April 16, 2016

Megawatt beam propulsion by 2023 and Gigawatts by 2030

Billionaire Yuri Milner is spending $100 million to work out the technology for ground based laser based beam propulsion for interstellar travel.

California Polytechnic State University researchers propose a 100 kilowatt space based laser system capable of probing the molecular composition of cold solar system targets such as asteroids, comets, planets and moons from a distant vantage. This system uses existing technology and only some needs refinement. All of it looks achievable in the next 3 to 5 years. They have NASA NIAC funding. They have detailed designs for a 900 kilowatt system that would use two Falcon heavy launches.

The military laser segment will be about a $5 billion per year market by 2020. There is a large multi-billion commercial laser market. Those markets will drive improvements in laser efficiency and technological improvements which will be leveraged for space based systems or ground based lasers for space beam propulsion applications.

University California Santa Barbara looked at sail mass and speed pushed by a 100 GW laser

UCSB has looked closely at issues for what Milner is proposing and have produced a roadmap for interstellar beam propulsion.

1 gram     24% of lightspeed
10 grams   14% of lightspeed
100 grams   7.8% of lightspeed
1 kg        4.3% of lightspeed 
10kg        2.4% of lightspeed
100kg       1.4% of lightspeed
1000kg      0.77% of lightspeed
10 tons     0.43% of lightspeed
100 tons    0.24% of lightspeed

Milner is probably looking at less than 10 grams and about 2-4 GW ground based laser array.

UCSB Operational Maturation and Steps from their laser pushed sail roadmap:

Step 1 - Ground based - Small phased array, beam targeting and stability tests - 10 kw
Step II – Ground based - Target levitation and lab scale beam line acceleration tests - 10 kw
Step III – Ground based - Beam formation at large array spacing –
Step IV – Ground based - Scale to 100 kW with arrays sizes in the 1-3 m size –
Step V – Ground based - Scale to 1 MW with 10 m optics –
Step VI – Orbital testing with small 1-3 class arrays and 10-100kw power – ISS possibility
Step VII – Orbital array assembly tests in 10 m class array
Step VIII – Orbital assembly with sparse array at 100 m level –
Step IX – Orbital filled 100 m array
Step X – Orbital sparse 1km array
Step XI – Orbital filled 1 km array
Step XII – Orbital sparse 10 km array
Step XIII – Orbital filled 10 km array

All of the technology is nearly ready for megawatt space based laser systems for science and planetary defense

California Polytechnic State University researchers propose a system capable of probing the molecular composition of cold solar system targets such as asteroids, comets, planets and moons from a distant vantage.

Their concept utilizes a directed energy beam to vaporize or sublimate a spot on a distant target, such as from a spacecraft near the object. With sufficient flux, our published results indicate that the spot temperature rises rapidly, and evaporation of materials on the target surface occurs (Hughes et al., 2015; Lubin and Hughes, 2015; Lubin et al., 2014). The melted spot serves as a high-temperature blackbody source, and ejected material creates a molecular plume in front of the spot. Molecular and atomic absorption of the blackbody radiation occurs within the ejected plume. Bulk composition of the surface material is investigated by using a spectrometer to view the heated spot through the ejected material. They envision a spacecraft that could be sent to probe the composition of a target asteroid, comet or other planetary body while orbiting the targeted object. The spacecraft would be equipped with an array of lasers and a spectrometer, powered by photovoltaics. Spatial composition maps could be created by scanning the directed energy beam across the surface. Applying the laser beam to a single spot continuously produces a borehole, and shallow sub-surface composition profiling is also possible.

Their initial simulations of laser heating, plume opacity, material absorption profiles and spectral detectivity show promise for molecular composition analysis. Such a system has compelling potential benefit for solar system exploration by establishing the capability to directly interrogate the bulk composition of objects from a distant vantage. They propose to develop models, execute preliminary feasibility analysis, and specify a spacecraft system architecture for a hypothetical mission that seeks to perform surface molecular composition analysis and mapping of a near-earth asteroid (NEA) while the craft orbits the asteroid.

This drawing illustrates a system concept for investigating the molecular composition of a distant target, such as an asteroid or comet. A spacecraft is sent to the asteroid, and enters into orbit. Solar cells generate electricity that is used to power a laser, which is directed at the asteroid's surface. The laser will heat a spot on the surface, and very quickly material will begin to evaporate from the spot. The glow from the heated spot is visible at the spacecraft through the plume of evaporated material. Sensors in the spacecraft measure the intensity of light across a span of wavelengths; analysis of light intensity patterns provides information about materials in the plume of evaporated material. Credits: Mark Pryor (Vorticity, Inc.) , Gary B. Hughes (Cal Poly SLO)

Calcium atom heat engine created and output measured

Physicists led by Johannes Roßnagel at the University of Mainz in Germany, the single atom engine is about as efficient as your car at transforming the changing temperature into mechanical energy.

While the engine itself is tiny, the machinery required to create the electromagnetic cone and suspend the two heating and cooling lasers takes up most of a room.

Scientists have previously created several micro-engines consisting of a mere 10,000 particles, Roßnagel's new engine blows these out of the water by paring down the machine to a singular atom housed in a nano-sized cone of electromagnetic radiation.

"The engine has the same working principles as the well-known [combustion] car engine," Roßnagel says. It follows the same four strokes; expanding then cooling, contracting then heating.

step 1. the team traps a single atom in a cone of electromagnetic energy from which the atom cannot escape. You can think of this cone as essentially a tightly-fit engine housing. For this experiment the researchers trapped a lonely calcium-40 atom, but this is an arbitrary detail as pretty much any atom would do.

Step 2. Roßnagel's team points two lasers toward each end of the cone. The laser pointing at the sharp end of the cone heats the atom, and the laser pointing at the base cools the atom via a process called Doppler cooling.

This laser heating and cooling actually changes the size of the atom. (To be a bit more precise, a physicist would tell you it changes the size of the fuzzy, probabilistic smear were the atom can exist.) Because the cone fits so snugly over the calcium atom, that temperature and size change forces the atom to scoot along the length of the cone. It moves toward the tapered point when cool and contracted, and toward the larger bottom when warm and expanded. To boost the efficiency, Roßnagel's team set their lasers to cool and heat their calcium atom at the same resonance at which the atom naturally vibrates back and fourth.

This hot and cold oscillation between the two ends of the cone builds up, like a growing sound wave, creating energy that Roßnagel measured (and could theoretically harness)

When Roßnagel's team of experimental physicists measured the energy output of the motor, they found it produces about 1.5 kilowatts per kilogram—on the same scale as your average car.

Science - A single-atom heat engine

John Wick likely to become a series of movies

The John Wick Chapter Two synopsis: Keanu Reeves returns in the sequel to the 2014 hit as legendary hitman John Wick who is forced to back out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome where he squares off against some of the world’s deadliest killers. Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter 2” arriving in theaters on February 10, 2017.

The sequel stars John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, Common, Peter Stormare, and Riccardo Scamarcio.

Keanu Reaves says “I love John Wick. We had an amazing time making this story. I can’t say that we’re not geeked about continuing the idea and the character. We have some really cool ideas. We talk about what would be cool to take it to the next level.”

Reaves was referring to cool ideas for movies beyond Chapter 2.

Nextbigfuture believes that John Wick Chapter 2 will be more successful at the box office than the first movie. Many people did not discover John Wick until it was released on Blu ray and DVD. I think the John Wick series will follow the path of the Fast and Furious movies as the sequels got larger box offices than earlier movies.

Keanu Reaves has real gun skills and his trainers have made custom gun holsters and other gear

Keanu has real fighting and driving skills from many action movies

He was training 8 hours a day for the first John Wick and is did similar training for John Wick 2.

Here is a youtube tutorial on how to do a John Wick throw.

Canada has a technology geek Prime Minister

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has some knowledge of Quantum computing

Trudeau was announcing a new $50 million infusion of federal funding for STEM programs. He took the microphone when one reporter posed a facetious challenge to Trudeau’s computing know-how, joking, “I was gonna ask you to explain quantum computing, but...” before launching into his policy query.

Trudeau's explanation of quantum computing

Normal computers work, either there’s one power going through a wire or not. It’s one or a zero, they’re binary systems. What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit. Regular computer bit is either a one or a zero, on or off. A quantum state could be much more complex than that, because, as we know, things could be both particle and wave at the same time, and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer. So that’s what’s exciting about quantum computing.

Spock's son made a movie

In 2014, just before Thanksgiving, Adam Nimoy approached his dad, Leonard Nimoy, about the possibility of working together on a film about Mr. Spock. Adam had skimmed through some of the books on the making of Star Trek and felt there was so much more to explore about the creation and development of Mr. Spock. And the timing seemed right, as the 50th anniversary of Star Trek the original series was not that far away. Leornard Nimoy agreed that now was the right time, and that Leonard was 100% committed to collaborating with Adam on this project. Leornard reminded his son that they were (then) just days away from the 50th anniversary of the start of production on “The Cage,” the original pilot for Star Trek in which his dad first appeared as Mr. Spock.

On July 1st, 2015, they wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign, and broke records to become the largest successful documentary project raised on Kickstarter.com to date.

The film for "the Love of Spock" is complete and is being shown at the Tribecca film festival

Dates and times of the screenings are as follows:

Sat, 4/16 @ 6PM - Regal Cinemas Battery Park
Mon, 4/18 @ 5PM - SVA Theater 2 Beatrice
Fri, 4/22 @ 3:30PM - Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 6
Sat, 4/23 @ 9:15PM - Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 4

April 15, 2016

Chip used to restore use of paralyzed hands in spinal injured patient

Doctors implanted a chip in Mr. Burkhart’s (24 year old with a 5 year old neck injury) brain two years ago. Seated in a lab with the implant connected through a computer to a sleeve on his arm, he was able to learn by repetition and arduous practice to focus his thoughts to make his hand pour from a bottle, and to pick up a straw and stir. He was even able to play a guitar video game.

“It’s crazy because I had lost sensation in my hands, and I had to watch my hand to know whether I was squeezing or extending the fingers,” Mr. Burkhart, a business student who lives in Dublin, Ohio, said in an interview. His injury had left him paralyzed from the chest down; he still has some movement in his shoulders and biceps.

The new technology is not a cure for paralysis. Mr. Burkhart could use his hand only when connected to computers in the lab, and the researchers said there was much work to do before the system could provide significant mobile independence.

But the field of neural engineering is advancing quickly. Using brain implants, scientists can decode brain signals and match them to specific movements. Previously, people have learned to guide a cursor on a screen with their thoughts, monkeys have learned to skillfully use a robotic arm through neural signals and scientists have taught monkeys who were partly paralyzed to use an arm with a bypass system. This new study demonstrates that the bypass approach can restore critical skills to limbs no longer directly connected to the brain.

Nature - Restoring cortical control of functional movement in a human with quadriplegia

Journey to the Center of Icy Moons

In Jules Verne’s classic science fiction, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his company descend into an Icelandic volcano to explore it in the name of science, discover a vast subterranean ocean among other unexpected wonders, and must resiliently survive the experience to complete their mission. This is exactly what we want to do in reality on Europa and Enceladus. Several concepts have already been studied to explore these moons’ subsurface oceans using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). However, access to subsurface ocean remains to be an outstanding challenge. The proposed concept is to deploy a surface-to-subsurface robotic system, namely Icy-moon Cryovolcano Explorer (ICE), which will land on the surface of an icy moon, traverse to a cryovolcano, descend into its opening, perform in-situ science in the vent or crevasse, and ultimately deploy underwater vehicles to explore a subsurface ocean.

ICE involves three modules: Descent Module (DM), Surface Module (SM), and AUVs. DM carries AUVs and descends into a vent by using a combination of roving, climbing, rappelling, and hopping, like an experienced human alpinist. The estimated gas density of an ejecting plume is sufficiently low, therefore its dynamic pressure (< 1 Pa) would not be an obstacle for descent. SM stays on the surface, generates power by RTG and/or solar cells, and communicates with Earth. DM relies on the power and communication link provided by SM through a cable to minimize the size and weight. It is a highly autonomous agent being capable of quickly responding to a dynamically changing environment, such as episodic eruption, and resiliently handling any anomalies under significant communication latency. Once DM reaches the subsurface ocean, it launches the AUVs to explore the exotic environment that potentially harbors life. ICE brings three unique benefits.

1. it enables in-situ science in a cryovolcano vent. Although orbiters can perform in-situ science of plumes, relatively large (up to 1 μm) dust grains are hard to reach orbital altitude. Yet it is those mineral grains that carry rich information about the habitability of the subsurface ocean.

2. ICE enables the exploration of subsurface oceans by providing an access to it.

3. it enables the operation of AUVs in subsurface ocean by providing three essential services: communication, localization, and power. Since water blocks radio waves, communication and localization are particularly significant challenges for AUVs. DM of ICE communicates with AUVs though acoustic communication. DM then transfers the data though an optic cable to SM, from which the data is transmitted to Earth by radio. DM also sends an acoustic localization beacon and serves as a battery charging station, potentially unnecessitating RTG on the AUV.

In the proposed study we will
(1) develop mission concepts for ICE,
(2) identify the primary risks associated with the mission, and identify potential mitigations for these risks, and
(3) perform a feasibility analysis for the mission, which will include performing several system trades, including one focused on the hardware platform (e.g., climbing robot vs. repelling robot vs. hovering robot), and another one focused on the autonomy software capabilities (with the goal to identify the appropriate scope of the autonomous functionality required to execute the mission concepts).

These tasks will result in identifying driving requirements for the system, including candidate science targets, power needs, resilience needs, etc. In summary, we will develop a concept for ICE that elaborates and refines the science and exploration benefits descried above, and we will analyze the benefits and risks associated with realizing this concept. A successful completion of the project will mature this exciting concept into a credible element of the growing outer planets and icy moons exploration portfolio.

Icy-moon Cryovolcano Explorer (ICE) consists of three modules: Descent Module (DM), Surface Module (SM), and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). DM descends into a vent by using a combination of roving, climbing, rappelling, and hopping, while SM stays on the surface to generates power and communicate with Earth. Once DM reaches the subsurface ocean, it launches the AUVs to explore the exotic environment that potentially harbors life. Credits: JPL/Caltech

AI and energy expert David McKay has died

David MacKay was a true polymath who achieved greatness in the fields of physics, computer science and energy policy. He died of cancer this week aged 48.

He also co-founded Transversal, a software company that specialises in search based on natural speech and wrote the textbook "Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms", available online for free.

In the wider world MacKay is best known for his 2008 book
“Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air,, which had a major impact on thinking about energy. Within nine months, MacKay was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, a role he occupied until 2014.

Sustainable Energy — without the hot air is here in a 383 page pdf

April 14, 2016

Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets

All stars exhibit intensity fluctuations over several time scales, from nanoseconds to days; these intensity fluctuations echo off planetary bodies in the star system and provide an opportunity to detect and image exoplanets using modern computational imaging techniques.

A mission utilizing distributed-aperture stellar echo detectors could provide continent-level imaging of exoplanets more readily than interferometric techniques, as high temporal resolution detection is less technically challenging and more cost effective than multi-kilometer-baseline fringe-tracking, particularly in a photon-starved regime. The concept is viable for detecting exoplanets at more diverse orbital inclinations than is possible with transit or radial velocity techniques.

Graphic depiction of the Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets using an interferometric technique

Nanohmics, Inc., was founded in 2002 by three scientists with the goal of developing cutting-edge research and transforming it into commercial technology. Over the past decade, our multidisciplinary team has grown to 25 scientists and engineers.

Recently Developed Technologies at Nanohmics

* Anti-Reflective Optical Coating

Nanohmics has developed a process for fabricating an anti-reflective (AR) surface treatment by applying randomly-placed, size-controlled surface relief structures onto infrared windows and lenses. The structures on the surface of the component are smaller than the wavelength of light and provide a refractive index gradient between the air and the medium. This process creates optical windows with improved transmission over 2 octaves of spectrum and with an incident angle of 0°- 65°. The ability to apply this AR treatment to curved surfaces enables its use in complex optical systems. It also provides better laser damage resistance compared to multi-layer dielectrics.

* Argus - Laser Threat Detection Sensor

High Energy Laser weapons are being developed and deployed to disrupt UAS Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Our sensor provides real-time identification, characterization and geolocation of laser threats. This information will help determine who is targeting the aircraft, allowing the pilot to deploy the proper countermeasures. Argus can detect and identify both continuous and pulsed High Energy Lasers.

The system contains a small external optical sensor and an interior electrical board assembly. When laser threats are detected, it will send a threat packet to the pilot via the unmanned aircraft system’s existing data network. This information will enable the pilot to determine the type of threat they are facing and what they should do about it. Argus can be installed in either the fuselage or the wings of small to medium sized aircraft.

* Biologics Refrigerator

This active refrigeration unit allows temperature sensitive materials to be transported through environments where users might experience power interruptions. The system features a unique payload area surrounded with phase change material (PCM) to keep the payload at constant temperature. A compressor-based refrigeration system provides active cooling when power is available and directly charges the PCM. Additionally, the payload and PCM are insulated with a high-R-value polyurethane foam.

* Plenoptic Wavefront Sensor

Our passive, extended-scene wavefront sensor was designed to make high dynamic range wavefront distortion measurements using only scene imagery without the assistance of a point-source beacon. When integrated into adaptive optics systems it provides real-time measurement of optical aberrations including misalignment, static optical defects, defocus, and atmospheric turbulence induced aberrations.

Unlike Shack-Hartman sensors, which are positioned at the pupil plane, Nanohmics wavefront sensor is placed in the optical system’s focal plane. Our plenoptic architecture allows the measurement of differential shifts between subaperture images which are then used to calculate the wavefront with high accuracy. This architecture also eliminates the possibility of cross talk between subapertures and provides a large figure dynamic range. Real-time wavefront sensor computations are performed by proprietary software executing on a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).

Membrane spacecraft with 7.7 kW/kg power-to-weight ratio and 4000 ISP

A 'brane' is a dynamical object that can propagate through spacetime. Flattening a spacecraft into a membrane, or 2-brane, can produce a low mass vehicle with ultra-high power-to-weight ratio (7.7 kW/kg using thin film solar cells). If most of this power is used by an array of thinned, distributed electrospray thrusters with a specific impulse of 4000 s, a Brane Craft could start in low Earth orbit, land on Phobos, and return to low Earth orbit.

Other possible targets include any near-Earth asteroid and most main belt asteroids. Propellant is stored as a liquid within a 10-micron wide gap between two Kapton sheets that form the main structure of the Brane Craft.

This NASA NIAC project will study how to design an ultra-light dynamic membrane spacecraft, with 3-axis attitude determination and control plus navigation, that can significantly change both its shape and orbit. Conventional sensors like star trackers will have to be replaced by 2-dimensional alternatives. Estimated mass is about 35 grams for a 1 square meter Brane Craft.

The target application is removal of orbital debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) through rendezvous, contact, conformal wrapping, and application of thrust. Sending conventional spacecraft, even 1-to-5 kg CubeSats, to each of the thousands of 10-cm or larger debris objects for active deorbiting becomes prohibitively expensive.

With current CubeSat launch costs of ~$250,000 for a 3U CubeSat with ~kilometer/s delta-V propulsion and 3-axis attitude control, the U.S. would spend close to billion dollars in launch costs alone to remove 4 thousand debris objects. Brane Craft could significantly reduce that cost and enable removal of more objects.

Brane Craft rendering
During the last decade, researchers at The Aerospace Corporation have pioneered the development of nano­satellites (1–10 kilo­grams) and picosatellites (0.1–1 kilo­grams). These ultra-small spacecraft can be fabricated quickly and launched into space for less than $100,000 as secondary payloads. They are ideal platforms for flight-testing micro- and nano­technologies, new materials and sensors, and advanced spacecraft software.


E-Glider: Active Electrostatic Flight for Airless Body Exploration

The environment near the surface of airless bodies (asteroids, comets, Moon) is electrically charged due to Sun's photoelectric bombardment. Charged dust is ever present, even at high altitudes (dust fountains), following the Sun's illumination. We envisage the global scale exploration of airless bodies by a gliding vehicle that experiences its own electrostatic lift and drag by its interaction with the naturally charged particle environment near the surface. This Electrostatic Glider (E-Glider) lifts off by extending thin, charged, appendages, which are also articulated to direct the levitation force in the most convenient direction for propulsion and maneuvering. It thus carries out its science mission by circumnavigating the small body, and it lands, wherever it is most convenient, by retracting the appendages or by thruster/anchor.

Artist’s view of the E-Glider concept on an airless body.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marco Quadrelli previously worked on a concept called Orbiting Rainbows

Researchers propose using clouds of reflective glitter-like particles in place of mirrors to enable a telescope to view stars and exoplanets. The technology would enable high-resolution imaging at a fraction of the cost.

"It's a floating cloud that acts as a mirror," said Marco Quadrelli from JPL, the Orbiting Rainbows principal investigator. "There is no backing structure, no steel around it, no hinges; just a cloud."

In the proposed Orbiting Rainbows system, the small cloud of glitter-like grains would be trapped and manipulated with multiple laser beams. The trapping happens because of pressure from the laser light -- specifically, the momentum of photons translates into two forces: one that pushes particles away, and another that pushes the particles toward the axis of the light beam. The pressure of the laser light coming from different directions shapes the cloud and pushes the small grains to align in the same direction. In a space telescope, the tenuous cloud would be formed by millions of grains, each possibly as small as fractions of a millimeter in diameter.

Such a telescope would have a wide adjustable aperture, the space through which light passes during an optical or photographic measurement; in fact, it might lead to possibly larger apertures than those of existing space telescopes.

It would also be much simpler to package, transport and deploy, than a conventional space telescope.

"You deploy the cloud, trap it and shape it," Quadrelli said.

Glitter Cloud May Serve as Space Mirror - This image shows white light reflected off of a glitter mirror onto a camera sensor. Researchers tested this in a laboratory as part of the concept of "Orbiting Rainbows," a low-cost solution for space telescope mirrors. Credit: G. Swartzlander/Rochester Institute of Technology

Nature is full of structures that have light-scattering and focusing properties, such as rainbows, optical phenomena in clouds, or comet tails. Observations of these phenomena, and recent laboratory successes in optical trapping and manipulation have contributed to the Orbiting Rainbows concept. The original idea for a telescope based on a laser-trapped mirror was proposed in a 1979 paper by astronomer Antoine Labeyrie at the College de France in Paris.

Now, the Orbiting Rainbows team is trying to identify ways to manipulate and maintain the shape of an orbiting cloud of dust-like matter using laser pressure so it can function as an adaptive surface with useful electromagnetic characteristics, for instance, in the optical or radar bands.

o test the idea, co-investigator Grover Swartzlander, an associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, and his students spread glitter on a concave lens in the laboratory. His team used lasers to represent the light from a double star system. They pointed the speckled mirror at the simulated stars, then used a camera to take pictures. With many exposures and lots of processing, an image of the two "stars" emerged using the glitter mirror.

"This is a major achievement," Quadrelli said. "This demonstrates a highly controlled experiment in which we were able to do imaging in the visible light spectrum."

The technology could be used more easily for radio-band signals. Because the wavelength is so much longer (about one centimeter, compared to nanometers in visible light), the mirror grains don't have to be as precisely controlled or aligned. This opens up Earth science applications such as earthquake detection and remote sensing of water and other phenomena. JPL's Darmindra Arumugam is investigating possible mechanisms for remote sensing with Orbiting Rainbows.

The JPL optical design team, including Scott Basinger and Mayer Rud, has been working on the adaptive optics techniques that would be needed by an Orbiting Rainbows telescope. So far, the team has been exploring reflective, refractive and diffractive versions of a telescope based on Orbiting Rainbows, with maximum sensitivity to one specific frequency.

Orbiting Rainbows has not yet been demonstrated in space. For a test in low-Earth orbit, the researchers would deploy a telescope with a small patch of particles, no larger than a bottle cap, to show that it can be trapped and shaped to reflect light. The next step would be to make many of these patches and synthesize an aperture with which to do imaging.

The project represents a new application of "granular matter," materials such as dust grains, powders and aerosols. Such materials are very light, can be produced at low-cost and could be useful to the space exploration community. In this particular project, the "glitter" may be tiny granules of metallic-coated plastic, quartz or some other material.

Light Weight Multifunctional Planetary Probe

The Tension Adjustable Novel Deployable Entry Mechanism (TANDEM) is a specially configured tensegrity structure that is designed to act as the frame of a deployable heat shield. TANDEM combines the infrastructure used for the Entry, Decent, and Landing sequence as well as on-the-ground locomotion into a single multifunctional system. Reusing the same infrastructure for every section of the mission makes TANDEM one of the most efficient systems ever proposed.

Although its touchdown mass may be higher than other landers, the versatility of its components translates to a tremendous mass reduction for the whole mission.

TANDEM is an entry vehicle and lander for planetary exploration class probes. It utilizes a semi-rigid, 3-D woven carbon-cloth deployable heat shield. What separates TANDEM from other deployable entry vehicles is its use of tensegrity structure as the frame of the deploying mechanism.

The use of tensegrity robotics for entry vehicles is a currently unexplored concept, providing numerous potential benefits during entry and descent. These benefits include a mass efficient mechanism for actively guided entry, active control of L/D ratio, as well as active control of aerodynamic center. Like most tensegrity concepts, it inherently provides omni-directional protection on impact. However, due to the unique shape of the vehicle, it can actively adjust its configuration for optimal landing. If unforeseen circumstances cause the lander to turn upside-down, TANDEM can be programed to change its aerodynamic center and reorient itself.

Alternatively, it can adjust its outer circumference to provide a safer landing based on its free fall orientation. This adds a remarkable level of reliability and safety to any mission using the TANDEM concept. Conventional tensegrity locomotion depends largely on actuation of the outer cables. This requires mechanical devices in each strut to reel in the cables. However, for extreme environment applications such a system can prove infeasible as it requires each strut to be protected from the environment. This in turn can cause the lander to be prohibitively heavy.

Artist’s rendering of the TANDEM concept showing a deployable heat shield and tensegrity structure for high risk landing zones for extreme environmental missions.

On the other hand, the TANDEM technology can be effectively applied for locomotion through using only inner cable actuation. The locomotion mechanisms can hence be housed in a central payload module, using a common insulation and pressure vessel. TANDEM is designed to enable landing at any orientation and can traverse significantly rougher terrain than existing rovers. This means new landing sites can be reached. Instead of landing in low risk areas then traveling to the closest area of scientific interest, missions using TANDEM can land directly in the region of interest.

The TANDEM concept provides a high level of adaptability and controllability which can be utilized in entry, descent, landing, and for locomotion by actuating specific inner cables. This opens all new avenues in utilizing multifunctional exploration systems with enhanced maneuvering options. Additionally, TANDEM presents a robust, low weight method of locomotion that does not require ultra-high temperature mechanisms for mobility in extreme environments. These attributes make it a superior concept for near- to mid-term missions.

High-power microwave cruise missile

The Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) is a joint concept technology demonstration led by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base to develop an air-launched directed-energy weapon capable of incapacitating or damaging electronic systems. On October 22, 2012, Boeing announced a successful test of the missile. CHAMP took out seven different targets before self-destructing over empty desert.

Congress has suggested repurposing excess cruise missiles demilitarized under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to turn them into CHAMP weapons without violating it. On 14 May 2015, the Air Force nominated the Lockheed Martin JASSM-ER as the optimal air vehicle to carry the CHAMP payload. CHAMP is capable of up to 100 shots per sortie.

It’s a non-lethal weapon that is very different from indiscriminate electromagnetic pulse effects normally associated with high-altitude nuclear explosions, she says, and is already at a decent technological maturity level, having been tested in an operational-type environment.

While traditional counter-electronics warfare weapons such as the Navy’s EA-18G Growler, a version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, seek to jam enemy radar, the CHAMP is meant to destroy them. The Air Force talked up the program at the “Directed Energy to D.C. Exhibition” in the Pentagon courtyard Tuesday.

At Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, the Air Force Research Laboratory has taken a Boeing AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile and rigged it to have the motor feed a high-power microwave to pulse directed energy beams through an antenna to carry out a “functional kill of adversaries’ military electronic and communications systems.”

“It only works now off a B-52,” the bomber that currently carries the AGM-86 cruise missile, said Lt. Nicholas Quartermont of the Air Force Research Laboratory, but the service is also working on adapting the CHAMP system for weapons that can be launched by the F/A-18 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

There is a Air Force High Power Microwave Development and Integration with increased 2016 funding to $16.8 million.

In 2016, they are refining design of a class of reusable, multi-pulse, multi-target counter-electronics payloads capable of being hosted in various advanced platforms. Characterize, model, test and evaluate red directed energy threats on blue assets. Begin initial preparations for the Next Generation High Power Microwave demonstration.

NASA NIAC project to place 3D printers on near earth asteroids

Project RAMA, Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata, has been designed to leverage the advancing trends of additive manufacturing (AM) and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to enable asteroid rendezvous missions in which a set of technically simple robotic processes convert asteroid elements into very basic versions of spacecraft subsystems (GNC, Propulsion, Avionics). Upon completion, the asteroid will be a programmed mechanical automata carrying out a given mission objective; such as relocation to an Earth-Moon libration point for human rendezvous. This technique will create an affordable and scalable way for NASA to achieve future roadmap items for both the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) such as Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), New Frontiers Comet Surface Sample Return, and other Near Earth Object (NEO) applications. It is estimated that an order of magnitude increase in NEO targets can be explored for the same mission cost with the RAMA approach compared to the SOA Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) architecture by removing the need to launch all spacecraft subsystems and instead converting the asteroid into them in-situ. Assuming the development trends continue for industry based AM methods as well as NASA and industry investments in ISRU capabilities, Project RAMA will create a space mission architecture capable of achieving the aforementioned NASA goals within a 20-30 year time frame. Furthermore, as described in the proposal, the identified study path will provide insight into near term Mission 'Pull' technologies worth investment in order to create the development roadmap for the proposed 'Push' technologies for achieving NASA's long term strategic goals.

Made In Space, Inc. is an American-based company, specializing in the engineering and manufacturing of three-dimensional printers for use in microgravity. Headquartered in Mountain View, California on Moffett Field, Made In Space's 3D printer (Zero-G Printer) was the first manufacturing device in space.

They have deployed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

The Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) is a permanent manufacturing facility on the ISS, providing hardware manufacturing services. AMF is twice the size of it’s predecessor 3D printer. The ability to manufacture on the ISS enables on-demand repair and production capability, as well as essential research for manufacturing on long-term missions. AMF allows for immediate repair of essential components, upgrades of existing hardware, installation of new hardware that is manufactured, and the manufacturing capability to support commercial interests on the ISS.

Additive manufacturing is the process of building a part layer-by-layer, with an efficient use of the material. The process leads to a reduction in cost, mass, labor and production time. The ISS crew would be able to utilize the AMF to perform station maintenance, build tools, and repair sections of the station in case of an emergency. The AMF uses an extrusion-based "3D printing" method, which Made in Space has already tested in zero-gravity with successful results. The AMF is capable of producing components from a variety of space-rated composites. This versatility allows for a variety of components and devices to be manufactured, enabling the mentioned uses to be applicable as well as unforeseen uses to be developed.

Using replaceable subassemblies, the AMF is designed so that it could easily be upgraded to add new functionality and manufacturing methods in the future. The AMF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the ISS. The AMF printer is designed to work with a wide range of various extrudable materials including flexible polymers and aerospace grade composites. Designed to operate in an EXPRESS Rack middeck locker, once installed the printer will be easily accessible by crew at all times.

Artists depiction of an asteroid being reconstituted into a mechanical automata.

April 13, 2016

CDC confirms Zika virus causes birth defects and the more that has been learned is scarier than initially thought

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that there is now enough evidence to definitively say that the Zika virus can cause unusually small heads, brain damage and other neurological problems in infants born to infected mothers.

"Most of what we've learned is not reassuring," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought."

As summer approaches, officials are warning that mosquito eradication efforts, lab tests and vaccine research may not be able to catch up. There are 346 cases of Zika confirmed in the continental United States — all in people who had recently traveled to Zika-prone countries, according to the most recent CDC report. Of those, 32 were in pregnant women, and seven were sexually transmitted.

But in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa, the virus is now being transmitted locally.

Schuchat said the virus has been linked to a broader array of birth defects throughout a longer period of pregnancy, including premature birth and blindness in addition to the smaller brain size caused by microcephaly.

Zika has also been linked to an autoimmune disorder that is similar to multiple sclerosis.

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have concluded, after careful review of existing evidence, that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. In the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the CDC authors describe a rigorous weighing of evidence using established scientific criteria.

“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly. We are also launching further studies to determine whether children who have microcephaly born to mothers infected by the Zika virus is the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems,” said Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC. “We’ve now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day. We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public.”


The report notes that no single piece of evidence provides conclusive proof that Zika virus infection is a cause of microcephaly and other fetal brain defects. Rather, increasing evidence from a number of recently published studies and a careful evaluation using established scientific criteria supports the authors’ conclusions.

The finding that Zika virus infection can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects means that a woman who is infected with Zika during pregnancy has an increased risk of having a baby with these health problems. It does not mean, however, that all women who have Zika virus infection during pregnancy will have babies with problems. As has been seen during the current Zika outbreak, some infected women have delivered babies that appear to be healthy.

Establishing this causal relationship between Zika and fetal brain defects is an important step in driving additional prevention efforts, focusing research activities, and reinforcing the need for direct communication about the risks of Zika. While one important question about causality has been answered, many questions remain. Answering these will be the focus of ongoing research to help improve prevention efforts, which ultimately may help reduce the effects of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

At this time, CDC is not changing its current guidance as a result of this finding. Pregnant women should continue to avoid travel to areas where Zika is actively spreading. If a pregnant woman travels to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission, she should talk with her healthcare provider and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent sexual transmission of Zika virus. We also continue to encourage women and their partners in areas with active Zika transmission to engage in pregnancy planning and counseling with their health care providers so that they know the risks and the ways to mitigate them.

GE has a prototype 10 Megawatt supercritical CO2 turbine that is ten times smaller than the equivalent steam turbine

GE sees its new supercritical carbon dioxide turbine as a strong rival to batteries for storing power from the grid. GE Global Research is testing a desk-size turbine that could power a small town of about 10,000 homes. The unit is driven by “supercritical carbon dioxide,” which is in a state that at very high pressure and up to 700 °C exists as neither a liquid nor a gas. After the carbon dioxide passes through the turbine, it's cooled and then repressurized before returning for another pass.

It’s about one-tenth the size of a steam turbine of comparable output, and has the potential to be 50 percent efficient at turning heat into electricity. Steam-based systems are typically in the mid-40 percent range; the improvement is achieved because of the better heat-transfer properties and reduced need for compression in a system that uses supercritical carbon dioxide compared to one that uses steam. The GE prototype is 10 megawatts, but the company hopes to scale it to 33 megawatts.

Doug Hofer, a GE engineer in charge of the project, shows off a model of the turbine.
In addition to being more efficient, the technology could be more nimble—in a grid-storage scenario, heat from solar energy, nuclear power, or combustion could first be stored as molten salt and the heat later used to drive the process.

Doug Hofer, a GE engineer in charge of the project, shows off a model of the turbine

Nextbigfuture has covered supercritical CO2 turbines several times.

Nextbigfuture reviewed the supercritical CO2 turbine roadmap. The Toshiba work is executing to the dates on that roadmap.

* Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are involved with Toshiba, Echogen, Dresser Rand, GE, Barber-Nichols in S-CO2 cycles.

* Toshiba, The Shaw Group and Exelon Corporation are engaged in a consortium agreement to develop Net Power’s gas-fired generation technology with zero emissions target. This approach uses an oxy-combustion, high pressure, S-CO2 cycle, named Allam Cycle. Toshiba will design, test and manufacture a combustor and turbine for a 25MW natural gas-fired plant. A 250MW full-scale plant is expected by 2017.

* Echogen Power Systems has been developing a power generation cycle for waste heat recovery, CHP, geothermal and hybrid as alternative to the internal combustion engine.

* Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is engaged with Argonne National Laboratories in a project with aim to integrate a 1000 MW nuclear plant with a S-CO2 cycle.

The reasons of growing interest toward this technology are manifold:
* simple cycle efficiency potentially above 50%;
* near zero - emissions cycle;
* footprints one hundredth of traditional turbomachinery for the same power output due to the high density of working fluid;
* extraction of “pipeline ready” CO2 for sequestration or enhanced oil recovery, without both CO2 capture facilities and compression systems;
* integration with concentrating solar power (CSP), waste heat, nuclear and geothermal, with high efficiency in energy conversion;
* applications with severe volume constraints such as ship propulsion

There is a DOE project to a make a 10 MWe supercritical CO2 turbine that should be completed in 2015.

2013 Independent Review declares EMC2 Fusion's progress to be most significant advances made in plasma physics and magnetic fusion over the past 50 years

Nextbigfuture has obtained the independent reviews of EMC2 Fusions work for the US Navy from 2012 and 2013. The reviews were obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request.

In our July 5, 2013, report, the review committee stated, “The EMC2 team is finally at the threshold of success or failure with the Polywell / Wiffle Ball fusion power concept. The focus of EMC2 efforts has sharpened considerably and is now totally concentrated on experimentally producing a so-called Wiffle Ball (WB) plasma in a Polywell magnetic field configuration and diagnosing it in detail to verify its confinement properties, a step that is essential to the success of their fusion power concept.”

In a briefing on November 7, 2013, Dr. Jaeyoung Park of EMC2 provided the committee a very thorough briefing on their latest laboratory results. In the committee’s opinion the EMC2 staff has “kept their eyes on the ball” in spite of the trying financial conditions under which they have been operating for the past several months. Their recent results have been dramatic.

As stated in our July 5, 2013 report, “To achieve its near-term goals, EMC2 is using two arc plasma generators to produce plasma for WB study. While relatively inexpensive, these generators are less-than-optimum for the task at hand, because the resultant WB plasma is relatively cold (marginally collisional).”

In spite of the challenges of using the arc plasma generators, EMC2 has had outstanding success in recent months in demonstrating a key feasibility issue for the Wiffleball fusion concept, namely the enhancement of injected electron confinement in a Wiffleball magnetic geometry. The enhancement is roughly a factor of 100 better than would be expected in a conventional cusp magnetic field geometry, the standard against which their results must be measured.

The committee believes that EMC2 has successfully addressed a critical issue in the feasibility of aneutronic fusion, namely the enhancement of energetic electron confinement in a Wiffleball magnetic geometry by more than a factor of 100 over conventional cusp geometry. This marks the achievement of a goal that challenged the plasma physics and fusion communities over the last 50 years.

The committee believes that recent progress in the establishment of Wiffleball confinement is likely one of the most significant advances made in plasma physics and magnetic fusion over the past 50 years. Unfortunately it has come at a time when the funding for the program is in rapid decline. Further federal support is urgently needed, if The EMC2 assets are to be preserved and expanded. Otherwise, the United States could well lose another technology “invented here” but developed outside the country.

First a few slides describing electrostatic fusion and polywell fusion by EMC2 Fusion

Review committee members

Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, Committee Chairman

Senior Energy Advisor, Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI) and consultant in energy technologies, 2007 - present
Director fusion research, USAEC & ERDA, 1972-1976
Assistant Administrator, ERDA, 1976-1977
General Manager, Exxon Research and Engineering, 1977-1983
Vice President, Upstream Research, ARCO, 1983-1991
Vice President, EPRI, 1991-1994

Dr. Stephen O. Dean
President, Fusion Power Associates, 1979-present
DOE Fusion Energy Advisory Committee, Chaired review panel on Alternate Concepts
Secretary of Energy, Energy R&D Task Force
Editor, J. of Fusion Energy, Springer Publications, Inc.
Director, Magnetic Confinement Systems, AEC/ERDA/DOE 1972-79

Prof. Gerald L. Kulcinski

Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering; Director of the Fusion Technology Institute.
Technical Program Chair, ANS Topical Meeting on Fusion Technology, 1976, member of the Board of Directors (1987-90), chair of the Honors and Awards, Fusion Division, 1997-2004; General Chairman of the 16 th ANS Topical meeting on Fusion Technology (2004).
Associate Editor of Fusion Engineering and Design, 1983-2003.

Prof. George H. Miley
Professor, Departments of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois. 1967 – present, Sr. Scientist – Rockford Technology Inc., 1988-1993
President and Director of Research, NPL Associates, 1993 – present
Editor emeritus, Journal of Plasma Physics, Laser and Particle Beams, and Fusion Technology.

Prof. Dennis Papadopoulos
Professor of Physics, Departments of Physics and Astronomy, University of Maryland, 1979 – present
Senior scientist and division consultant, Plasma Physics Division, Naval Research Laboratory - 1969-1979
Science Advisor, Applied Physics Division, Office of Fusion Energy, DOE, 1978
Currently PI, Multi-University Research Initiative on the "Fundamental Physics Issues on Radiation Belt Dynamics and Remediation"

Dr. Ramy Shanny
Retired VP and General Manager of BAE SYSTEMS, Inc. Advanced Technologies (previously APTI), 2003 – 2010.
CEO and Chairman of the Board of Advanced Power Technologies, Inc., 1988–2003
President and Chief Executive Officer, INESCO, Inc. responsible for the development of the Riggatron compact fusion concept, 1977-86
Executive Assistant to the President and Director, Science Applications International Corporation, 1975-76
Naval Research Laboratory. Section Head of Plasma Computations. Later, Head of the Plasma Physics Division, 1969-75

April 12, 2016

Billionaire Yuri Milner is spending $100 million to prove out laser pushed nanosails that would reach 5% of lightspeed

Billionaire Yuri Milner is spending $100 million on a probe that could travel to Alpha Centauri within a generation—and he's recruited Mark Zuckerberg and Stephen Hawking to help.

Yuri Borisovich is a Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist and physicist. He founded investment firms Digital Sky Technologies (DST), now called Mail.ru Group and DST Global. Through DST Global, Milner is an investor in Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, Flipkart, Spotify, ZocDoc, Groupon, JD.com, Planet Labs, Xiaomi, OlaCabs, Alibaba, Wish and many others. Milner's personal investments also include a stake in 23andMe and Beepi. Yuri has an estimated networth of $3.1 billion.

In July 2012, Milner established The Breakthrough Prize - a set of international awards recognize three fields of endeavor: Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics

In July 2015, Milner launched the Breakthrough Initiatives, a major new scientific program investigating the question of life in the Universe. He announced the initiatives at the Royal Society in London, alongside Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy and Ann Druyan.

Two initiatives have been announced so far. The first, Breakthrough Listen, will invest $100 million over 10 years in the most comprehensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth.

Yuri Milner, the Russian tech billionaire, joined Stephen Hawking atop Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, where the pair will announced Starshot, a $100 million dollar research program, the latest of Milner’s “Breakthrough Initiatives.” (Mark Zuckerberg will serve on Starshot’s board, alongside Milner and Hawking.) With the money, Milner hopes to prove that a probe could make the journey to Alpha Centauri in only 20 years.

Milner wants his $100 million to fund research that will culminate in a prototype of a probe that can beam images back to Earth. He told me the images would arrive less than 5 years after the probe reached the star.

There are no official specs yet, but Milner said the probe would have a two-megapixel camera, along with star-finders to help it get its bearings, after it boots up on the approach to Alpha Centauri. The probe will target one of the system’s two sunlike stars. It will be aimed at a planet (or planets) in the star’s habitable zone, the temperate region where oceans don’t boil or freeze, but instead flow, nurturing the kind of complex chemistry that is thought to give rise to life.

Milner envisions a sail that’s only a few meters wide. Picture a thin disc about the size of a round picnic tabletop. It would have miniaturized electronics onboard, including a power source, cameras, photon thrusters for navigation, and a laser for communication. Some of this kit would be bundled into the disc’s center, and some would be distributed through the rest of the sail. But it would all be a single unit: If you saw it streaking by, it would look like a flat, round sheet of reflective material.

Milner wants to launch a small “mothership,” filled with hundreds of these thin, disc-like probes. (He thinks each probe can eventually be manufactured at roughly the cost of an iPhone.) Once the mothership reaches orbit, it would release one probe per day. The probe would exit the larger spacecraft, and use its photon thrusters to position itself in the path of a ground-based laser beam.

The laser would be located somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. “You need to put it high in the mountains,” Milner told me. Too much air or moisture, and the laser will be distorted on its way out of the atmosphere. “An interesting place would be the Atacama desert in Chile,” he said.

Milner hinted that the atmospheric turbulence problem would be solved with adaptive optics.

“It’s the mass that gets you every time,” said Andreas Tziolas, the director of Icarus Interstellar, a group that researches star travel. “Every time I’ve seen a beam-propulsion study, they quote the size of the sail without any physical or mechanical support. They work so hard to build something the size of a table that weighs one gram, but then they add a support, like a wire or a piece of steel, and it goes to 10 kilograms.”

Tziolas did say there was interesting work being done in Japan, involving flexible sail-like materials that stiffen when charged, eliminating the need for a heavy support system.

Milner said he’s imagining a spacecraft that weighs a mere few grams. He said the sail would be exceedingly thin, perhaps only a few hundred atoms.

University California Santa Barbara looked at sail mass and speed pushed by a 100 GW laser

UCSB has looked closely at issues for what Milner is proposing and have produced a roadmap for interstellar beam propulsion.

1 gram     24% of lightspeed
10 grams   14% of lightspeed
100 grams   7.8% of lightspeed
1 kg        4.3% of lightspeed 
10kg        2.4% of lightspeed
100kg       1.4% of lightspeed
1000kg      0.77% of lightspeed
10 tons     0.43% of lightspeed
100 tons    0.24% of lightspeed

Milner is probably looking at less than 10 grams and about 2-4 GW ground based laser array.

UCSB Operational Maturation and Steps from their laser pushed sail roadmap:

Step 1 - Ground based - Small phased array, beam targeting and stability tests - 10 kw
Step II – Ground based - Target levitation and lab scale beam line acceleration tests - 10 kw
Step III – Ground based - Beam formation at large array spacing –
Step IV – Ground based - Scale to 100 kW with arrays sizes in the 1-3 m size –
Step V – Ground based - Scale to 1 MW with 10 m optics –
Step VI – Orbital testing with small 1-3 class arrays and 10-100kw power – ISS possibility
Step VII – Orbital array assembly tests in 10 m class array
Step VIII – Orbital assembly with sparse array at 100 m level –
Step IX – Orbital filled 100 m array
Step X – Orbital sparse 1km array
Step XI – Orbital filled 1 km array
Step XII – Orbital sparse 10 km array
Step XIII – Orbital filled 10 km array

Milner appears like he wants to go to step 5 or 6 with $100 million and then work out the design issues up to step 11 or 12 on the UCSB laser pushed sail roadmap.

NASA funds Direct Drive Fusion Propulsion

The Direct Fusion Drive (DFD) concept provides game-changing propulsion and power capabilities that would revolutionize interplanetary travel. DFD is based on the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) fusion reactor under development at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The mission context we are proposing is delivery of a Pluto orbiter with a lander. The key objective of the proposal is to determine the feasibility of the proposed Pluto spacecraft using improved engine models. DFD provides high thrust to allow for reasonable transit times to Pluto while delivering substantial mass to orbit: 1000 kg delivered in 4 to 6 years. Since DFD provides power as well as propulsion in one integrated device, it will also provide as much as 2 MW of power to the payloads upon arrival. This enables high-bandwidth communication, powering of the lander from orbit, and radically expanded options for instrument design. The data acquired by New Horizons' recent Pluto flyby is just a tiny fraction of the scientific data that could be generated from an orbiter and lander. We have evaluated the Pluto mission concept using the Lambert algorithm for maneuvers with rough estimates of the engine thrust and power. The acceleration times are sufficiently short for the Lambert approximation, i.e. impulsive burns, to have some validity. We have used fusion scaling laws to estimate the total mission mass and show that it would fit within the envelope of a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle. Estimates of the amount of Helium 3 required to fuel the reactor are within available terrestrial stores.

In this Phase I study, we propose to analyze the Pluto mission concept using new models of the engine. We will develop an optimal trajectory including limits on the thrust steering and range of throttle. The throttling of the thrust and specific impulse will affect the efficiency, which we have not yet attempted to model.

Direct Fusion Drive is a unique fusion engine concept with a physically feasible approach that would dramatically increase the capability of outer planet missions. The fusion-enabled Pluto mission proposed here is credible, exciting, and the benefits to this and all outer planet missions are difficult to overstate. The truly game-changing levels of thrust and power in a modestly sized package could integrate with our current launch infrastructure while radically expanding the science capability of these missions

There was a 2014 presentation on the Princeton Direct drive fusion concepts. and a work from 2013

• The DFD design envelope fits between traditional chemical, electric and nuclear propulsion methods.
• Fusion products of the deuterium-helium-3 (D/He3) reaction have a very high exhaust velocity: 25,000 km/s
• We can convert some of their kinetic energy into thrust by transferring energy from the fusion products.

The work has been covered at Nextbigfuture back in 2014 and in 2013

This is different than the John Slough's direct fusion drive rocket design. John Slough also had NASA funding.

NASA testing electric solar sail for near term propulsion 3-7 times faster than Pluto Express

Testing has started at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on revolutionary propulsion system called the electric sail. Relatively conservative designs could send spacecraft at 100-200 km/second by utilizing solar wind traveling at 400 to 750 kilometers per second.

The test results will provide modeling data for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS). The proposed HERTS E-Sail concept, a propellant-less propulsion system, would harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space.

“The sun releases protons and electrons into the solar wind at very high speeds -- 400 to 750 kilometers per second,” said Bruce Wiegmann an engineer in Marshall’s Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. “The E-Sail would use these protons to propel the spacecraft.”

Extending outward from the center of the spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged, bare aluminum wires would produce a large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving protons of the solar wind. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft’s thrust. Each tether is extremely thin, only 1 millimeter -- the width of a standard paperclip -- and very long, nearly 12 and a half miles -- almost 219 football fields. As the spacecraft slowly rotates at one revolution per hour, centrifugal forces will stretch the tethers into position.

Within a controlled plasma chamber -- the High Intensity Solar Environment Test system -- tests will examine the rate of proton and electron collisions with a positively charged tether. Results will help improve modeling data that will be applied to future development of E-Sail technology concept.
Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

New US Navy Destroyer is too stealthy for peacetime

The U.S. Navy’s new Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer (DDG 1000) is so covert that during normal peacetime operations its crew plan to sail with giant reflectors — reflective cylinders hoisted in the air — to ensure other ships can see it.

A lobsterman in Maine, Lawrence Pye, told The Associated Press that during a recent outing his radar indicated a 40- or 50-foot fishing vessel was approaching. It turned out to be the hulking 610-foot warship.

“It’s pretty mammoth when it’s that close to you,” Pye told the news service.

The Zumwalt already is 50 times more difficult to detect on radar than other destroyers in the fleet. But it will be even stealthier after the testing equipment loaded onto the ship for trials is removed, Zumwalt program manager Capt. James Downey said.

The reflective material that will be used aboard the Zumwalt will look like metal cylinders. Other vessels have also used the material during difficult navigation conditions, such as in heavy fog or busy ship lanes.

Mastering superconductors and high field trapped field magnets

EEtimes has more details about improved superconductor theories

"The 'critical state model' has had continued success since circa 1963. One of its rock-solid predictions is that in order to magnetize a piece of bulk superconducting material to its maximum obtainable field, one must apply a field exceeding 2X that maximum," professor Roy Weinstein told EE Times. "The actual factor is almost always larger than 2, and depends upon the geometry of the bulk. Most typically, for bulks used in applications, the factor is 3.2X. The magnetized bulk superconductor then acts like a permanent magnet, called a "trapped field magnet" (TFM)."

In Weinstein's experiments, however, his group has shown readily applicable circumstances under which the bulk is fully activated by an applied field only equal to the permanently magnetized state (1X).

"Our experiments show many other interesting results, but these are of interest mostly to physicists rather than engineers," Weinstein told EE Times. "There are very fast increases in field penetration into the superconductors. These are greater than 100 times faster than allowed by CSM. Also the heat generated in the activation process has limited all previous activation methods, but in the newly discovered circumstances, exceptionally little heat is generated."

Weinstein's group's new formulation of superconducting theory, also has allowed them to build superconducting motors and generators which are more than 16X as powerful for the same size, or conversely could be 16-time smaller that equivalent superconducting motors and generators today.

The new superconducting theory can increase magnetic fields by a factor of 3.2X. For instance, for a given torque, the rotor diameter could be reduced by 3.2X, and likewise the volume of the motor by 10.2 (3.2-times-3.2). Alternatively, for the same sized motor, the torque density could be improved by 3.2X. And in either case, the current pulse providing the activating magnetic pulse, requires 3.2 less current reduced thus reducing the power consumption by almost 10 times.

"In designing a motor or generator, there is some practical limit to the magnitude of pulsed magnetic field which you can build into the device to impress field into a superconductor, in order to have it behave like a permanent magnet. Just to give an example, assume that the activating pulse cannot (practically, or because of cost) exceed 12 Tesla. CSM would predict that the practical maximum to which the superconducting magnet can be activated is 3.75 Tesla (12T ÷ 3.2)," Weinstein told us. "But using our new discovery, the bulk can be activated to 12T (12T÷1.0). This is about 17 times the strength of present day ferromagnets."

The applications of TFMs—as high as 17 Tesla "boggles my mind" claims Weinstein especially since they can be activated by magnetic pulses no greater than those needed for a permanent magnet.

However, we won't see these miracle magnets, motors and generators on the shelves anytime soon, according to Weinstein who claims it will take years just to convince manufacturers to invest the huge sums necessary to switch over their operations to the new techniques. Also Weinstein's group needs to clarify the precise manufacturing steps needed and produce more prototypes to convince the doubting Thomas's of the world.

April 10, 2016

IBM putting watson into Softbank Pepper robot

IBM and SoftBank Robotics Holdings plans to offer a version of Watson for SoftBank Robotics' Pepper robots, aimed at global enterprise customers.

IBM and SBRH will tap into data and knowledge across the "Internet of Things" to enable Watson-powered Pepper to make sense of the hidden meaning in data that traditional computers cannot comprehend – including social media, video, images and text. IBM Watson is the first open cognitive computing technology platform and represents a new era in computing where systems understand the world in the way that humans do: through senses, learning, and experience.

The Watson-powered Pepper robot under development would be equipped with core functionalities as well as a Watson software development kit (SDK) that allows developers and clients to tailor the interaction experience. IBM will give clients access to Watson APIs and various pre-packaged applications designed to address a variety of personal and professional needs.

"Today, the power of cognitive computing can be woven into any form factor. Our collaboration with SBRH on Pepper will allow a much broader audience to experience and tap into Watson," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson. "In terms of hands-on interaction, when cognitive capabilities are embedded in robotics, you see people engage and benefit from this technology in new and exciting ways."

HIV can develop resistance to CRISPR/Cas9

The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing platform may need a little bit more tweaking before it can be used as an effective antiviral, reports a study published April 7 in Cell Reports. Researchers who used CRISPR/Cas9 to mutate HIV-1 within cellular DNA found that while single mutations can inhibit viral replication, some also led to unexpected resistance. The researchers believe targeting multiple viral DNA regions may be necessary for the potential antiviral aspect of CRISPR/Cas9 to be effective.

This visual abstract depics how HIV-1 can escape Cas9/sgRNA-mediated inhibition. The researchers reveal that the NHEJ repair machinery generates mutations in the HIV-1 Cas9 cleavage site that result in two outcomes: viral replication suppression and viral escape.CREDIT Wang et al./Cell Reports 2016

Researchers use Zika mosquitoes' own perfume to lure them to lay eggs in trap

A team of innovators from Canada and Mexico have successfully tested a low cost, environmentally-friendly way of destroying the eggs of the mosquito genus that spreads dengue, and likely spreading the Zika virus.

The system includes an innovative Canadian-designed trap called an "ovillanta," created from two 50 cm sections of an old car tire, fashioned into a mouth-like shape, with a fluid release valve at the bottom.

Inside the lower tire cavity, a milk-based, non-toxic solution developed at Sudbury's Laurentian University lures mosquitoes. Inserted to float in the artificial pond is a wooden or paper strip on which the female insect lays her eggs. The strip is removed twice weekly, analyzed for monitoring purposes, and the eggs destroyed using fire or ethanol.

The solution, which now includes mosquito pheromone (the female insect's chemical perfume that helps others identify a safe breeding site), is then drained, filtered, and recycled back into the tire. The pheromone concentrates over time, making the ovillanta even more attractive for mosquitoes.

During the 10-month study, the team collected and destroyed over 18,100 Aedes eggs per month using 84 ovillantas in seven neighbourhoods of the town of Sayaxche (population 15,000), almost seven times the roughly 2,700 eggs collected monthly using 84 standard traps in the same study areas.

A tantalizing but anecdotal observation was that there were no new cases of dengue reported as originating in the ovillanta study test area, a community that would normally anticipate two or three dozen cases in that timeframe.

Targeting mosquito eggs using the ovillanta, Dr. Ulibarri says, is one third as expensive as trying to destroy larvae in natural ponds and only 20% the cost of targeting adult insects with pesticides, which also harm bats, dragonflies and the mosquitoes' other natural predators.

An 'ovillanta' is created from two 50 cm sections of an old car tire, fashioned into a mouth-like shape, with a fluid release valve at the bottom. CREDIT Daniel Pinelo

F1000Research Zika and Arbovirus Outbreaks channel

MIT proposes gasification fuel cell coal plants to get to 60% efficiency which is double pulverized coal efficiency

Researchers at MIT have come up with a plan to generate electricity from coal with much greater efficiency — possibly reaching as much as twice the fuel-to-electricity efficiency of today’s conventional coal plants. This would mean, all things being equal, a 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for a given amount of power produced.

The key is combining into a single system two well-known technologies: coal gasification and fuel cells.
Coal gasification is a way of extracting burnable gaseous fuel from pulverized coal, rather than burning the coal itself. The technique is widely used in chemical processing plants as a way of producing hydrogen gas. Fuel cells produce electricity from a gaseous fuel by passing it through a battery-like system where the fuel reacts electrochemically with oxygen from the air.

The attraction of combining these two systems, Ong explains, is that both processes operate at similarly high temperatures of 800 degrees Celsius or more. Combining them in a single plant would thus allow the two components to exchange heat with minimal energy losses. In fact, the fuel cell would generate enough heat to sustain the gasification part of the process, she says, eliminating the need for a separate heating system, which is usually provided by burning a portion of the coal.

Coal gasification, by itself, works at a lower temperature than combustion and “is more efficient than burning,” Ong says. First, the coal is pulverized to a powder, which is then heated in a flow of hot steam, somewhat like popcorn kernels heated in an air-popper. The heat leads to chemical reactions that release gases from the coal particles — mainly carbon monoxide and hydrogen, both of which can produce electricity in a solid oxide fuel cell.

In the combined system, these gases would then be piped from the gasifier to a separate fuel cell stack, or ultimately, the fuel cell system could be installed in the same chamber as the gasifier so that the hot gas flows straight into the cell. In the fuel cell, a membrane separates the carbon monoxide and hydrogen from the oxygen, promoting an electrochemical reaction that generates electricity without burning the fuel.

This illustration depicts a possible configuration for the combined system proposed by MIT researchers. At the bottom, steam (pink arrows) passes through pulverized coal, releasing gaseous fuel (red arrows) made up of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This fuel goes into a solid oxide fuel cell (disks near top), where it reacts with oxygen from the air (blue arrows) to produce electricity (loop at right). Illustration: Jeffrey Hanna

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