February 25, 2017

Less nuclear energy has meant higher costs, less clean energy overall and more deaths

Michael Shellenberger explains how less nuclear energy has meant higher costs and less clean energy overall.

* USA has shutdown nuclear plants prematurely because of lower natural gas costs
* this has increased emissions of CO2 and air pollution
* Overall energy costs have increased in the USA which correlate with lower nuclear energy mix
* Germany has 6 times more carbon intensive energy than France
* Germany shutdown nuclear energy and now is even more reliant on coal and fossil fuel
* France uses 80% nuclear power for electricity
* France has half the cost of electricity compared to Germany
* the global decline in nuclear power (-7.5% of energy mix) has not been replaced by solar and wind (4.5%)
* the global decline in nuclear (most of Japan nuclear shutdown, Germany shutdown, some early shutdowns in USA and Europe) has not been made up by the build in China and Asia and appears like future Europe and USA shutdowns (150 GW) will made up by new nuclear in China and India and Asia through 2030.

In 2016, Germany generated 545 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity at an average rate of approximately 560 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kWh. By contrast, France generated 530 TWh of electricity at an average rate of approximately 58 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kWh.

The analysis is based on German hourly generation data from Franhofer ISE, and French hourly generation data RTE-France, as of February 6, 2017. Conversion of German generation data to Specific Carbon Intensity uses emissions factors of 1150g, 900g, 369 g, and 983 g of CO2 per KWh for lignite (brown coal), hard coal, natural gas, and biomass respectively. Conversion of French generation data to Specific Carbon Intensity Uses RTE-France's emissions factors, which are higher for France's hard coal and gas fleets.

Germany's overall emissions increased in 2016 as a result of the country closing one of its nuclear plants and replacing it with coal and natural gas, an EP analysis last month found.

German emissions would have declined had it not closed a nuclear plant and replaced it with coal and natural gas.

Not only did new solar and wind not make up for the lost nuclear, the amount of solar and wind electricity produced in 2016 actually decreased from 2015 despite new additions of solar capacity and extensive additions of wind capacity.

This will be self-inflicted global, US and California energy policy that will increase costs, environmental damage and deaths from air pollution and delay the meeting of any CO2 goals by years to decades.

Transatomic Power reduced their claims of nuclear fuel efficiency

In a white paper published in March 2014, Transatomic Power proclaimed its molten salt reactor "can generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor."

In a
paper on its site dated November 2016, the company downgraded “75 times” to "more than twice." In addition, it now specifies that the design “does not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel,” or use them as its fuel source. The promise of recycling nuclear waste, which poses tricky storage and proliferation challenges, was a key initial promise of the company that captured considerable attention.

Oak Ridge National Labs confirmed the Transatomic power work and designs

Deep ocean GPS would revolutionize submarine and naval warfare

DARPA is creating a GPS-like technology that works in the deep ocean called Positioning System for Deep Ocean Navigation, or POSYDON.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the predominant means of obtaining positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) information for both military and civilian systems and applications. However, the radio frequency basis for GPS also means that its signals cannot penetrate seawater, and thus undersea GPS is effectively denied. The Positioning System for Deep Ocean Navigation (POSYDON) program aims to develop an undersea system that provides omnipresent, robust positioning across ocean basins. By ranging to a small number of long-range acoustic sources, an undersea platform would be able to obtain continuous, accurate positioning without surfacing for a GPS fix. Phase I of the program focuses on accurately modeling the signal propagation channel, and Phase II focuses on developing the signal waveform. A complete positioning system is scheduled to be demonstrated in Phase III.

DARPA selected BAE Systems to develop POSYDON

DARPA envisions that the POSYDON program will distribute a small number of acoustic sources, analogous to GPS satellites, around an ocean basin.

Underwater acoustic signal propagation channels present a number of challenges:
• Time-varying multipath propagation and multipath delay
• Doppler spread due to platform motion relative to the acoustic source(s) and ocean environment
• Bandwidth-limited signals
• Convergence zones
• Tomographic calibration of a region as a function of time/environmental variability

There are some GPS radio systems that can work in shallow waters, but DARPA wants to go into the deep ocean with submarine drones. Submarine navigation is one of the most complex and dangerous ventures in the military because, to get a precise location on one, the vessel has to eventually emerge from the water to catch a radio signal. Even access to a GPS can be blocked by enemy jamming.

Currently, submarines are outfitted with a “very large and very expensive inertial measurement unit,”Niedzwiecki. says. It basically remembers the submarines last known location and keeps track of its diving depth and forward movement. This, of course, is not the nearly as precise as a GPS system.

Drone subs operating under POSYDON could locate underwater mines, track enemy subs and perform other critical tasks larger manned submarines cannot, according to The National Interest:

* Number of small drones could send out an acoustic ping and then analyze
* Drone swarms update ships and submarines

Future US Navy plans are all about doubling or tripling the missiles they can shoot and how many missiles they can defend against

In World War II, the U.S. Navy made extensive use of small aircraft carriers, ranging from very small carriers escorting convoys (CVEs) to light aircraft carriers (CVLs) that were essentially downsized models of the iconic big carriers (CVs).

CVLs could handle post-WWII jets. However, the Navy concluded super carriers made more sense strategically and economically. Nuclear-powered super carriers (CVNs) could carry a wing of multi-mission, high-performance combat aircraft and pack an array of defensive weapons. They could remain at sea for months.

Smaller carriers currently are used to carry harrier jump jets and/or helicopters.

China has been a leader in long-range anti-carrier missiles. China has deployed the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The DF-21D is clearly designed to target and sink the US Navy large nuclear aircraft carriers.

The US US Navy officers is worried that just having big carriers is putting too many eggs in too few baskets.

The new plans are for two or three small carriers to go with the large carriers. There would be the addition of drones and F35 jets put onto the small carriers and also stronger drones onto every ship.

Arsenal ship - missile filled ship controlled by other airplanes and ships

Arsenal Ship concept art, via Globalsecurity.org.

MITRE's future navy plan has a concept called the "Magazine Ship." The MGX would carry up to 4 railguns, 1,000 missile silos, or 96 Pershing-III intermediate range ballistic—or some mix.

Three new navy plans all are focused on more ships, with more missiles, more drones and more planes. Lethality is increased with more missiles, more planes and more drones. The total number of weapons are increased and they are put on more ships.

Adding three small carriers would double the number of planes and drones in a carrier group.

The current missile destroyers are armed with about 90-100 missiles.

A carrier strike group (CSG) is an operational formation of the United States Navy. It is composed of roughly 7,500 personnel, an aircraft carrier, at least one cruiser, a destroyer squadron of at least two destroyers and/or frigates, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft.

MGX ships could bring 3 to 5 times the number of missiles in a carrier group.

Adding railguns and lasers if about being to defend against more enemy missiles. Drones can shoot missiles and anti-missiles.

Each of the 100 or so page plans for the future US Navy boil down to being able to shoot a lot more missiles and being able to defend against more missiles.

580 ton Mobile high speed rail and bridge construction machine

A Chinese company has built a machine that has a creative way of setting girders into place for high speed rail bridges.

The SLJ900/32, made by the Beijing Wowjoint Machinery Company, is a 580 ton, 300 foot long and 24 foot wide mega machine that looks more like a train than a crane Instead of using a stationary or crawler crane to lift the girder of a bridge from the ground and drop it into its place, the SLJ900/32 drives the girder onto the previously placed girder, slowly extends its arms to the next support platform, pushes the girder towards the front of the machine and then lowers it into place.

February 24, 2017

China's J-20 stealth fighter spotted with four extra fuel tanks for extended range

China's J-20 stealth fighter has been seen with four auxiliary fuel tanks (aka, drop tanks or "bags") under its wings.

Although cumbersome external fuel tanks sap the J-20's low observable (stealth) qualities and maneuvering performance, it is likely that they can be jettisoned along with their pylons in a similar manner as the F-22. This allows the aircraft to recapture a large degree of its low observability, and is clearly useful if increased kinematic performance is needed. The tanks will also allow J-20s to reach stations hundreds of miles beyond what they are capable on external fuel alone. They will make the J-20 more independent of aerial tankers for certain missions, and even with four tanks, the J-20's baseline internal weapon carriage capability is not disturbed.

The J-20, or a least some of them will carry weapons under their wings. China's new very long-range air-to-air missile.

J-20s could work cooperatively. For instance, a devision (flight of four) J-20s could work in two sections, one section of two jets in stealth configuration, and the other two carrying four long-range air-to-air missiles. The stealthy pair can venture forward to quietly (electronic emissions silent) obtain targeting information while the J-20s carrying the long-range missiles can act as weapons magazines, leveraging the targeting data obtained from their stealthy wingmen. These are similar to tactics being developed by the USAF for the F-15 and F-22 air dominance team. For instance, the stealthy J-20s can use their passive sensors (electronic support measures and infrared search and track) to silently stalk targets far in front of the non-stealthy configured J-20s. Meanwhile the other non-stealthy J-20s operating many dozens of miles to the rear can use their radars freely, providing enhanced situational awareness to the stealthy J-20s ahead by sharing their radar "picture" via data-link. In doing so these non-stealthy configured J-20s also act as bait, drawing in enemy fighter aircraft, and leaving them vulnerable to ambush by their stealthy and silent counterparts.

Making 3D maps of every cell in the human body

On 10 February 2017, the London-based charity Cancer Research UK announced that a team of molecular biologists, astronomers and game designers would receive up to £20 million (US$25 million) over the next five years to develop its interactive virtual-reality map of breast cancers. Currently there are animations for tumor that allow virtual flew throughs. However, they are mock-up. The real models will include data on the expression of thousands of genes and dozens of proteins in each cell of a tumor. The hope is that this spatial and functional detail could reveal more about the factors that influence a tumor’s response to treatment.

The project is just one of a string that aims to build a new generation of cell atlases: maps of organs or tumors that describe location and make-up of each cell in painstaking detail.

Cancer Research UK awarded another team up to £16 million to make a similar tumor map that will focus on metabolites and proteins. Later this year, the US National Institute of Mental Health will announce the winners of grants to map mouse brains in extraordinary molecular detail. And on 23–24 February, researchers will gather at Stanford University in California to continue planning the Human Cell Atlas, an as-yet-unfunded effort to map every cell in the human body.

China's second carrier is nearing structural completion and will soon have a launching ceremony

China is close to completing and launching its second aircraft carrier. It will begin service by 2020.

China Central Television (CCTV) reported that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's Type 001A class aircraft carrier's scaffold has been removed and red undercoat has been painted below the ship's waterline in Dalian, northeastern Liaoning Province, and that a launching ceremony will soon be Held.

"Unlike the Liaoning (Type 001), China's first aircraft carrier, a refitted ship built by Ukraine (under the former former Union Union), the 001A is China-built, and its design, combat capability and technologies will be much much advanced, Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the Global Times.

"One key difference is the design will be more 'humanized,' which means all personnel on the carrier will enjoy a more comfortable and modern environment," Song said.

However, "there's still a long way to go from its launch to enlistment, which normally takes two years," Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Center,

Song said "its status can be compared to a house terms paint job has been long but requires decorating, which, in military terms, is called the 'outfitting stage.

It means all weapons and equipment, including the radar system, air defense system and communications system will be outfitted on the carrier. After this, the carrier and aircraft on will will be tested, and then the carrier will be ready to serve, Song said The

"Construction of the aircraft carrier is on schedule. Most of its construction and design work has been long. Its hull has already been assembled at the shipyard. The ship will soon be equipped with radar and other facilities," said Chinese defense ministry spokesperson Wu Qian in October 2016, in response to media inquiries on share aircraft carrier images online

A large amount of work remains to be done on the carrier's outfitting stage after it's launched, presumably sometime this year, Li Jie, a naval military expert, said. "It will take about one to two years to carry out functional debugging of its devices , Weapons and equipment. The new aircraft carrier can begin sea trials by early 2019. "

Catapult technology

On December 31, 2015 the Chinese defense ministry formal announced the construction of the 001A, and another spokesperson Yang Yujun said, "This carrier, with a displacement of 50,000 tons, will be the base for J-15 fighters and other types of aircraft. "

The design and construction of the second aircraft carrier is based on experience, research and training from the first carrier, the Liaoning, Yang added.

Based on information released by the Chinese defense ministry, 001A's aircraft will still use the ski-jump method of taking off from a ski ramp on the front of the carrier just like its "sister," the Liaoning, rather than more advanced catapult technology used By US aircraft carriers

China is looking into catapult technology, Li said, and the technology will be based on the 002, China's third aircraft carrier, which is being built in Shanghai.

"In other words, 002 is next different from the Liaoning (001) and 001A, and it will look like US aircraft carrier than than a Russian one," Li said.

More modern carriers use the Electromagnetic Catapult System, or Electromagnetic launcher (EML), to launch carrier-based jets, but China is still testing steam catapults, Li said. "The main difference is that EMLs are more flexible and the system's speed can Be controlled, so it can launch aircraft of different sizes.

Yin said "in order to protect China's territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean. So we need at least five to six aircraft carriers.

February 23, 2017

Membrane solves one of the major technical barriers to commercialization of the lithium sulfur battery

Researchers developed an alteration to the lithium-sulfur battery that could make it more than competitive with the industry standard lithium-ion battery.

The lithium-sulfur battery, long thought to be better at energy storage capacity than its more popular lithium-ion counterpart, was hampered by its short cycle life. Currently the lithium-sulfur battery can be recharged 50 to 100 times — impractical as an alternative energy source compared to 1,000 times for many rechargeable batteries on the market today.

The solution devised by Narayan and lead author and research assistant Moy is something they call the “Mixed Conduction Membrane,” or MCM, a small piece of non-porous, fabricated material sandwiched between two layers of porous separators, soaked in electrolytes and placed between the two electrodes.

The membrane works as a barrier in reducing the shuttling of dissolved polysulfides between anode and cathode, a process that increases the kind of cycle strain that has made the use of lithium-sulfur batteries for energy storage a challenge. The MCM still allows for the necessary movement of lithium ions, mimicking the process as it occurs in lithium-ion batteries. This novel membrane solution preserves the high-discharge rate capability and energy density without losing capacity over time.

At various rates of discharge, the researchers found that the lithium-sulfur batteries that made use of MCM led to 100 percent capacity retention and had up to four times longer life compared to batteries without the membrane.

“This advance removes one of the major technical barriers to the commercialization of the lithium-sulfur battery, allowing us to realize better options for energy efficiency,” said Narayan, senior author and professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “We can now focus our efforts on improving other parts of lithium-sulfur battery discharge and recharge that hurt the overall life cycle of the battery.”

The lithium-sulfur battery with a mixed conduction membrane barrier to stop polysulfide shuttling (Illustration/Courtesy of Sri Narayan)

Journal of the Electrochemical society - Mixed Conduction Membranes Suppress the Polysulfide Shuttle in Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

Scientifically designed fasting diet lowers risks for major diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease and other age related disease

A randomized trial shows cycles of a five-day fasting diet designed by a USC researcher safely reduces the risk factors for age-related diseases.

What if you could lose weight and reduce your risk of life-threatening disease without any changes in what you eat — other than a five-day special diet once every few months?

That’s what happened for 71 adults placed on three cycles of a low-calorie, “fasting-mimicking” diet. The phase II trial, conducted by researchers at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, demonstrated a host of benefits from the regimen.

The diet reduced cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure and signs of inflammation (measured by C-reactive protein levels), as well as fasting glucose and reduced levels of IGF-1, a hormone that affects metabolism. It also shrank waistlines and resulted in weight loss, both in total body fat and trunk fat, but not in muscle mass.

In effect, the diet reduced the study participants’ risks for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other age-related diseases.

This study provides evidence that people can experience significant health benefits through a periodic, fasting-mimicking diet that is designed to act on the aging process,” said Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “Prior studies have indicated a range of health benefits in mice, but this is the first randomized clinical trial with enough participants to demonstrate that the diet is feasible, effective and safe for humans.

“Larger FDA studies are necessary to confirm its effects on disease prevention and treatment,” he added.

ProLon® is designed to achieve the beneficial effects of fasting while providing micronutrient nourishment (vitamins, minerals and others) of which the body is deprived during fasting. It minimizes the psychological burden of pure fasting.

ProLon® comprises proprietary plant-based soups, bars, drinks, snacks, herbal teas, vitamins, and supplements.

An epigenetics gold rush: new controls for DNA, RNA and gene expression

The epigenome is the broad array of chemical marks that decorate DNA and its protein scaffold. These marks act like a chemical notation, telling the cell which genes to express and which to keep silent. As such, the epigenome helps to explain how cells with identical DNA can develop into the multitude of specialized types that make up different tissues. The marks help cells in the heart, for example, maintain their identity and not turn into neurons or fat cells. Misplaced epigenetic marks are often found in cancerous cells.

Most epigenetic research focused on the tags associated with DNA and the histone proteins that it wraps around. But more than 100 different types of chemical mark had been identified on RNA, and nobody knew what they did.

In 2009, researchers began hunting for reversible marks on RNA and the proteins that erase them.

Nine years later, such research has given birth to an 'ome of its own, the epitranscriptome. Researchers have shown that a methyl group attached to adenine, one of the four bases in RNA, has crucial roles in cell differentiation, and may contribute to cancer, obesity and more. In 2015, He's lab and two other teams uncovered the same chemical mark on adenine bases in DNA (methyl marks had previously been found only on cytosine), suggesting that the epigenome may be even richer than previously imagined.

The governing rule of molecular biology — the central dogma — holds that information flows from DNA to messenger RNA to protein. Many scientists therefore viewed mRNA as little more than a courier, carrying the genetic information encoded in a cell's nucleus to the protein factories in the cytoplasm. That's one reason why few researchers paid much attention to the modifications made to mRNA.

In 2010 the team decided to test FTO's activity on m6A — the methylated adenine. The mark disappeared. The team had shown for the first time that RNA methylation was reversible, just like the marks found on DNA and histones. To He, it seemed like proof of an RNA-based system of gene regulation.

Evidence mounts
He's group wasn't the only one thinking about m6A. In 2012, two teams of researchers independently published the first maps of where m6A appears. The studies revealed more than 12,000 methylated sites on mRNAs originating from about 7,000 genes.

One m6A reader, for example, makes mRNA degrade faster by shuttling it to decay sites in the cell. Another m6A reader promotes protein production by shepherding methylated RNA to the ribosome.

Whether m6A directs a cell to produce a protein or destroy a transcript depends on the location of the mark and on the reader that binds to it.

Teaching drones to land themselves on moving targets like Delivery trucks or Navy Ships

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science are using artificial intelligence, called fuzzy logic, to get drones to navigate and land themselves on moving platforms. This holds promise for commercial uses such as delivering packages.

Drones have problems in navigating their ever-changing airspace.

This problem is compounded when the drone tries to land on a moving platform such as a delivery van or even a U.S. Navy warship pitching in high seas.

“It has to land within a designated area with a small margin of error,” Kumar said. “Landing a drone on a moving platform is a very difficult problem scientifically and from an engineering perspective.”

To address this challenge, UC researchers applied a concept called fuzzy logic, the kind of reasoning people employ subconsciously every day.

While scientists are concerned with precision and accuracy in all they do, most people get through their day by making inferences and generalities, or by using fuzzy logic. Instead of seeing the world in black and white, fuzzy logic allows for nuance or degrees of truth.

Fuzzy logic helps the drone make good navigational decisions amid a sea of statistical noise, he said. It’s called “genetic-fuzzy” because the system evolves over time and continuously discards the lesser solutions.

Stockton, Kumar and Cohen successfully employed fuzzy logic in a simulation to show it is an ideal system for navigating under dynamic conditions. Stockton, an engineering master’s student who was lead author on the paper, is putting fuzzy logic to the test in experiments to land quadcopters on robots mounted with landing pads at UC’s UAV Multi-Agent System Research (MASTER) Lab.

“This landing project is a real-world problem. A delivery vehicle could have a companion drone make deliveries and land itself,” Stockton said.

Mild static compression of 15 GPA turns graphite ito hexagonal diamond

Under mild static compression (15 GPa), graphite preferentially turns into hexagonal diamond, not cubic diamond, the selectivity of which is against thermodynamics. Here researchers via novel potential energy surface global exploration, report seven types low energy intermediate structures at the atomic level that are key to the kinetics of graphite to diamond solid phase transition. On the basis of quantitative kinetics data, they show that hexagonal diamond has a facile initial nucleation mechanism inside graphite matrix and faster propagation kinetics owing to the presence of three coherent graphite/hexagonal diamond interfaces, forming coherent nuclei in graphite matrix. By contrast, for the lack of coherent nucleus core, the growth of cubic diamond is at least 40 times slower and its growth is inevitably mixing with that of hexagonal diamond.

23 pages of supplemental information

Commercial drones with flamethrower to burn garbage off of power lines

China has made drones with flamethrowers to clear garbage from power lines.

Entrepreneur reports that an electric company in Xiangyang, China is the one that came up with the fiery idea.

US dept of defense providing funding for Reaction engine hypersonic wind tunnel tests - focus on hypersonic military hardware and defers spaceplanes

Audio recordings of a UK Reaction engines presentation are in the NASA Spaceflight forum. Reaction Engines is making hypersonic planes and spaceplanes. Their key technology is a precooler.

Reaction Engines is looking for an engine partner now. They have some good contacts with Safran through Airbus Safran Launchers. A large amount of money is being made available by the US DoD for testing the precooler in a hypersonic wind tunnel.

US Air Force research lab investigations examined the thermodynamic cycle of the SABRE concept and found no significant barrier to its theoretical viability provided the engine component and integration challenges are met.

In late 2015 / early 2016, BAE Systems invested £20.6 million in Reaction Engines to acquire 20 per cent of its share capital and also enter into a working partner relationship.

BAE Systems will collaborate to accelerate Reaction Engines’ development of SABRE – a new aerospace engine class that combines both jet and rocket technologies with the potential to revolutionize hypersonic flight and the economics of space access.

SABRE is an advanced combined cycle air-breathing rocket engine. This new class of aerospace engine is designed to enable aircraft to operate from standstill on the runway to speeds of over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. SABRE can then transition to a rocket mode of operation, allowing spaceflight at speeds up to orbital velocity, equivalent to twenty five times the speed of sound.

The USA AFRL is bullish on the technology. The lab will reveal two-stage-to-orbit SABRE-based concepts either this September, at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' (AIAA) SPACE 2016 conference in Long Beach, California, or in March 2017, at the 21st AIAA International Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies Conference in China, said AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate Aerospace Engineer Barry Hellman.

The key SABRE technologies that AFRL, based in Ohio, will start work on later this year, and possibly fly in the future, are related to the engine's precooler. This device precools the air entering the engine at speeds greater than four times the speed of sound (Mach 4). SABRE's precooler will cool such air from more than 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius) down to minus 238 F (minus 150 C) in one one-hundredth of a second. The oxygen in the chilled air will become liquid in the process.

Heat Exchanger

Updates from Presentation

Reaction Engines is looking for an engine partner now - they needed BAE at the time and now they are at the point where they need Rolls or someone else. They have some good contacts with Safran through Airbus Safran Launchers. A large amount of money is being made available by the US DoD for testing the precooler in a hypersonic wind tunnel.

Apparently sealing the helium loop is hard. They don't know whether to work with an industrial partner to make their seals lighter or an aerospace partner to make their seals better.

They have new management with people from Safran Leonardo Helicopters. New management is much more focused on stepping stones rather than hoping to somehow get 10 billion dollars to do single stage to orbit.

The heat in the helium loop can be used to generate a lot of electrical power potentially. Military people like this a lot - why? Maybe lasers?

Skylon spaceplane is definitely on the back-burner until the 2030s.

Hypersonic military hardware and perhaps hypersonic business jets are of interest. There was mention of two stage to orbit designs and pictures of Orbital Access' designs.

Main work is on engine ground test. There were many engine-specific questions from about 500 knowledgeable people in a technical audience.

Brain-computer interface allows fast, accurate typing by people with paralysis

In a Stanford-led research report, three participants with movement impairment controlled an onscreen cursor simply by imagining their own hand movements.

The report involved three study participants with severe limb weakness — two from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, and one from a spinal cord injury. They each had one or two baby-aspirin-sized electrode arrays placed in their brains to record signals from the motor cortex, a region controlling muscle movement. These signals were transmitted to a computer via a cable and translated by algorithms into point-and-click commands guiding a cursor to characters on an onscreen keyboard.

High performance communication by people with paralysis using an intracortical brain-computer interface

High-performance, low-energy artificial synapse for neural network computing

A new organic artificial synapse made by Stanford researchers could support computers that better recreate the way the human brain processes information. It could also lead to improvements in brain-machine technologies.

“It works like a real synapse but it’s an organic electronic device that can be engineered,” said Alberto Salleo, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and senior author of the paper. “It’s an entirely new family of devices because this type of architecture has not been shown before. For many key metrics, it also performs better than anything that’s been done before with inorganics.”

It mimics the way synapses in the brain learn through the signals that cross them. This is a significant energy savings over traditional computing, which involves separately processing information and then storing it into memory. Here, the processing creates the memory.

This synapse may one day be part of a more brain-like computer, which could be especially beneficial for computing that works with visual and auditory signals. Examples of this are seen in voice-controlled interfaces and driverless cars. Past efforts in this field have produced high-performance neural networks supported by artificially intelligent algorithms but these are still distant imitators of the brain that depend on energy-consuming traditional computer hardware.

Structure and electronic states of an organic neuromorphic device.

Nature Materials - A non-volatile organic electrochemical device as a low-voltage artificial synapse for neuromorphic computing

February 22, 2017

Proposed planet definition - round objects in space that are smaller than stars

A proposed planet definition - a planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters.

A simple paraphrase of our planet definition— especially suitable for elementary school students— could be, “round objects in space that are smaller than stars”. The definition clearly excludes stars or stellar objects such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. We leave for the future the issue of brown dwarfs’ stellar versus planetary status so as to not force a premature definition on the larger end of planetary scales. In keeping with emphasizing intrinsic properties, our geophysical definition is directly based on the physics of the world itself rather than the physics of its interactions with external objects.

The planet definition adopted by the IAU in 2006 is technically flawed, for several reasons. First, it recognizes as planets only those objects orbiting our Sun, not those orbiting other stars or orbiting freely in the galaxy as “rogue planets.” Second, it requires zone clearing, which no planet in our solar system can satisfy since new small bodies are constantly injected into planet-crossing orbits, like NEOs near Earth. Finally, and most severely, by requiring zone clearing the mathematics of the definition are distance-dependent, requiring progressively larger objects in each successive zone. For example, even an Earth sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone.

Do not judge them by their size

The eight planets recognized by the IAU are often modified by the adjectives “terrestrial,” “giant,” and “ice giant,” yet no one would state that a giant planet is not a planet. Yet, the IAU does not consider dwarf planets to be planets. We eschew this inconsistency. Thus, dwarf planets and moon planets such as Ceres, Pluto, Charon, and Earth’s Moon are “fullfledged” planets. This seems especially true in light of these planets’ complex geology and geophysics

Vasimr plasma rocket targeting 100 hours of continuous operation at 100 kW power level early in 2018

NASA NEXTSTep program awarded Ad Astra Vasimr plasma propulsion a three-year, $9 million contract in 2015. Ad Astra must fire its plasma rocket for 100 hours, at a power level of 100 kilowatts in 2018.

This February, the company has worked about halfway through that contract. Ars Technica reports that the VASIMR engine has been fired at 100kW for 10 seconds and 50kW for one minute.

The goal of this work is to demonstrate a VASIMR® engine in thermal steady-state by operating it continuously for 100 hours at a power level of 100 kW

◦ Achieve the goal over the course of 3 years in 3 phases
◦ Phase a: Shake-out basic systems, pulses of minutes, uncooled booster section, accumulate 1 hour, inspect
◦ Phase b: Add cooling to booster section, accumulate 100 hours, inspect
◦ Phase c: Upgrade rocket core cooling for heat rejection at ≈ 200 °C, shake out high temperature cooling systems, install PPUs in vacuum, execute a 100 hour continuous test, inspect

They are successfully hitting plan milestones

Rocket core integration with magnet (Aug 2016)
◦ Field line mapping and rocket core alignment
◦ Instrumentation and electrical testing
* Integration of VX-200SSa test article in chamber (Sept 2016)
◦ Cooling line hookups and leak checking
◦ RF matching circuit connections and tuning
◦ Command, control and data acquisition verification
* Initial high-power firing with plasma in Phase-a (Oct 2016)
◦ Phase-a will have pulse lengths on the order of minutes
◦ Measure rocket performance
◦ Evaluate aspects of the chamber and plasma dump
* Install final components for VX-200SSb (May 2017)
◦ Fully cooled with operation times on the order of hours
* Hot steady-state operation with VX-200SS (Feb 2018)
◦ Ready for 100 hours of continuous operation at 100 kW
◦ New PPUs installed inside the vacuum chamber

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