November 05, 2016

Grumman Laser Beam Control System for Next-Generation Fighter will begin testing by 2019

Northrop Grumman will help the U.S. Air Force mature its plans to use directed energy systems for self-protection on current and future aircraft under a contract awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The laser weapon will be housed in a pod attached to a fighter-sized aircraft. The system will be tested on a tactical aircraft flying at speeds up to supersonic. AFRL expects to begin flight testing the integrated system by 2019.

“Our Northrop Grumman-led team is integrating an innovative beam director with proven beam control technologies to help the Air Force define and successfully demonstrate a laser weapon capability for current and next generation aircraft,” said W. Mark Skinner, vice president, directed energy, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

The beam control system characterizes the flight environment for atmospheric disturbances that could distort the laser beam, acquires and tracks incoming targets, determines an aim point for the laser, then “shapes” and focuses the outgoing beam on the target, added Skinner.

Northrop Grumman is developing the SHiELD beam control system under a segment of the ATD program known as SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects, or STRAFE.

AFRL will integrate STRAFE beam control system with a laser source, and power and cooling systems developed for the SHiELD ATD.

Combat Lasers and hybrid power for Next-Generation US Combat Vehicle

The US Army's Next-Generation Combat Vehicle will probably run on alternate-power sources, have directed-energy weapons, advanced-composite armor and an active protection system.

"There's a solid four years of analysis that has to occur" before decisions are made on procurement requirements, said Col. William T. Nuckols, director of the Mounted Requirements Division at the Maneuver Center of Excellence. Nuckols chaired an NGCV panel at the Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare "Hot Topic" forum focusing on Army Ground Combat Platforms.

"This is not a short-term endeavor," Nuckols said. "This is a multi-decade effort to get us to the first unit equipped in 2035."

But fielding the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle by then means major decisions must be made by 2025, he said, pointing out that's just eight years from now.

German 2030 tank concept

DARPA robot tanklets

New NASA Emdrive paper shows force of 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt in a Vacuum and a low thrust pendulum and tests were at 40, 60 and 80 watts

The newest NASA emdrive paper concludes a force generation of 1.2mn/kw after errors measurement is accounted for.

A low thrust pendulum at the NASA Johnson space center was used.

The best conventional Hall thruster can produce 60 millinewtons per kilowatt which is an order of magnitude more than the emdrive that was tested.

Light sails and photon propulsion (zero propellant propulsion) produces two orders of magnitude less the emdrive. 3.33-6.67 micronewtons per kilowatt.

This appears to conclusively prove that emdrive works for propulsion in terms of lab work. The other final thing is to put one into space and see it go a serious distnace.

More work would be to optimize emdrive and make it more powerful.

Metallic hydrogen is metastable could be used as superlightweight structural material for floating cities

Metallic hydrogen has been created in a diamond anvil in a Harvard lab.

Diamond anvil cells can use only vanishingly small sample sizes. A typical amount is about 160 cubic micrometers

If metallic hydrogen is metastable then there are a lot of potential applications.

Metastable would mean that the phases could retain their high-pressure forms for an indefinite period once external forces are removed, much as diamonds formed by high temperatures and pressures deep inside Earth remain diamonds even after they reach the surface, instead of immediately reverting to carbon's more stable form, graphite. Nellis and others have imagined a host of applications for metastable metallic hydrogen, ranging from

* super-lightweight structural materials that would allow entire cities floating on the sea to be built

* to rocket fuel that packs nearly four times as much propellant power per kilogram as the liquid hydrogen used in the most powerful rockets today

Hydrogen sulphide becomes a superconductor at the surprisingly high temperature of 203 K (–70 °C), when under a pressure of 1.5 million bar. This suggests that the theoretical predictions of room temperature superconductivity for metallic hydrogen are correct.

Lithium Hydrogen metals

In 2009, hydrogen-rich metallic compounds, such as LiH2, LiH6 and LiH8 became stable under high pressure. Many of their properties would be similar to those of the long-sought metallic hydrogen, but conditions of synthesis were readily achieved in the lab. A study showed a way to prepare metallic almost-hydrogen for possible practical use.

PNAS - A little bit of lithium does a lot for hydrogen. From detailed assessments of electronic structure, they found that a combination of significantly quantal elements, six of seven atoms being hydrogen, becomes a stable metal at a pressure approximately 1/4 of that required to metalize pure hydrogen itself. The system, LiH6 (and other LiHn), may well have extensions beyond the constituent lithium. These hypothetical materials demonstrate that nontraditional stoichiometries can considerably expand the view of chemical combination under moderate pressure.

Metastable Metal Hydrides

Similar to ammonia borane, the metastable metal hydrides offer high capacities and low temperature hydrogen release. However, unlike ammonia borane, thermal decomposition does not result in the formation of gaseous species that can degrade capacity and poison the fuel cell. Of particular interest are the aluminum-based metastable hydrides including aluminum hydride (AlH3), lithium aluminum hydride (LiAlH4 and Li3AlH6), magnesium aluminum hydride (Mg(AlH4)2), among others. These materials exhibit a low decomposition enthalpy, which reduces the heat required to release the hydrogen at practical pressures. In addition, these materials exhibit rapid H2 evolution rates at low temperature (80–100°C), due to the large driving force for decomposition.

If newly created metallic hydrogen stays stable when brought back to regular pressure as predicted by theory then eventually the world will radically change

On October 5th 2016, Ranga Dias and Isaac F. Silvera of Lyman Laboratory of Physics, Harvard University released the first experimental evidence that solid metallic hydrogen has been synthesized in the laboratory.

It took 495 GPa pressure to create. The sample is being held in the cryostat in liquid nitrogen.

If as predicted by theory the metallic hydrogen remains metastable when the extreme pressure is removed then the world will eventually be greatly changed.

Even if the metallic hydrogen had to be kept at liquid nitrogen temperatures, it could still be handled and used for the expected amazing properties.

Liquid (molecular) hydrogen-oxygen used in modern rockets has an Isp of ~460s; metallic hydrogen has a theoretical Isp of 1700 s! Detailed analysis shows that such a fuel would allow single-stage rockets to enter into orbit or carry economical payloads to the moon.

Researchers have ideas on how electron injection could reduce the pressure needed to initially create the metallic hydrogen.

Then the engineering challenge will be creating enough of the metallic hydrogen for applications.

But the key is having it exist after the pressure is taken off.

If as predicted by theory the metallic hydrogen is a room temperature superconductor [and the pressure was not needed] then even relatively small amounts [kilograms per week] of the metallic hydrogen would have very useful applications.

Picture of the tiny amount of metallic hydrogen created in the lab

Superconductors can make engines smaller and more powerful. Room temperature superconductors would be easier to handle than superconductors that need to be cooled down to liquid nitrogen temperatures. Ceramic superconductors have had a lot of problems for applications because of brittleness and other issues.

Room temperature metal superconductors with very high critical current could make superstrong magnets. Powerful magnets could be used to solve challenges getting to commercial energy generation from nuclear fusion.

HyperMach Aerospace is about halfway through a two-year program to validate crucial technologies [including superconducting parts] for a mach 5 supersonic commercial passenger plane. Robust metallic room temperature superconductors could make this area of superconductor application more successful.

Co-discoverer of Metallic Hydrogen wrote paper on metallic hydrogen for rockets

On October 5th 2016, Ranga Dias and Isaac F. Silvera of Lyman Laboratory of Physics, Harvard University released the first experimental evidence that solid metallic hydrogen has been synthesized in the laboratory.

It took 495 GPa pressure to create. The sample is being held in the cryostat in liquid nitrogen.

Atomic metallic hydrogen, if metastable at ambient pressure and temperature could be used as the most powerful chemical rocket fuel, as the atoms recombine to form molecular hydrogen. This light-weight high-energy density material would revolutionize rocketry, allowing single-stage rockets to enter orbit and chemically fueled rockets to explore our solar system. To transform solid molecular hydrogen to metallic hydrogen requires extreme high pressures.

Isaac Silvera headed a 2011-2012 NIAC metallic hydrogen project and also co-wrote a 2010 paper on metallic hydrogen rockets.

NOTE Nextbigfuture believes until metallic hydrogen becomes very, very cheap, it will be far more valuable for possible superconducting properties than for rocket fuel. Even very high performance rocket fuel. If metallic hydrogen is a room temperature superconductor that is metastable after releasing the pressure that created it, and the critical current is very high, then improvements to engines and high performance magnetic sails would be possible. This will be considered in future posts.

Metallic Hydrogen: The Most Powerful Rocket Fuel Yet to Exist Isaac F. Silvera and John W. Cole

There was a 22 page presentation in 2012 on metallic hydrogen as a rocket fuel

Some Remarkable Properties of Metallic Hydrogen
•Recombination of hydrogen atoms releases 216 MJ/kg
•Hydrogen/Oxygen combustion in the Shuttle: 10 MJ/kg
•TNT 4.2 MJ/kg
•Theoretical Specific Impulse, Isp
•Metallic Hydrogen 1000-1700s
•Molecular hydrogen/oxygen ~460 s (space shuttle)
•Metallic density
about 12-1315 fold of liquid molecular hydrogen [lab results of actual metallic hydrogen was 15 times denser]
•Sufficient thrust for single-stage to orbit; explore outer planets

Silvera Goals

•Produce metallic hydrogen in small quantities [now this is done in 2016]
•Test for metastability [next on the objectives]
•Determine Critical Temperature for conversion
•Develop a method to scale down the critical pressure [Silvera has ideas about injecting electrons]

November 04, 2016

China successfully launched the new Long March 5 rocket

The new Long March 5 rocket launched successfully on Thursday. The rocket could be used to support a Chinese space station and send an uncrewed mission to Mars.

The new Long March 5 rocket launched successfully from the Wenchang Space Launch Center. The rocket measures 187 feet, making it the largest produced by China. It can carry 25 tons of payload into low-Earth orbit. The rocket carried a satellite that will be used to test a variety of technologies, from observing space debris to electric propulsion.

The rocket is an integral part of the growing Chinese space program. It lays the groundwork for future missions, such as China’s plan to have a fully-crewed space station by 2022 and send an uncrewed mission to Mars some time between 2024 and the end of the decade.

China is working on a new rocket that could carry up to 100 tons, Tian Yulong, the program’s chief engineer, reportedly said at a news conference.

China's rocket is competitive with the United Launch Atlas and European launch medium lift rockets.

Harvard researchers created solid metallic hydrogen in the lab and studied it - This is already huge but could be fantastic if properties are as predicted

Harvard researchers have studied and observed solid hydrogen under pressure at low temperatures. With increasing pressure we observe changes in the sample, going from transparent, to black, to a reflective metal, the latter studied at a pressure of 495 GPa. They have measured the reflectance as a function of wavelength in the visible spectrum finding values as high as 0.90 from the metallic hydrogen. They have fit the reflectance using a Drude free electron model to determine the plasma frequency of 30.1 eV at T= 5.5 K, with a corresponding electron carrier density of 6.7x10^23 particles/cm3 , consistent with theoretical estimates. The properties are those of a metal. Solid metallic hydrogen has been produced in the laboratory.

* they have made some metallic hydrogen and have it in a cryostat in liquid nitrogen
* they might leave it under pressure and let it warm to room temperature or they could keep it cold and release the pressure
* they are planning to test for high temperature superconductivity

If it stays a metal at room temperature and after releasing pressure and was also a superconductor then it would be the holy grail of physics.

Controlled nuclear fusion, production of metallic hydrogen, and high temperature superconductivity have been listed as the top three key problems of physics. These problems all involve hydrogen and its isotopes.

UPDATE - Nextbigfuture has written about the work of co-author Isaac Silvera, who had a NASA Advanced innovation project looking at using solid metallic hydrogen for rocket fuel and ways to lower the pressure needed to create metallic hydrogen

Early theoretical predictions of metallic hydrogen being created at a pressure of 25 GPa (100GPa=1megabar) was way off. Modern quantum Monte-Carlo methods, as well as density functional theory (DFT), predict a pressure of ~400 to 500 GPa for the transition. The most likely space group for the atomic lattice is I41/amd. Metallic hydrogen has been predicted to be a high temperature superconductor, first by Ashcroft, with critical temperatures possibly higher than room temperature. Moreover, SMH is predicted to be metastable so that it may exist at room temperature when the pressure is released. If so, and superconducting, it could have an important impact on mankind’s energy problems and would revolutionize rocketry as a powerful rocket propellant

SMH at 495 GPa is about 15-fold denser than zero-pressure hydrogen. In Table I they compare solid atomic hydrogen to other elements in the first column of the periodic table, and see a remarkable contrast in properties.

As of the writing of this article they are maintaining the first sample of the first element in the form of solid metallic hydrogen at liquid nitrogen temperature in a cryostat. This valuable sample may survive warming to room temperature and the DAC could be extracted from the cryostat for greatly enhanced observation and further study. Another possibility is to cool to liquid helium temperatures and slowly release the load to see if SMH is metastable. An important future measurement is to study this metal for high temperature superconductivity.

China's experimental nuclear fusion tokamak achieves improved plasma confinement

The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) in Heifi, China was able to sustain plasma in the H-mode confinement regime for over one minute.

In 2012 EAST physics experiment has created 32 seconds high binding mode world record. In recent years, EAST has completed the upgrade of auxiliary heating, tungsten divertor plasma physics, diagnosis system, overcome the problem of the key technology of heating and current drive, distributed parameter measurement, in-depth study and solve a series of problems of physical radio wave coupling, high confinement plasma stability control, under the condition of low momentum heating and current drive for transport, and laid a solid foundation for long pulse steady high confinement mode plasma.

The EAST fusion reactor is run by the Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei, which aims for plasma pulses lasting up to 1,000 seconds.

Popular Science had reported in Fegruary, 2016 that the same experimental fusion reactor had managed to sustain plasma at temperatures of over 90 million degrees for 102 seconds, according to an article published in the South China Morning Post. The previous success was a different mode of plasma.

China will accelerate J20 stealth fighter development and production

China's Air Force chief said development of the J-20 fighter jet would be sped up, in an apparent bid to quell speculation the domestic aircraft was falling behind its production schedule.

"Of course I'm satisfied," General Ma Xiaotian said when asked about the performance of the J-20 after its brief public debut at the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai in Guangdong on Tuesday.

"We are not considering putting [the J-20] on the global market," he said.

A military insider said Ma's comments could be a way to pressure the manufacturer, Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, to deliver sooner. Japan already has F-35s built by Lockheed Martin, while South Korea expects to deploy its first batch of F-35s in 2018.

At the previous Zhuhai air show in 2014, Beijing unveiled the Shenyang J-31, another stealth fighter under development, but with the intention of attracting foreign buyers.

State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China released the J-31's specifications last year, hoping to compete with the F-35 in the global weapons market.

The J-20 and J-31 belong to China's "fourth generation" of aircraft and should meet at least four requirements - including stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, highly integrated avionics, and electronic fire-control systems.

Justin Bronk, a Research Fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, said the display left many questions unanswered.

On paper, the J-20 represents a "big leap forward in terms of the capabilities of the PLA (People's Liberation Army) have on scene," said Bronk.

Compared to the US's current fifth-generation fighter jets, the F-22 and the F-35, the J-20 has "longer range, more internal fuel capacity, and larger internal weapons capability," said Bronk.

This combination of factors presents a real risk to US forces in the Pacific. Long range, capable strike fighters like the J-20 put US "AWACS [airborne warning and control system], refuelling tankers, and forward bases at risk much more than current Types if flying in relatively large
numbers "should any kind of kinetic conflict flare up in the Pacific, said Bronk.

However, US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein told Breaking Defense he was not overly troubled by the new Chinese jet.

"When I hear about F-35 vs. J-20, it's almost an irrelevant comparison," Goldfein said in August.

One-on-one fighting scenarios or feature-for-feature comparisons do not capture the real threat of the J-20.

Long range stealth fighters, if fielded in large numbers along with older Chinese aircraft, surface-to-air missile batteries, radar outposts, missiles, and electronic warfare units present another wrinkle in an already complicated and fraught operating envelope for US and allied forces in The Pacific.

So while China's new "impressive low-observable heavy strike" fighters could change the balance of power in the Pacific, whether or not they can field the planes in significantly large numbers at any time in the near future remains an open question.

China and Russia both lag behind the USA in jet engine technology. China is behind the Russians in jet engines. China is buying some SU35 gen 4.5 fighters so that can copy and catch up to the latest Russian jet engine technology. Successfully copying the Russian jet engines and using the learnings to improve advanced engine programs

Next Generation Space Telescope mirrors and optical components are complete and telescope will launch October 2018 and determine whether nearest exoplanets have water and much more

The telescope element of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the largest space telescope ever constructed, stands completed in an enormous clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. JWST will now go through a series of rigorous tests, including shaking and noise tests to simulate launch conditions, and cryogenic tests to make sure it can stand up to the frigid conditions of space.

This telescope element of JWST includes the optical components and science instruments. After testing, the telescope will be affixed to a sunshield to prevent thermal heating and a spacecraft bus that contains the propulsion and communication systems to complete JWST. Launch is scheduled for October 2018.

Building the telescope element of JWST has been a two-decade process involving the construction of new assembly and testing facilities required to build the telescope itself. A new composite material that retains its shape even at temperatures near absolute zero was developed for the frame of James Webb, and to remain precise in the harsh conditions of space, the mirror for JWST consists of 18 gold-plated beryllium segments.

One of the first things it will look at is the Alpha Centauri system, the closest stars to us, to search the planets orbiting there for water vapor.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Michael McClare has produced a video.

Instead of deliverying the actual Ford carrier by yearend the Navy will give a new targeted delivery date around Christmas

The US Navy admitted that delivery of the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) will not occur in 2016 as the navy must determine the cause of problems with two main turbine generators (MTGs) on the next-generation aircraft carrier.

The USN has been working to determine the root cause of the problem, and how to fix and prevent recurrence of these issues.

The problem with the MTGs is an isolated incident, Vice Admiral Thomas Moore, commander Naval Sea Systems Command, said on 2 November, at the Washington, DC, Navy Yard.

"We are just about done getting through root cause analysis and putting some fixes in place and I expect us to be back in testing in the next couple of weeks, Vice Adm Moore said.

The Navy should know by Christmas when it plans to take possession of the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford, a $12.9 billion ship with an on-again, off-again delivery schedule due to several technical problems.

Vice Adm. Tom Moore said the Navy is making progress on isolating and fixing a troublesome electrical issue that has been blamed on a defective component. Clearing that hurdle will allow testing to continue on the propulsion plant.

"I would expect before the end of the year we'll be able to set a date certain on when we think the ship will be delivered," said Moore, the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, during a roundtable discussion with reporters Wednesday in Washington.

The electrical problem was among five issues cited in an August memo from Frank Kendall, a Defense Department undersecretary and lead weapons buyer. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus responded days later, citing "design vulnerabilities" that required a fix before the ship's delivery.

Kendall, who has commissioned a 60-day review of the Ford carrier program, also cited ongoing concerns with the Ford's advanced arresting gear (AAG). It combines energy-absorbing water turbines and an induction motor to bring aircraft to a controlled stop.

Tesla gigafactory will be doubled in size to produce 1 million cars per year and will produce batteries, battery packs and drive systems

Tesla has opened its $5 billion lithium-ion Gigafactory two years ahead of schedule, a monumental structure split into two parts; one side housing Panasonic that will build batteries and the that other will assemble them into battery packs. While not expected to enter into full production until 2018, the factory is expected to revolutionise the lithium battery market – but can it succeed? The experts think so.

Tesla has already managed to drive down the manufacturing costs of lithium-ion batteries where others have failed.

Tesla recently stated that its current battery cost is $190 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the Model S electric car. And they are trying to get to less than a $100 per kWh through vertical integration, adding economies of scale, reducing waste, optimizing processes, and tidying up the supply chain.

“By doing it at a bigger scale they can try and negotiate lower material costs for everything. Those are the elements Tesla are trying to utilise to make their batteries cheaper than everybody else’s’ rather than using some completely new manufacturing method.”

Tesla plans to also manufacture drive units at the plant. With vehicle battery packs, the automaker will be closer to producing its entire next generation powertrains at what is expected to be the largest factory in the world by footprint.
gigafactory as of Sept 2016

Tesla designed the Model 3 to be relatively easy to manufacture in order to facilitate a ramp up in production. Those design improvements might be easier to implement for the drive units at the Gigafactory where the company will also be producing the battery packs for the Model 3.

The Tesla Model 3 will be the first Tesla mass market car. The Model 3 will start at about $35,000 ($28,000 in the US after a federal tax credit) – which considerably more affordable than its previous models.

Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that he sees a path for 1 million cars per year to be manufactured in Fremont.

While the statement was met with skepticism at first since the Fremont factory was only producing roughly 500,000 cars per year at its peak when being operated by Toyota and GM, it makes more sense now that we know that Tesla plans to both expand the plant in Fremont and move some of the drive systems manufacturing to Nevada.

Based on the reported second quarter cash flow from customer deposits, it’s difficult to imagine Tesla holding less than 400,000 reservations for the Model 3 at the moment, likely inching closer and closer to 500,000.

The new car is not only more affordable, but at 215 miles range per charge it is more practical than the traditional city-run-around electric car.

There is a definite acknowledgement in the market that demand for electric cars is and will continue to rise. In June Lux Research reported that the battery market for electric cars will rise to $10 billion in 2020 with six large carmakers led by Tesla accounting for 90% of the demand.

At the Paris Motor Show in September Mercedes unveiled its first all-electric car the luxury EV crossover called EQ that Mercedes say can do 310 miles (500 km) on a single charge. The car is only a prototype for now, however. Volkswagen also unveiled its all-new, fully electric car, the Volkswagen I.D. at the show, which it claims will do up to 373 miles per single charge, but the car won’t be available until 2020.

IF batteries become two times cheaper over 7 years and 120 Gigabattery factories are made then combustion engine cars are replaced and Tesla is worth 50 times more than today

Billionaire buy-and-hold investor Ron Baron told CNBC on Friday he believes he can make 30 to 50 times his money on his investment in Tesla in the next 15 years.

He called Tesla "maybe the most interesting" company he's ever invested in over his 46 year career.

"I think in this investment from here in the next 15 years, we can make 30 to 50 times our money," said Baron on the sidelines of the annual Baron Investment Conference in New York City.

Baron owns about 1.5 million Tesla shares, valued at around $300 million. "That represents 1.5 percent of our assets," he said.

"The stock was $33 when we started to invest," he said. Tesla closed on Thursday at $187.42 per share. He said his average cost of buying the stock over more than three years is "over $200 now."

"[But] it's risky," the founder of Baron Capital told "Squawk Box." "Initially they have to prove the concept; then they got to prove they can make them; [and] they got to prove they can make them profitably."

Tesla Model 3

JB Strauble is the CTO of Tesla Motors. In a video of an Energy Summit Keynote, he talks about the energy density of batteries doubling every ten years and how this will not only enable electric cars to beat combustion engine cars but also to transform energy storage on the grid.

If 100 million homes in the USA had 4 kilowatts of nameplate solar capacity (1kw net power) and needed to store that power for 8 hours (10AM to 4PM power to 6pm-midnight and 6AM-8AM) that would be 800 GWh. This would be the capacity of 16 Gigabattery factories. This would be less than 10% of the grid energy storage needs of the United States. The US uses 4500 TWh of electrical power (and 10 times that amount when currently non-electric transportation and industrial power usage is counted.)

100 Gigabattery factories would be needed to produce the batteries for 50 million cars each year. Complete domination of energy grid storage could see a demand for 900 more Gigabattery factories.

$100-150 per kwh would displace combustion engine cars and also signal Energy Grid Storage Transformation

A summary paper in Nature, presents an original systematic review, analysing over 80 different estimates reported 2007–2014 to systematically trace the costs of Li-ion battery packs for BEV manufacturers. We show that industry-wide cost estimates declined by approximately 14% annually between 2007 and 2014, from above US$1,000 per kWh to around US$410 per kWh, and that the cost of battery packs used by market-leading BEV manufacturers are even lower, at US$300 per kWh, and has declined by 8% annually. Learning rate, the cost reduction following a cumulative doubling of production, is found to be between 6 and 9%, in line with earlier studies on vehicle battery technology. We reveal that the costs of Li-ion battery packs continue to decline and that the costs among market leaders are much lower than previously reported. This has significant implications for the assumptions used when modelling future energy and transport systems and permits an optimistic outlook for BEVs contributing to low-carbon transport.

The International Energy Association has a roadmap for energy storage to 2050

Lightbridge has joint venture with France's nuclear energy company to develop new metallic fuel for 10-30% power increases in existing nuclear plants

Lightbridge Corporation, a U.S. nuclear fuel development company, and AREVA NP, a leader in nuclear fuel, components and reactor services [Areva is France's nuclear energy company], have agreed upon key terms for the creation of a new joint venture to develop, manufacture and commercialize fuel assemblies based on Lightbridge’s innovative metallic nuclear fuel technology designed to significantly improve the economics, efficiency and safety of existing and new nuclear power facilities.

The joint venture company creates a viable and well-defined commercialization path for the patented metallic nuclear fuel technology in the global market, including in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Lightbridge’s all metal fuel (AMF) assembly is comprised entirely of metallic fuel rods and is capable of providing up to 17% increase in power output in existing PWRs and up to a 30% power uprate in new build PWRs operating on 18-month fuel cycles. Due to certain constraints associated with the size of equipment that can fit in the containment structures of existing PWRs, there are limits as to the maximum power uprate level existing PWRs can accommodate without changing their existing containment structure. However, a new build unit can be constructed with a larger containment to allow for higher capacity equipment with relatively small capital cost increase.

Lightbridge is developing three primary nuclear fuel product offerings for power uprates and longer fuel cycles:

  • LTB17-1024™ all-metal fuel for up to 10% power uprates and 24-month operating cycles in existing PWRs;
  • LTB17-1718 1718™ all-metal fuel for up to 17% power uprates and 1818-month operating cycles in existing PWRs; and
  • LTB17-3018™ all-metal fuel for up to 30% power uprates and 18-month operating cycles in new-build PWRs.
  • In addition, Lightbridge is developing LTB17-Th18™, our™ thorium-based seed and blanket fuel, which offers significant back-end advantages and enhanced proliferation resistance of used fuel.

Robotics and automation will reduce mining employment by about 50% by 2030

Economist, lawyers and sustainable investment studies at the International Institute for Sustainable Development have a paper that looks at the mining industry. They look at how automation will effect mining jobs.

Given the fundamental uncertainty and longterm nature of automation technologies, we do not focus on them in this study, instead assessing new technologies that arebeing piloted today, which will be carried forward in the near-to-medium term. These technologies include:

1. Autonomous haul trucks and loaders: One person alone can already remotely operate a small fleet of these autonomous trucks. Improvements in software are likely to allow this to be performed even more efficiently by algorithm-driven computer programs. Driverless technology can lead to a 15 to 20 per cent increase in output, a 10 to 15 per cent decrease in fuel consumption and an 8 per cent decrease in maintenance costs.

November 03, 2016

Aerion and Boom are leading the supersonic business jet race and both target 2023 start of operations but a successful unmanned demo of Hypersonic Hypermach technology would unleash a flood of military funding

There are five main companies developing supersonic commercial passenger planes. Lockheed Martin is building a low sonic boom demonstrator for a NASA project. Aerion has a conservative supersonic design with 12 passengers and a cruising speed of mach 1.4. They have a partnership with Airbus. Aerion is targeting transatlantic operation in 2023. Flexjet has ordered 20 Aerion AS2 planes. Boom is developing a 50-seat trijet that will cruise at Mach 2.2 for the same ticket price as subsonic business class. Boom has VC funding and Richard Branson has optioned 10 aircraft and another company has optioned 15. Boom is targeting 2023 service as well. Aerion and Boom would be the leaders with the best funding and some sales contracts or options. If Boom is successful their design has a longer range and could cross the Pacific. Spike Aerospace is self funded and has a conservative design.

Hypermach is targeting several innovations with superconducting engines and plasma fields for drag reduction to achieve hypersonic mach 5 speeds. the first engine run is targeted for 2019

Nextbigfuture looked at the superconducting ring generator patents and other Hypermach patents

Hypermach will fly and unmanned scale model in 2018. First flight of the HyperStar is now expected in 2025, with certification and entry into service slated to follow in 2028, he said. Both estimates are three years later than what was announced previously. HyperMach has begun to take orders for its SSBJ, and Lugg said he soon expects to close the company’s “first multi-aircraft unit order with a leading global private charter firm.” Current price of the HyperStar is $180 million, though that will escalate to $220 million sometime before the Paris Airshow in June. If the unmanned version is successful, then Hypermach will get a ton of funding from the US military to create hypersonic drones and hypersonic missiles. The civil hypersonic transport would be separate from the military effort. However, the military funds would be used to help create the civil transport.

HyperMach Aerospace is developing an innovative hybrid turbofan ramjet-powered business jet that will cruise at 80,000 ft. and fly close to the edge of hypersonic speed at Mach 5. Dubbed the HyperStar, the aircraft will carry up to 36 passengers on routes up to 7,000 nm. HyperMach plans to announce its airframe partner in the second quarter of 2017 and is preparing to begin high-speed wind-tunnel tests at an undisclosed site in Europe in May. Low-speed wind tunnel tests, which will take place in the U.S., are set to begin next June.

Sonic boom will be mitigated by the use of electromagnetic drag reduction technology (EDRT), which will generate a plasma ion field around parts of the structure to activate a form of laminar flow control. The plasma field is intended to not only help reduce heat flux loads on the HyperStar’s ceramic composite skin, but to also reduce the source of shock waves to lessen the N-pressure wave that causes the sonic boom.

First full engine run of the aircraft’s equally innovative H-Magjet 5500-X powerplant is targeted for 2019. The 76,000-pounds-thrust hybrid turbofan ramjet has no conventional shaft and will instead be based around a superconducting turbo power core ring, an ion plasma injection combustor and an electromagnetic compressor and associated bypass fans.

Aerion has been developing a supersonic business jet since the early 2000s. They are getting engineering assistance and will launch the certification program for its trijet AS2 by the end of 2017. With a natural-laminar-flow wing for efficiency at supersonic and subsonic speeds, the AS2 is designed to fly 4,750 nm at Mach 1.4 and 5,300 nm at Mach 0.95. Fractional ownership operator Flexjet has ordered 20 AS2s for transoceanic services beginning in 2023.

Boom is developing a one-third-scale prototype, dubbed XB-1 which will be used to verify key elements of the design and aerodynamics.

Boom participated in a Y Combinator startup incubation program in early 2016, and has been funded by Y Combinator, Sam Altman, Seraph Group, Eight Partners, and others. Richard Branson confirmed options for 10 aircraft for Virgin Atlantic; in addition, Virgin Galactic's subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, will play a role in manufacturing and testing. Boom also says they have options for an additional 15 aircraft to a European carrier that it declined to name, bringing the total value of options to $5 billion

Boom is developing a 50-seat trijet that will cruise at Mach 2.2 for the same ticket price as subsonic business class. The demonstrator, which will be powered by three General Electric CJ610 turbojets, will be used to expand the subsonic flight envelope in Colorado starting in late 2017. Supersonic flight tests will then be conducted in California, in the restricted airspace around Edwards AFB. As engine selection is the pacing item for the entire project, Boom intends to down-select to the appropriate core in 2017-2018 to enable entry into service by 2023.

The actual sales price of the aircraft is $200M, plus options and interior, in 2016 dollars. On an available premium-seat-mile basis, the Boom jet is meaningfully less expensive than subsonic wide body aircraft.

Spike Aerospace

Spike Aerospace of Boston is self-funding a design incorporating a pair of unspecified 20,000-pounds-thrust engines. Predicting that most supersonic flying will be over water, Spike has reduced its costs and development timescale by dispensing with boom-reduction measures. A Multiplex Digital cabin – the windowless walls of which are covered by thin display screens projecting entertainment – is another cost saver. Seating 12 to 18 passengers, the S-512 will cruise at Mach 1.6 and cover 5,850 nm supersonic, or 4,050 nm subsonic. Recent months have been spent forging alliances with other aerospace companies and pondering engine selection. First flight target is “early 2020s” with first deliveries in 2022-23.

The ability to fly supersonic over land will be the game changer for supersonic business jets, but that’s not likely to happen for another 10 to 15 years, says Gulfstream, which is actively but quietly studying the concept.

“The earliest will be 2025-2030,” says Dan Nale, SVP for programs, engineering and test. “That’s the earliest the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) process can change the rules to allow it [supersonic over land flight].” Meanwhile Gulfstream, which has conducted more studies into supersonic flight and mitigation of the sonic boom than any other business jet manufacturer, continues to carry out original research, participate in regulatory issues and undertake paper studies.

Supersonic plane builders are planning to fly over the ocean only until the over land flight rules are resolved.

“We’re doing a lot of the preliminary design studies,” says Nale, who believes the sonic boom and engine emissions from flying that fast at altitude will be the two major issues to overcome. Next step is for NASA to fly its proposed supersonic demonstrator, on which it is working with Lockheed Martin. “Gulfstream is involved as part of NASA’s consulting review panel,” he adds.

Gulfstream believes the aircraft must be shaped to minimize the boom, and to that end it earlier test-flew an extending nose on a NASA F-15. That Pinocchio-like proboscis is now on display in the lobby of the company’s advanced acoustics lab in Savannah.

International Civil Aviation Organization has a Supersonic Task Group researching the issue of sonic booms, noise regulations and other issues.

Lockheed Martin is completing preliminary design of a low-boom flight demonstrator as part of NASA’s Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) project. The single-engine, Mach 1.4+ X-plane is intended to mimic the shockwave signature of a 100- to 120-seat supersonic airliner and show that a shaped sonic boom of 75 PLdB is quiet enough to permit supersonic flight over land. NASA plans to fly the competitively procured X-plane in 2019 and begin community acceptance testing in 2020

Possible reasons for the unusual dimming of Tabby's star include super-advanced aliens

About 1480 light-years away from Earth, a star is doing something astronomers have never seen before. Every now and then, at random intervals, its light dips by as much as 22 percent (observed by the Kepler space telescope). That's way too much to be a planet. And the star (officially named KIC 8462852, but informally called "Tabby's Star" or "Boyajian's Star") seems to have gotten dramatically darker over the past century.

This odd behavior defies all known explanations, and astronomer Jason Wright has pointed out that these light patterns are similar to what we might expect if aliens built a complex of machines around the star to harvest its energy. But even Wright admits it's much more likely there's a natural explanation.

Bradley Schaefer looked at old DASCH photometry and found that Boyajian’s Star has been fading over the past 100 years, a claim at least as extraordinary as the star’s Kepler light curve.

Ben Montet and Josh Simon very cleverly recently used the Kepler full-frame imagery—some calibration data that doesn’t get much attention because you can’t use it to find planets—to get accurate long-term photometry of Boyajian’s Star over the course of the mission. Amazingly (to everyone but Bradley, I suspect), they found that the star got 4% dimmer over 4 years, in a monotonic but irregular way. What’s more it is the only star out of > 200 that show this effect.

This independent confirmation of the unprecedented effect Schaefer claimed—even if not covering the same time period—shows that Shaefer’s analysis is correct and the star really has dimmed a lot. Adding the two effects, the star is now apparently at least 17% dimmer than it was in 1890.

We now have two inexplicable things going on: long-term, secular dimming of 17% in 115 years, and these days-long, deep “dips” of up to 22%. Both are very hard to explain.

Some call it “Boyajian’s Star“. Dr Tabetha Boyajian herself calls it the “WTF” star, ostensibly after the subtitle of her paper (“Where’s the Flux?”) Others call it Tabby's star.

November 02, 2016

Silicon Valley Airbus wants to create VTOL prototype by 2017 with commercialization by 2020 and eventual volumes 100 times more than helicopters

The Silicon Valley outpost of Airbus Group aims to redefine the future of flight. The mission A³ is to build the future of flight now, by disrupting Airbus Group and its competitors before someone else does.

Project Vahana started in early 2016 as one of the first projects at A³ (pronounced “A-cubed”), the advanced projects and partnerships outpost of Airbus Group in Silicon Valley. At Vahana, they are passionate about personal flight. The aircraft we’re building doesn’t need a runway, is self-piloted, and can automatically detect and avoid obstacles and other aircraft. Designed to carry a single passenger or cargo, they’re aiming to make it the first certified passenger aircraft without a pilot. We aim to fly a full-size prototype before the end of 2017, and to have a productizable demonstrator by 2020.

Vahana sits at the convergence of trends in urban demographics and rapid improvements in batteries, advanced sensors, mass-produced lightweight composite structures, and more.

Today, many of the technical and regulatory challenges to scalable, affordable flight are trending favorably:

  • Battery safety and energy density are now adequate for airborne applications.
  • Low-cost, reliable avionics are becoming broadly available, leveraging decades of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development.
  • Mature obstacle detection and avoidance technology can enable safe aircraft takeoff and landing, and provides reliable collision avoidance in flight.

Recent advances in automated composite manufacturing and assembly show that small, lightweight vehicles can be produced at high volumes and significantly lower costs than traditional aerospace methods have previously allowed.

TedX talk making the case for orbital space colonization and speaker made the most detailed space colony simulator ever

Where will the best real estate outside of Earth be? In this fascinating talk, The building of the most accurate space colony simulator examines the evidence that "we can do better than Mars."

Joe Strout’s programming career began at a young age, writing articles for "Nibble" magazine in high school. Joe obtained a bachelors in psychology from the University of Miami and a masters in neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, but couldn't resist the call of code and became a full-time software developer after graduate school. He now runs a consulting business, crafting unique software solutions to a wide range of problems. Joe and his two sons have been working on High Frontier for almost a year, and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in November 2015.

High Frontier lets you design, build, and manage space settlements in a realistic simulation game. Create an empire to span the solar system.

High Frontier is a game, but it’s a game based on real-world science. Our custom physics simulation engine includes realistic effects like:

  • Dynamic [In]stability: Big spinning things don’t always stay spinning the way you intended. When your colony tumbles end over end, your residents will have a bad day.
  • Radiation: There’s a lot of it in space. Provide sufficient shielding, or your residents will have a bad day.
  • Thermodynamics: Stuff in space can get too cold. Or too hot. (Either one will cause your residents to have a bad day.)

Aerion partnered with Airbus on supersonic businsess jet will break ground on construction in 2018 and fly full sized plane 2021

Aerion Corporation is an American aircraft manufacturer based in Reno, Nevada. They are developing 8-12 passenger AS2 supersonic business jet, with key engineering support provided by the Airbus Group. Aerion has set a target to achieve FAA certification in 2021 and enter service in 2023

The AS2 will have an intercontinental-capable range of 4750 nmi at supersonic speed, saving three hours across the Atlantic vs. subsonic aircraft and more than six hours on longer trans-Pacific routes.

Their first firm order in 2015 was for 20 planes from Flexjet.

Airbus Defense and Space out of Spain has made progress in the engineering of airframe structures, the AS2’s fly-by-wire flight control system, its integrated fuel system, and landing gear. Some of the company’s accomplishments include preliminary designs for a 10-spar carbon fiber wing structure, fuselage and empennage structures, an articulating main landing gear system that minimizes space requirements in the fuselage when stowed/retracted, and a fuel system that is integrated with the digital fly-by-wire system for control of center of gravity.

The aircraft’s flight control design will take advantage of small, powerful actuators that can be housed in the AS2’s thin flying surfaces. To supplement the design process, Airbus D&S built a sample titanium wing leading-edge section for evaluation and is testing composite material specimens to optimize material properties.

Aerion is the lead for other systems, such as avionics, electrical, environmental control, hydraulics, and auxiliary power. In conjunction with Airbus D&S, Aerion had made preliminary space allocations for every system with weight and balance considerations in mind. Candidate suppliers have been identified and the supplier selection process has begun.

In September 2015, senior engineering staff from Aerion, Airbus D&S, Airbus Group, and other Tier 1 equipment suppliers gathered at Aerion headquarters in Reno for a four-day technical and program review, covering engineering accomplished to date on all structures and aircraft systems.

“The take-away from the design review and the effort this past year is that we have moved out of the conceptual design phase into commercializing Aerion technology,” said Aerion Senior Vice President for Aircraft Development Mike Hinderberger, “We are doing the engineering work today that will allow us to build and fly a supersonic jet at the turn of the next decade.”

Since its founding in 2002, Aerion has invested more than $100 million in R and D, much of it in conjunction with NASA and other prominent aerospace research organizations, to develop concepts for a family of efficient supersonic jets. Over that time, it has developed, flown and proven supersonic natural laminar flow airfoils that reduce wing friction drag by as much as 80 percent, and overall airframe drag by as much as 20 percent.

Boom Supersonic will be flying a supersonic demonstrator late in 2017 to eventually make efficient and affordable 45 passenger mach 2.2 supersonic commercial jet

The Boom Suepersonic XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator is their first step toward routine supersonic flight. "Baby Boom," as we like to call her, is the world's first independently developed supersonic jet and the fastest civil aircraft ever made. XB-1 will flight prove the key technologies for practical supersonic flight.

They will unveil the XB-1 design on November 15. First flight is planned for late 2017.

The company participated in a Y Combinator startup incubation program in early 2016, and has been funded by Y Combinator, Sam Altman, Seraph Group, Eight Partners, and others. Richard Branson confirmed options for 10 aircraft for Virgin Atlantic; in addition, Virgin Galactic's subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, will play a role in manufacturing and testing. Boom also says they have options for an additional 15 aircraft to a European carrier that it declined to name, bringing the total value of options to $5 billion

The XB-1 will be a one third scale demonstrator.

The breakthrough Boom jet allows airlines to offer 2.6x quicker flights profitably at the same fares as business class.

Or charge even a modest premium for supersonic and earn higher margins. Just as travelers value nonstop over connecting flights, many will gladly pay a premium to save time.

The Boom jet can also be configured as an ultra VIP personal or business aircraft.

Boo will pursue rigorous safety-testing and FAA certification of their passenger airliner. They will pursue it as quickly as possible, while not skipping any steps. They look forward to the first record-setting passenger flights in the early 2020s.

The viability of supersonic flight depends entirely on the ability to reduce operating costs sufficiently to allow a viable business model. I.e., it must be possible to achieve good load factors and strong margins, at fares passengers will pay.

Surprisingly, this requires just a 30% efficiency improvement over Concorde's 50 year-old airframe and engines. The fundamental technologies required for this exist today and have recently been accepted by regulators (such as composite structure).

With 45 seats, the Boom aircraft can achieve load factors similar to or better than premium cabins in subsonic widebodies.

Boom's total operating cost per-seat mile will be comparable to subsonic business class.

A major problem with Concorde is that it had more seats than could be filled at the required prices. The Boom aircraft has 45 seats, similar to the premium cabin in a typical widebody aircraft. If you can fly a widebody aircraft with good load factor, you can also fly a Boom aircraft with the same schedule with good load factors.

The actual sales price of the aircraft is $200M, plus options and interior, in 2016 dollars. On an available premium-seat-mile basis, the Boom jet is meaningfully less expensive than subsonic wide body aircraft.

Boeing shows new concept for next generation US Air Force Fighter

Boeing is out with new concept art for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation fighter jet, a sleek, tail-less design featuring conformal engine inlets and what looks like a manned cockpit.

The tail-less airframe, thin swept wings and conformal shaping suggest a stealthy, penetrating aircraft that may be able to fly supersonic. The silhouette of a pilot inside the cockpit indicates Boeing is banking on the Air Force sticking with at least an optionally manned platform for the future capability.

Boeing’s new vision comes as the Air Force begins to solidify a plan for the next generation of air superiority, alternatively called “sixth-generation fighter,” “next-generation air dominance,” F-X,” and most recently “Penetrating Counterair” (PCA). The service just kicked off an Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (AFSAB) study that will begin identifying key capabilities needed to fight in the battlefield of 2030 ahead of a formal analysis of alternatives (AoA) for PCA.

The Air Force’s “Air Superiority 2030” initiative identified a hybrid PCA capability as key to ensuring air superiority in future denied battlespaces characterized by sophisticated air defense systems and counterair technologies. But so far, the Air Force has only described PCA in relatively broad terms.

New Boeing Design

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