shoot down today’s non-stealthy B-1 and B-52 bombers. Where does this type of airspace exist? China, Russia and likely Iran.) But that’s just the beginning.

It will be a “long-range sensor shooter".

Intelligence Gatherer

Over the past decade-plus of flying counterinsurgency missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force has learned how to give an ordinary bomber some intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capabilities as well.

Targeting pods bearing high-power cameras have been installed on B-1 and B-52 bombers, breathing new life into those seasoned airframes. Today, the B-1 is used regularly to strike ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Since it can carry lots of bombs and fly for a long time, it can hang out above the battlefield and strike targets as they pop up.

The stealthy new bomber is meant to be able to do the same thing — in well-defended airspace. Like the B-2 bomber and the F-22 and F-35 fighters, the new aircraft will have its antennas embedded in its skin.

Some of those antennas are expected to be for powerful radars, allowing the aircrew to get detailed pictures of the ground and sky around them. Other antennae will sweep the electromagnetic spectrum for other clues about the enemy’s forces. (They may also allow the crew to to jam enemy equipment.) Taken as a whole, the sensor suite embedded in the aircraft’s skin will allow the aircraft to vacuum up information about the battlespace.

Moreover, the major advances in computer processing power in the decades since the Air Force’s existing bombers were designed will allow the new aircraft to crunch sensor data by itself instead of having to send to down to intelligence centers on the ground.

This airborne processing and sharing of data between planes — Deptula calls it the “combat cloud” — will give military commanders and war planners a leg up on the enemy.

The speed of information, advances in stealth, precision, new sensors and technologies permit us to move beyond designing aircraft with segregated missions like technology forced us to do in the past,

NextGen Materials Design with Atom probe

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, has taken delivery of a state-of-the-art Cameca 4000X Si Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP), a high performance microscope that provides precise atom-by-atom dissection of a material volume, enabling true three-dimensional (3D) atomic-scale reconstructions of material microstructures.

"Exact knowledge of where individual atoms are in a material is of tremendous benefit when engineering new materials," said Keith Knipling, NRL Materials Science and Technology Division. "We expect the LEAP to greatly enhance our capability to develop new materials, including the next generation of structural alloys for stronger ship hulls and more advanced turbine engines, new electronic materials for tomorrow's faster integrated circuits, and advanced solar cell and battery materials with improved power and energy efficiency."

Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., are utilizing a state-of-the-art Cameca 4000X Si Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) that provides nano-scale surface, bulk, and interfacial materials analysis of simple and complex structures. Microtip arrays are placed into copper pucks (shown labeled 1718) and then loaded onto carousels that are then placed in the instrument for analysis. Material experiments rely on the principle of field evaporation, whereby a strong electric field is applied to the sharply pointed specimen sufficient to cause removal of atoms by ionization.
(Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory/Jamie Hartman)

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., has taken delivery of the only Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) microscope in use in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Researchers at the laboratory's Materials Science and Technology Division will utilize the atom probe to analyze materials at the atomic level for optimizing new, next-generation alloys and semiconducting materials. (Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory/Jamie Hartman)

September 14, 2015

Carnival of Space 423

1. Planetaria - New study helps answer mystery of what happened to Mars’ early atmosphere

Mars used to have a thicker atmosphere and water on its surface, but what happened to that atmosphere has been a mystery. New research may finally help answer that question. Image Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO

A new analysis of the largest known deposit of carbonate minerals on Mars suggests that the original Martian atmosphere may have already lost most of its carbon dioxide by the era of valley network formation.

"The biggest carbonate deposit on Mars has, at most, twice as much carbon in it as the current Mars atmosphere," said Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena. "Even if you combined all known carbon reservoirs together, it is still nowhere near enough to sequester the thick atmosphere that has been proposed for the time when there were rivers flowing on the Martian surface."

This view combines information from two instruments on a NASA Mars orbiter to map color-coded composition over the shape of the ground within the Nili Fossae plains region of Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona

2. Universe Today - The (Possible) Dwarf Planet 2007 OR10

2007 OR10 is a Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) located within the scattered disc that at one time went by the nicknames of “the seventh dwarf” and “Snow White”. Approximately the same size as Haumea, it is believed to be a dwarf planet, and is currently the largest object in the Solar System that does not have a name.

It was the seventh object to be discovered by Michael Brown’s team (after Quaoar in 2002, Sedna in 2003, Haumea and Orcus in 2004, and Makemake and Eris in 2005).

An artist’s conception of 2007 OR10, nicknamed Snow White. Astronomers suspect that its rosy color is due to the presence of irradiated methane. Credit: NASA

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