October 31, 2009

Carnival of Space 127

1. Astroengine has a picture and video of the launch of Ares I-X.

2 The Universe Today had seven pictures of the Ares i-X launch

3. Collect Space reports NASA's Ares I-X to fly on historic hardware with commemorative payload

4. Centauri Dreams takes a look in two posts at the National Research Council report on NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts. Is a new NIAC in the cards? Possibly, but what will it tell us about NASA's overall direction?

The other article looks at some of the original NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts research which was the most impactful.

5. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, reports that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently orbiting the Moon just 50 km off the surface, has taken more shots of the Apollo 17 landing site… and has seen the actual U.S. flag! A couple of photos like this cropped version below.

6. The Planetary Society blog shows HiRISE view of Phoenix in the Martian spring The article has 5 photos.

These Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE images of the defunct Phoenix lander in the early dawn light of northern spring have been out for some time, but no one had accomplished the difficult task of locating the Phoenix hardware in them until this week.

So both items 5 and 6 are because we have multiple space missions and scopes able to spot areas on the moon and Mars where previous space missions have been.

Researcher Wolfgang Fink got a lot of ink this past week with the idea that: Instead of sending a paltry robot or two to distant planets, scientists should send multiple expendable robots. Send an Armada of robots. Below is representation of many blimp robots, rovers and satellites at Mars.

7. 21st century waves asks "Is human spaceflight optional?"

8. Spacewriter ramblings provides the first of her two "Wow!" entries this week... about the Wow Factor in astronomy. She has a zoomable picture of the N44 superbubble complex as seen by the Gemini Telescope (courtesy Gemini Observatory and T.A. Rector).

9. Cheap Astronomy delivers a 365 days podcast on the Deep Space Network.

10. Political Action for Space has his impressions of Huntsville, the Redstone Arsenal, the Marshal Spaceflight Center.

11. Commercial Space reviews his first full day at the 2009 Canadian Science Policy Conference.

12. My Dark Sky discusses, NGC4755 The Jewel Box in the Southern Cross.

There is a Jewel Box in Crux. This beautiful open cluster is also known as Kappa Crucis Cluster or NGC4755. It got its Jewel Box nickname from an English astronomer John Herschel in the 1830s because the striking colour contrasts of its pale blue and orange stars seen through a telescope reminded Herschel of a piece of exotic jewellery.

13. the blog of the Chandra observatory provides Chandra Source Catalog (10,000 observations and 100,000 sources) has been loaded onto the Google Sky (Part 2)

Recently we have added the field of view outlines for all approximately 10,000 Chandra observations. Shortly users will see markers for each of the roughly 100,000 sources in the Chandra Source Catalog CSC with direct access to the same science data professional astronomers use. The process that creates the multi-resolution images will be upgraded to provide full resolution across the entire image (not just the center of the image). And we hope to provide full mosaics of parts of the sky where we have observed with Chandra multiple times. Users may even start to see Tours of observations referenced in professional journal articles. There are many exciting possibilities

14. We Are All in the Gutter discusses an easier way to avoid shining lasers used in astronomy observing on passing aircraft

15. Colony Worlds has the article Moon: Oxygen, Oxygen Everywhere, But We'll Need Hydrogen To Drink

Even though revelations of Luna's "wet" surface inspired dreams of space settlement, it may be wise to ship tanks of hydrogen upon its surface--if we want humanity to thrive.

16. Big Telescopes Get Lucky (Imaging)

17. Astro Swanny has coverage of Australian space news. Funding, astronomy and video

18. Ken Murphy at Out of the Cradle reviews a pair of books that look at a Christian Creationist perspective of the Moon's origin.

19. "Cumbrian Sky" delights in the latest stunning image of an Apollo landing site taken by the LRO probe, and wonders what it will take to convince stupid Moon Landing Hoax Believers that the greatest event in the history of Mankind actually happened..."

Carnival Host

As the host of this weeks carnival I will feature my four articles on space.

20. The interview of Richard Varvill of Reaction Engines and the Skylon Spaceplane by Sander Olson There are pictures and video of the Skylon Spaceplan and the proposed orbital base.

21. The first of two articles with updates on the controversial EMDrive propulsion system.

The heart of the Emdrive is a resonant, tapered cavity filled with microwaves. According to Shawyer, a relativistic effect generates a net thrust, an effect confirmed by various Emdrives he has built as demonstrations. Critics say that any thrust from the drive must come from another source. Shawyer is adamant that the measured thrust is not caused by other factors.

Shawyer asserts that work is also being carried out in France, Russia and in the United States by a major aerospace company. Work is also being done in China. Shawyer continues his work in the UK.

22. From the most recent 14 page paper by Shawyer on the EMdrive there is a review of his proposed flying car and a hybrid spaceplane

The design of the [flying car] vehicle results from iterating a mass, power and thrust analysis with inputs from four mission analyses. The mass, dimensions and performance of the jet engines are scaled from the data available for the AMT Titan UAV engine. The power generator is based on an uprated ROTAX 503 aero engine driving a high speed 36 kW alternator.

The flight envelope was investigated by running 4 numerical mission analyses. These gave a maximum rate of vertical ascent of 52m/s (170ft/s) and a maximum speed of 118m/s (230 knots) at a maximum altitude of 12.6km (41,300ft). If the altitude is restricted to 1.34km (4,400 ft) then a full liquid hydrogen fuel load will give a maximum range of 97km (60 miles).

23. Nuclear weapons will be relatively weak for a truly space capable civilization with readily available and powerful kinetic weapons.

This would especially be the case with re-invented civil defense

Nanocomposite Permanent Magnets

Schematic representation of the bottom-up assembly concept to develop high-energy nanocomposite materials for next-generation magnets. Courtesy of George Hadjipanayis, of the UD Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The University of Delaware has won a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) to lead a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research project to develop the next generation of high-performance permanent magnets The target of the project is a 2x increase (double) over the state-of-the art magnetic energy density.

According to Hadjipanayis, the strongest permanent magnets today are made from an alloy of three elements: neodymium (Nd), iron (Fe), and boron (B). Hadjipanayis was one of the three researchers who discovered the Nd-Fe-B magnets in the early 1980s.

In the new project, he and his team will be working to identify new materials that will result in magnets twice as strong as those currently in existence.

“This is the first time that such a large concerted effort will be undertaken in the U.S. on the development of high-energy magnets that involves the best expertise available in our country on this type of materials,” Hadjipanayis said.

An article in the Sept. 11, 2009, edition of the journal Science reported that the demand for Nd-Fe-B magnets is growing at about 15 percent per year, for use in products ranging from magnetic resonance imaging machines, to cell phones, headphones, and even prototype magnetic refrigerators. Yet neodymium (Nd), which is a member of the rare earth metals on the periodic table of the elements, is growing increasingly scarce.

The UD-led team will explore three different routes over the three-year project, Hadjipanayis said. The first route will be to discover new materials in tertiary rare earth-transition metal-element X systems that have not yet been explored due to synthesis difficulties such as vapor pressure, high reactivity, toxicity, or their refractory nature. The second route will be to develop materials that are free of rare earth metals and stabilized by the addition of small non-magnetic atoms (Fe-Co-X); and the third route will be to use the bottom-up approach to develop high-energy nanocomposite materials consisting of a uniform and nanoscale mixture of high anisotropy hard (Nd-Fe-B) and high magnetization soft (Fe) magnetic phases.

Wave Disc Engines

One of the 37 projects that were funded under the ARPA-E program was Wave Disc Engines

Wave Disc Engine. Michigan State will complete its prototype development of a new gas-fueled electricity generator, five times more efficient than traditional auto engines in electricity production, 20% lighter, and 30% cheaper to manufacture. This novel ultrahigh efficiency engine could replace current backup generator technology of Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles. (DOE grant: $2,540,631)

The wave disc engine is a new implementation of wave rotor technology (also called Pressure Wave Machines or Pressure Exchangers). Wave rotors are unsteady-flow devices that utilize shock waves to transfer energy directly between a high-energy fluid to a low-energy fluid, thereby increasing both temperature and pressure of the low-energy fluid. Wave rotor technology has shown a significant potential for performance improvement of thermodynamic cycles.

The award will allow a team of Michigan State University engineers and scientists, led by Norbert Müeller, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, to begin working toward producing a vehicle-size wave disc engine/generator during the next two years, building on existing modeling, analysis and lab experimentation they have already completed.

Our goal is to enable hyper-efficient hybrid vehicles to meet consumer needs for a 500-mile driving range, lower vehicle prices, full-size utility, improved highway performance and very low operating costs. The WDG also can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 95 percent in comparison to modern internal combustion vehicle engines

Researchers in Poland and Switzerland investigated the Wave Disk Micro-Engine concept

Norbert Mueller describes his wave disk generator

Pressure wave supercharger at wikipedia

October 30, 2009

EMdrive Proposed flying Car and Hybrid Spaceplane

A link to the 14 page word document on the 2009 EMDrive research which was presented at the the CEAS 2009 European Air & Space Conference

The Emdrive Programme – Implications for the Future of the Aerospace Industry

Two other groups, one in China and one in the USA are working on EmDrive projects. We understand that significant progress has been made in both theoretical and experimental work, within these groups. Reports have also been received of work in a further two countries. In the UK we have started the initial performance tests of our first flight thruster. It is anticipated that this thruster will be flown on a technology demonstrator mission.

The main object of this paper is to describe the results of a recent design study for a Hybrid Spaceplane. This vehicle utilises hydrogen cooled, superconducting EmDrive thrusters to provide the static lift. Acceleration is provided by hydrogen fuelled conventional jet and rocket engines. The results of a number of numerical analyses show remarkable performances for different missions. These include sub-orbital passenger transport, Earth orbit payload delivery, and a Lunar landing mission. This design study followed on from the first phase of an experimental, superconducting thruster programme.

It is estimated that the unmanned flying car proposal, using four, liquid hydrogen cooled, versions of the experimental thruster, could begin flight trials in 3 years time.

Superconducting Cavity Thruster and a Proposed Flying Car Demo

The experimental superconducting emdrive

The design of the vehicle results from iterating a mass, power and thrust analysis with inputs from four mission analyses. The mass, dimensions and performance of the jet engines are scaled from the data available for the AMT Titan UAV engine. The power generator is based on an uprated ROTAX 503 aero engine driving a high speed 36 kW alternator.

For 6kW of microwave input power at each thruster, the total lift thrust is 573kg. Thus for an estimated total vehicle mass of 477kg, the vehicle would start to accelerate upwards. However as the average velocity goes above 1m/s, the lift thrust approaches the vehicle mass, and acceleration stops. This is simply the principle of the conservation of energy at work, with energy used to accelerate the vehicle being lost from the stored energy in the thruster, hence lowering the Q.

Clearly, to achieve a useful rate of climb, the jet engines need to be rotated to give vertical thrust and the lift engine operation needs compensation to avoid losing stored energy.

The flight envelope was investigated by running 4 numerical mission analyses. These gave a maximum rate of vertical ascent of 52m/s (170ft/s) and a maximum speed of 118m/s (230 knots) at a maximum altitude of 12.6km (41,300ft). If the altitude is restricted to 1.34km (4,400 ft) then a full liquid hydrogen fuel load will give a maximum range of 97km (60 miles).

Hybrid EmDrive Spaceplane Proposal

The basic Hybrid Spaceplane (HSP) concept is a VTOL carrier vehicle using eight EmDrive lift engines, two hydrogen fuelled jet engines with vertical lift deflectors and up to six hydrogen/ oxygen fuelled rocket engines. Electrical power would be provided by two fuel cells run on the boiled-off hydrogen gas from the lift engines, and liquid oxygen.

The overall dimensions are 35.5 meters long, 13.3m wide and 7m high. Carrier dry mass is 61.1 Tonnes. Maximum fuel load, liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) is 190.5 Tonnes.

The mission analyses show the highest g level to be 0.58 g and maximum velocity in air to be 180 km/hr. However the design is aerodynamic (drag coefficient is estimated at 0.35) and the vehicle is capable of a glide landing in an emergency. Control surfaces for this situation are provided by the twin fin and tailplane configuration
. A 2 meter scale model is shown on the right above.

The London to Sydney sub-orbital mission starts with a vertical take-off with the spaceplane in a horizontal attitude. Lift is provided by the EmDrive thrusters and vertical acceleration by the jet engines. At 12km altitude the ascent rocket engines are fired to maintain the climb to a cruise altitude of 96km At this height, the orbit engines are fired to accelerate the spaceplane to a cruise velocity of 4km/s. At 90 minutes into the flight, deceleration starts, using the lift engines in a braking mode. Note that when used for deceleration, the EmDrive lift engines are not subject to the dynamic thrust limitation, as no energy is being lost from the stored energy in the resonant cavity. Descent and a vertical landing are controlled by both the lift engines and the jet engines.

For the LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and GEO (Geosync Earth Orbit) missions the spaceplane carrier vehicle can be viewed as a “space elevator without cables”.

Huffington Post Tries to Make a Big Deal out of Baby Chickens Becoming Chicken Nuggets

The Huffington Post tries to make a big deal out of baby chicks being ground up and turned into chicken nuggets

As it turns out, about half of all of the baby chicks born in the United States are male. This number is estimated at 200 million male baby chicks per year. Male chicks do not serve a commercial purpose because they don't lay eggs and they can't be fattened quickly enough to turn them into meat that can be sold (for hens it's only 43 days from birth to full growth and slaughter).

I am not disturbed. Top of the food chain and loving it.

The world consumes over 200 million tons of meat

93 million tons of poultry in 2008
101 million tons of pork in 2008 (a slight drop from 2007)
67 million tons of beef in 2008
130+ million tons of fish

We eat a lot of meat. Meat was living animals. This is not surprising.

The Baby Animal Aspect

Eggs ==> to embros ==> to baby birds ==> to full grown
all different kinds of tasty birds.

Baby cows are called veal.
Baby pigs are suckling pig.
Special names so you can pay more for a more tender kind of meat.

When I lived in Manila for a few months- I was always woken up at the crack of dawn by vendors yelling Balut. Balut is a traditional and popular Filipino dish.

A balut is a fertilized duck (or chicken) egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is commonly sold as streetfood in the Philippines.

What was being eaten did not bother me. It was being woken up at dawn that was annoying.

Balut and Balut variants are commonly eaten in the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and parts of China.

Chicken Nuggets and Meat Slurry

I have written about invitro meat and chicken nuggets before.

A McDonalds chicken nugget is only about 50% meat and 50% corn.
A substantial part of the meat is from meat slurry.

A chicken nugget is generally a breaded or battered piece of minced pre-cooked chicken, which may be fried or baked in preparation for eating.

Meat slurry (not just baby chicks but other ground up rendered meat)

A meat slurry, reconstituted meat, or emulsified meat is a liquefied meat product that contains fewer fats, pigments and less myoglobin than unprocessed dark meats. Meat slurry also eases the process of meat distribution and is more malleable than dark meats.

Meat slurry is not designed to sell for general consumption; rather, it is used as a meat supplement in food products for humans, such as chicken nuggets, and food for domestic animals.

The meat is first finely ground and mixed with water. The mixture is then used in a centrifuge or with an emulsifier to separate the fats and myoglobin from the muscle. The product is then allowed to settle into three layers: meat, excess water, and fat.

The remaining liquefied meat is then flash-frozen and packaged.

The Live Aspect

Lobster is cooked live. Some Oysters are eaten live.

Taiwan's Snake Alley has the butchering of snakes and turtles.

Charge Car Project Converts Used Cars to Basic Electric Commuter Vehicles

The underlying goal of the ChargeCar project is to examine the common urban commute and to determine if cars powered by managed supercapacitor-battery systems are a solution that can reduce cost of ownership for a commuter car. This is not through the development of new component technologies but by better understanding of real urban commutes and by using existing, affordable technology more intelligently.

The researchers are finding that regenerative breaking helps return up 40% of the energy that a car uses and not just 6-8% as some driving models predict. There is great improvement to be had by even simply employing a supercapacitor-battery system. The battery duty is reduced by 35%, and the wasted energy due to battery heating is reduced by nearly a third. A 50 Watt-hour supercapacitor is a commercially available medium size which reaps most of the benefit without an unwieldy cost.

New Scientist reports the charge car team has designed a novel electric-car architecture that he says can be used to cheaply convert used cars into electric ones. They took a Toyota Scion to a local "chop shop" to prove that the conversion works. The Scion's petrol engine, fuel tank and exhaust were swapped for a set of lead-acid batteries, four motors and a supercapacitor, which is able to soak up or discharge power much faster than a battery. The load on the battery is minimised by relying heavily on the supercapacitor, which is charged by recouping braking energy.

A car that can travel only 32 kilometres per charge would allow 53 per cent of Americans to cover both legs of their daily commute, while 48 kilometres would suit 71 per cent.

October 29, 2009

EMDrive Progress

The Emdrive Programme – Implications for the Future of the Aerospace Industry - R Shawyer, Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd was presented in the Space Technologies track of the CEAS 2009 European Air & Space Conference.

UPDATE: A link to the 14 page word document on the 2009 EMDrive research

Wired has details on the EMDrive presentation.

The heart of the Emdrive is a resonant, tapered cavity filled with microwaves. According to Shawyer, a relativistic effect generates a net thrust, an effect confirmed by various Emdrives he has built as demonstrations. Critics say that any thrust from the drive must come from another source. Shawyer is adamant that the measured thrust is not caused by other factors.

Last year, professor Yang Juan of the College of Astronautics at Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU) in Xi’an was happy to confirm that they were building an Emdrive which would be tested by the end of the year. But following the publication of this news in Danger Room, the situation changed. I was informed that the publicity was very unwelcome, especially any suggestion that there might be a military application. (Yang had previous published a study on the use of plasma as a weapon against low-orbiting satellites. [.pdf]) No further information has been forthcoming, and no Chinese papers have been published on the Emdrive, though Yang has recently published work on (unrelated) microwave plasma thrusters (.pdf).

Shawyer asserts that work is also being carried out in France, Russia and in the United States by a major aerospace company. But he cannot provide details beyond vague promises of “significant progress [that] has been made in both theoretical and experimental work, within these groups.” He also asserts that the British National Space Centre is said to be reviewing the Emdrive.

Previous thrusters generated relatively modest forces; the latest version now being built is based on a cooled superconductor and should generate more than 300 pounds of thrust for a 6-kilowatt input, Shawyer promises. (But does not yet appear to have done so.) The plan is to mount four of these thrusters on an unmanned demonstration vehicle that will weigh about 1,000 pounds. The craft will have no wings: It will be supported by the Emdrives and propelled by jet engines to about 230 knots. It will be capable of vertical takeoff and hovering silently in place. If successful, it will be adapted as a personal transport -– your very own flying car.

In the longer run, perhaps 10 years, Shawyer envisages a hybrid spaceplane using Emdrive technology — see the photo above of a 2-meter scale model. The idea is a craft capable of making the 10,000-mile run from London to Sydney, Australia in under three hours … or taking a 40-ton payload on the moon in about four days.

The EMdrive enables superconducting cavities to very efficiently create static thrust. Thrust is measured in "pounds of thrust" in the U.S. and in Newtons under the metric system (4.45 Newtons of thrust equals 1 pound of thrust). 300 pounds of thrust is 1335 Newtons of thrust. 6 kilowatts of input means that 222.5 N/kW.

Apparently the 6.8 million Q device has 143 kg opf thrust from 6 kW input.

Effect of increased Q for the Emdrive

Q=50,000 (1st gen.) Static thrust=315 mN/kW Specific thrust at 3km/s=200mN/kW

Q=6,800,000 (supercond) Static thrust=222 N/kW Specific thrust at ??km/s=??N/kW

Q=5* 10**9 (supercond) Static thrust=31.5 kN/kW Specific thrust at 0.1km/s=8.8N/kW

Q=10**11 (supercond) Static thrust=630 kN/kW Specific thrust at 0.1km/s=??N/kW

Very high Q superconducting cavities would allow more static lift. Making multi-billion Q factor cavities and working EMdrive would enable cloud cities and long duration/near permanent flying platforms for antennas, weapons and other purposes.

High Power Density Power Sources

Very high power to weight ratio could be used to power station keeping in space or even provide the equivalent of antigravity. There are ultrathin solar arrays.

Current results of 5,880 Watts per kilogram at 7-9 micron polymer.

16,800 Watts kilogram for 2 micron thickness polymer at 168 Watt/m2
AMO Standard 1357 W/m2 @ +90°C, 12.4% efficient, a-Si:H cells.
Power density over 10,000 Watts per kg for European Sail Tower SPS Concept.
a-Si:H cells on 2 micron NASA CP1 or M-SRS CORIN Polyimide

A proposed and in development Hyperion Power Generation uranium hydride reactor should weight 15-20 tons to generate 27-30 MWe. 0.5 - 0.75 tons per MWe. (1.5 to 2 KWe per Kg). There needs to be a light weight converter of heat to electricity. Supercritical CO2 turbines could be very small and relatively light.

Superconducting Cavities if EMDrive Works

Operating at temperatures just above absolute zero, superconducting cavities accelerate bunches of electrons and positrons toward the detectors in a proposed international linear collider. Nine smooth cells, polished in all possible ways. Made of the purest niobium. Not a speck of dust or the slightest difference in shape. Superconducting when supercold Photo: Fermilab

Superconducting cavities are a key component of an enhanced version of the controversial Emdrive [electromagnetic drive].

Prototype C-band emdrive (The emdrive has been funded by China and could be a breakthrough in space and terrestrial propulsion or it is a one to two million dollar scientific mistake.) [by the cinderblock in the background it appears to be less one foot tall]

Effect of increased Q for the Emdrive

Q=50,000 (1st gen.) Static thrust=315 mN/kW Specific thrust at 3km/s=200mN/kW

Q=6,800,000 (supercond) Static thrust=42.8 N/kW Specific thrust at ??km/s=??N/kW

Q=5* 10**9 (supercond) Static thrust=31.5 kN/kW Specific thrust at 0.1km/s=8.8N/kW

Q=10**11 (supercond) Static thrust=630 kN/kW Specific thrust at 0.1km/s=??N/kW

SPR ltd is working on a superconducting demo which should be 100 times more powerful than the first version and provide 30 newtons of force instead of 315 milli-newtons. China is also building a large S-band thruster.

Superconducting radiofrequency (SCRF) cavities are also the main technology for a new international linear collider.

The main vehicle for SCRF technology is the cavity, a hollow structure that drives particles to higher energies. For the ILC, we will use roughly 16,000 metre-long nine-cell 1.3 GHz (gigahertz) niobium cavities. So far ILC scientists have achieved the target gradient goal in roughly a dozen cavities. “We have proven that the technology works,” says Cornell University’s Hasan Padamsee. “Now we need to improve the yield.” In some cases, ILC cavities have actually exceeded the
target goal and reached a gradient of 40 MV/m. Consistently reaching a gradient of 35 MV/m, however, in a large number of cavities remains a problem.

The European Commission has accepted to fund the ILC-HiGrade, or “International Linear Collider and High Gradient Superconducting RF-Cavities,” proposal within its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) with five million Euros over the next four years. Under this contract, at least 24 superconducting cavities will be created to demonstrate the gradient feasibility for the ILC.

This kind of superconductivity cavity would be one thousand to twenty thousand times better than the crude superconducting demo that SPR ltd currently has. A very good nobium cavity could probably be created for $400,000 to 800,000 [converting the Euro price to dollars and increasing the cost for one instead of 24].

A 2002 study of superconducting cavity costs worked out to $100,000 per meter.

In the same 2002 presentation by Pierre Bauer, it appears that the maximum Q value is at least higher than 100 billion for certain kinds of nobium cooled to about 1 degree kelvin.

Possible research for higher Q cavities [2002 list]:
1) cavity manufacturing (“seam-less” techniques such as hydro-forming,…)
2) materials – e.g. replacing bulk Nb with Nb on Cu
3) surface resistance – e.g. understanding the surface chemistry that leads to low surface resistance, exploring materials which produce lower surface resistance,..etc
4) Higher gradients in view of a second stage in the same tunnel – e.g. pushing Nb to the absolute limit, exploring other materials such as Nb3Sn and NbN;

This dynamic test rig moved at 2 cm per second using the first generation emdrive. If the crude superconducting test system can be made to work then it should move the a heavier (ten tons instead of 100kg) dynamic test rig at 2 cm per second [the system loses energy with more speed].

A couple million dollars of equipment and labor at risk over two years to verify what could be a huge multi-trillion dollar breakthrough or a fairly cheap mistake (or something inbetween).

Superconducting Radio Frequency at wikipedia

It is commonplace for a 1.3 GHz niobium SRF resonant cavity at 1.8 Kelvin to obtain Q=5×10**10 [50 billion]. Such a very high Q resonator and its narrow bandwidth can then be exploited for a variety of applications. At present, none of the "high Tc" superconducting materials are suited for RF applications. Shortcomings of these materials arise due to their underlying physics as well as their bulk mechanical properties not being amenable to fabricating accelerator cavities.

Breakthrough Will Enable Devices With Electrically and MagneticallyTunable Superconductor Properties

Using precision techniques for making superconducting thin films layer-by-layer, physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have identified a single layer responsible for one such material’s ability to become superconducting, i.e., carry electrical current with no energy loss. The technique, described in the October 30, 2009, issue of Science, could be used to engineer ultrathin films with “tunable” superconductivity for higher-efficiency electronic devices.

The thinner the material (and the higher its transition temperature to a superconductor), the greater its potential for applications where the superconductivity can be controlled by an external electric field.

Bozovic explained that, in the material he studied, the electrons required for superconductivity actually come from the metallic material below the interface. They leak into the insulating material above the interface and achieve the critical level in that second copper-oxide layer.

But in principle, he says, there are other ways to achieve the same concentration of electrons in that single layer, for example, by doping achieved by applying electric fields. That would result in high-temperature superconductivity in a single copper-oxide layer measuring just 0.66 nanometers.

From a practical viewpoint, this discovery opens a path toward the fabrication of electronic devices with modulated, or tunable, superconducting properties which can be controlled by electric or magnetic fields.

“Electronic devices already consume a large fraction of our electricity usage — and this is growing fast.” Bozovic continued. “Clearly, we will need less-power hungry electronics in the future.” Superconductors, which operate without energy loss — particularly those that operate at warmer, more-practical temperatures — may be one way to go.

Bozovic’s layer-by-layer synthesis method and ability to strategically alter individual layers’ composition might also be used to explore and possibly control other electronic phenomena and properties that emerge at the interfaces between layered materials.

High-Temperature Superconductivity in a Single Copper-Oxygen Plane (journal Science)

The question of how thin cuprate layers can be while still retaining high-temperature superconductivity (HTS) has been challenging to address, in part because experimental studies require the synthesis of near-perfect ultrathin HTS layers and ways to profile the superconducting properties such as the critical temperature and the superfluid density across interfaces with atomic resolution. We used atomic-layer molecular beam epitaxy to synthesize bilayers of a cuprate metal (La1.65Sr0.45CuO4) and a cuprate insulator (La2CuO4) in which each layer is just three unit cells thick. We selectively doped layers with isovalent Zn atoms, which suppress superconductivity and act as markers, to show that this interface HTS occurs within a single CuO2 plane. This approach may also be useful in fabricating HTS devices.

13 page pdf with supplemental material

Artificial General Intelligence, Automation and Economics

J Storrs Hall points out employment test for Artificial General Intelligence that was suggested by Nils Nilsson

AI programs must be able to perform the jobs ordinarily performed by humans. Progress toward human-level AI could then be measured by the fraction of these jobs that can be acceptably performed by machines. The list of jobs are specifically listed from America's job bank. Receptionist, paralegal, Meeting and Convention Planner etc...

There are automation systems, internet and cellphone applications and business processes now that allow people to not use the services of staff to perform many of the listed tasks.

Evite, Meetup.com and Calendar applications and unconferences can remove the need for meeting and convention planners or reduce staffing levels. Enabling self-organization using computer applications and self organizing processes "automates" and reduces staffing. Effort and staff then can go to specific recruiting and booking of keynote speakers or other less automatible maximum value add tasks.

The need for paralegals can be reduced with streamlined processes and reduced bureaucracy.

I had made this case in a previous article that we have experienced and will continue to experience waves of process changes (some combined with some form of automation). [complex and more capable vending machines, self-service retail checkout, etc...]

Hanson v Ford Debate on Implications of Intelligent Machines

(H/T to Martin Ford and to Michael Anissimov at Accelerating Future and Michael also commented on the J Storrs article)

Martin Ford tries to make the case that

Economic growth at any level—let alone of an order of magnitude beyond what we are accustomed to—is fundamentally incompatible with wages that are falling dramatically for the vast majority of workers. We might, perhaps, have vigorous economic growth if the falling wages applied to only a minority of human workers, but it is very difficult for me to conceive of a way in which such growth would be compatible with wages falling across the board—or even for the bulk of workers.

My reaction: There was decades of stronger economic growth for the US economy as a large percentage of jobs had reduced wages as manufacturing and other work was outsourced to cheaper workers overseas and to lower wage illegal immigrants. There have been transitions in large industries where jobs were massively reduced because of automation or new processes. The shift out of agricultural jobs and more automation in manufacturing. Reductions in HTML coders and programmers with the shift to Web 2.0.

Robin Hanson replied to Martin Ford:

The standard views of techies about what techs will be feasible might be wrong, and the standard views of economists of how to forecast tech consequences might be wrong. And it is fine for contrarians to try to persuade specialists they are in error, though contrarians would be wise to at least understand the standard view before trying to overturn it. But surely what the world needs first and foremost is to see and take seriously the simple combination of the standard views on such important topics.

Yes, a sudden unanticipated change would be disruptive, but no disruption does not imply falling production. Ford needs to learn some economics, or listen to some economists.

Martin Ford replies with a repeat of his claims of economic doom from automation.

I have equated the advance of better artificial intelligence and robotics as being comparable to wave after wave of outsourcing.

Someone or group will own or control or enable each wave of artificial intelligence and robotics. Just as there are those who primarily profit from different versions of the Linux operating system or the MySQL database. The value and profit is from being the go to place for related services or from continuing to improve the system or method. The open source model is a way to look at AGI/robotics in that the programmers who are contributing to building the capabilities and value of MySQL and Linux are probably smarter and more productive than say the executives and owners of Redhat but the "dumber" people who own the right things are in the right legal position are the ones who profit.

There will systems without consciousness that can perform certain task sets perfectly. There are systems now that can play a perfect game of checkers. Any person could compete against anything in the context of a game of checkers and play perfectly using such a system. A person with that assistance could not be outcompeted in that context. How much economy can there be with good enough human provided goods and services ?

Adrian Slywotzky has written several books about finding ways to migrate your business to a profitable area when your old business and old business models are challenged.

Enabling more entrepreneurship and getting people with the ability to add value in different ways will enable more success. If the AGI (artificial general intelligence) and robotic/automation end game is that people do not have "jobs" then people need to own the broad based mutual funds which have a piece of the companies that are profiting and winning. Also, as the final automation waves are happening then people should be looking ahead and being prepared to retire. Have the money and assets (houses, land, devices) and ownership of sustainable revenue streams. Even if people were cut out of the "robot/AGI economy" they can still trade amongst themselves. The Amish have a functional and sustainable system and choose not to do certain things. Even if there is another level of robot/AGI interaction that would not detract from what individuals have and can do. The majority of people now are not really involved in high finance in New York or Tokyo or the other financial centers. How much of the current world economy are most people connected to in any way ? This would be even more the case for developing countries in Africa. If subsistence and health issues are taken care of then how much does it really matter if there other levels to an economy ? If Warren Buffet is a multi-billionaire or interplanetary trillionaire who is enabled with AGI/robotics, so what ?

26% of US Bridges are Structurally Deficient or Functionally Obsolete

The recent problems with the San Francisco Bay Bridge highlights the need to address the larger problems with the bridges in the United States

Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, a structural engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says he's concerned that authorities took a "Band-Aid" approach in September [to fixing the Bay Bridge]. "It failed," he said. He's worried about what he calls "fracture-critical" bridges: roughly 460 bridges across the country that are in dire need of repairs.

9 page pdf with the 2009 US Bridge Infrastructure report card

26%, or one in four, of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. While some progress has been made in recent years to reduce the number of deficient and obsolete bridges in rural areas, the number in urban areas is rising. A $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve current bridge conditions. Currently, only $10.5 billion is spent annually on the construction and maintenance of bridges.

The complete list of 2009 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure report cards

Accelerated Bridge Construction

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has used some form of the accelerated bridge construction (ABC) method on 19 projects that have included 77 bridges. The majority of these projects entailed the use of precast decks cast off-site and lifted into place over a short period of time—often overnight. The benefits of the ABC method include not only reduced road closure time and a compressed schedule, but enhanced quality and increased safety for drivers and construction workers as well. The concept of fabricating entire bridge spans off-site and moving them into place with self-propelled modular transports (SPMTs) was used in four projects that replaced a total of 13 bridges. The use of off-site fabrication and SPMTs usually allows for the replacement of bridge spans over a weekend.

Report Card Conclusion
While some progress has been made recently in improving the condition of the nation’s rural bridges, there has been an increase in the number of deficient
urban bridges. At the same time, truck traffic over the nation’s bridges is on the rise—a matter of great concern as trucks carry significantly heavier loads than automobiles and exact more wear and tear on bridges. The investment gap is accelerating and the failure to invest adequately in the nation’s bridges will lead to increased congestion and delays for motorists, wasted fuel, the further deterioration of bridge conditions, and increased safety concerns. Once Congress works to address these problems in the 2009 authorization of the Surface Transportation Program, it should establish a goal that less than 15% of the nation’s bridges be classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete by 2013 and should provide the funding needed to accomplish that.

Chinas First Petaflop Supercomputer

China's fastest super computer "Tianhe", meaning Milky Way, is seen in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province, Oct. 29, 2009. The National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) unveiled Thursday China's fastest supercomputer, which could rival the world's most powerful computing devices. The supercomputer is theoretically able to do more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second (one petaflop) at peak speed.(Xinhua/He Shuyuan)

The National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) unveiled Thursday China's first petaflop supercomputer.

NUDT president Zhang Yulin said the 155-ton system, with 103 refrigerator-like cabinets lined up on an area of about 1,000 square meters, is expected to process seismic data for oil exploration, conduct bio-medical computing and help design aerospace vehicles.

China's national high-technology research and development program and the Binhai New Area, a major economic development zonein the northern port city of Tianjin jointly financed Tianhe, which cost at least 600 million yuan (88.24 million U.S. dollars).

Tianhe's peak performance reaches 1.206 petaflops, and it runs at 563.1 teraflops (1,000 teraflops equals one petaflop) on the Linpack benchmark, which was originally developed by U.S. computer scientist Jack Dongarra and has become an internationally recognized method to measure a supercomputer's real performance in practical use.

The June 2009 top 500 supercomputer list is here The Tianhe supercomputer would be about 5th on the June 2009 list.

Tianhe is equipped with 6,144 Intel CPUs and 5,120 AMD GPUs.

Of the world's fastest 500 supercomputers, the United States alone has invented 291, including the top 10, Europe has 145 and Asia 49, the June World Top 500 List said.

In the same list, the Chinese mainland has 20 high-performance computers, with CPUs all supplied by foreign manufacturers.

China's Dawning Information Industry Company is attempting to build its own supercomputer that overcomes the petaflop barrier by 2010.

October 28, 2009

Living Yeast Cells Coated with Silica

Korean researchers have coated yeast cells with silica. This could lead to functionalized cells with electrical and computational properties or other properties.

Corante describes the korean research and its implications

They start out by coating the cells with some charged polymers that are known to serve as a good substrate for silication, and then expose the yeast to silicic acid solution. They end up with hard-shell yeast, sort of halfway to being a bizarre sort of diatom.

The encapsulated cells behave rather differently. After thirty days in the cold with no nutrients, the silica-coated yeast is at least three times more viable than wild-type cells (as determined by fluorescent staining). On the other hand, when exposed to a warm nutrient broth, the silica-coated yeast does not divide, as opposed to wild-type yeast, which of course takes off like a rocket under such conditions. They're still alive, but just sitting around - which makes you wonder what signals, exactly, are interrupting mitosis.

This provides a new means to an biological/inorganic interface, a way to stich cell biology and chemical nanotechnology together. If you can layer yeast cells with silica and they survive (and are, in fact, fairly robust), you can imagine gaining more control over the process and extending it to other substances. A layer that could at least partially conduct electricity would be very interesting, as would layers with various-sized pores built into them. The surfaces could be further functionalized with all sorts of other molecules as well for more elaborate experiments.

Biomimetic Encapsulation of Individual Cells with Silica

Yeast wears a silica coat: Various living cells were individually coated with silica using layer-by-layer self-assembly and biomimetic silicification. The viability of yeast cells was found to be enhanced threefold after silica encapsulation, and their cell division could be suppressed by encapsulation.

How Europe Made Better H1N1 Vaccine Choices than the USA

The Wall Street Journal describes how Europe made better choices than the USA in regards to H1N1 vaccines

* Europe choose to use adjuvants

An adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine being used in Europe contains 3.75 micrograms of vaccine stock. The same vaccine in the U.S., without the adjuvant, requires 15 micrograms of vaccine for equal potency. If we used adjuvants, we could have had four times the number of shots with the same raw material

* Use Mammalian cells instead of chicken eggs to grow vaccine

Shots can be made much faster using mammalian cells to grow vaccine, and this process is already being used in Europe

* Preapprive adjuvants that can be used in multiple vaccines

the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to create a review pathway for adjuvants that can become components of multiple vaccines. One, called monophosphoryl lipid A, was recently the first modern adjuvant to be approved in the U.S.—in this case as part of a vaccine for cervical cancer. We've been slow to integrate vaccine additives, bowing to imprudent activism and litigation. The European strategy of having adjuvants preapproved, as part of mock up pandemic vaccines, was smart. We should adopt it.

* Use assays to quickly assess vaccines instead of waiting weeks

the FDA requires vaccines to sit for weeks after they come off the manufacturing line to make sure they haven't grown bacterial impurities. This is why most of the H1N1 vaccine supply is released in waves and won't be ready until later this winter. The FDA can work with manufacturers to develop better standardized tools, called assays, to quickly assess new vaccine.

* invest in more modern facilities for manufacturing flu vaccine, particularly cell-based facilities.

32 Tesla YCBO Magnet Project Targets 2012

Cross-sectional diagram of the planned 32-tesla superconducting magnet. The magnet will consist of three YBCO coils (yellow), three niobium-tin coils (red) and two niobium-titanium coils (blue).

A magnet, funded by a National Science Foundation grant of $2 million and a matching award from The Florida State University of $1 million, is projected to generate a magnetic field of 32 tesla. (Tesla is the scientific unit of measure of magnetic field strength.) That is more than 3,000 times stronger than a typical refrigerator magnet, and about 45 percent more powerful than the strongest superconducting magnets available today.

Field strength: 32 tesla
Bore size: 34 mm
Cost: $3 million
Expected completion: Fall 2012
YBCO cable: About 5 miles (8 km)
Field uniformity: 5x10^-4 1 cm

It should be high quality magnet like the lab's world-record 900 megahertz, ultra-wide-bore superconducting magnet.

How does this relate to the work of the UK company Magnifye ? Magnifye main breakthrough seems to be a new and cheaper way to charge superconducting magnets using a heat engine instead of a more powerful magnet than the target Tesla field. Magnifye method should be compatible with these magnets to enable cheaper initial charging.

This work is parallel with work on BSCCO superconducting magnets of comparable field strength. Although BSCCO material can superconduct at temperatures that are comparable to YCBO. The high field BSCCO needs to be cooled to lower temperatures.

* Better quantum oscillation measurements
* Hopefully advanced the understanding of superconductivity physics
* Should lead to even better superconducting magnets and hopefully breakthroughs in understanding that lead to room temperature superconductors.
* It will allow more detailed investigation of other superconducting materials
* It will provide low cost permanent high field magnets instead of pulsing to this field strength or using resistive magnets that are expensive to get up to high field strength

"This magnet opens up new possibilities for measurements that we have previously only dreamed of," Julian said. "With these new magnets, researchers will be able to stay at these very high magnetic fields for as long as they like. This will dramatically increase the quality of data for many measurements. We can look forward to breakthroughs in biomedical magnetic resonance imaging, studies of protein structure, semiconductor physics and the physics of metals."

Perhaps most fittingly, this new magnet will advance research on the high-temperature superconductors themselves, a primary interest of David Larbalestier, chief materials scientist at the lab and the other co-principal investigator on the grant.

"We're going to be using high temperature superconductors to understand high temperature superconductors, and that seems quite fun," Julian said.

A Prototype superconducting magnet being lowered into a cryostat in 2008

Xerox Paves the Way for Low Cost Printable Electronics on More Materials

Xerox has a breakthrough which provides the industry with the capability to print electronics on a wider range of materials and at a lower cost. Xerox says it could bring the cost of RFID tags down from the current dollar or so each to roughly a penny each. Another of the key benefits of its technology is that it can print with silver ink at a much lower temperature than competing technologies, which makes it much easier for the materials it's printing on to survive.

Until now, bringing low-cost electronics to the masses has been hindered by the logistics and costs associated with silicon chip manufacturing; the breakthrough low-temperature silver ink overcomes the cost hurdle, printing reliably on a wide range of surfaces such as plastic or fabric. As part of its commercialization initiatives, Xerox plans to aggressively seek interested manufacturers and developers by providing sample materials to allow them to test and evaluate potential applications.

Integrated circuits are made up of three components - a semiconductor, a conductor and a dielectric element - and currently are manufactured in costly silicon chip fabricating factories. By creating a breakthrough silver ink to print the conductor, Xerox has developed all three of the materials necessary for printing plastic circuits.

Using Xerox's new technology, circuits can be printed just like a continuous feed document without the extensive clean room facilities required in current chip manufacturing. In addition, scientists have improved their previously developed semiconductor ink, increasing its reliability by formulating the ink so that the molecules precisely align themselves in the best configuration to conduct electricity.

The printed electronics materials, developed at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, enable product manufacturers to put electronic circuits on plastics, film, and textiles. Printable circuits could be used in a broad range of products, including low-cost radio frequency identification tags, light and flexible e-readers and signage, sensors, solar cells and novelty applications including wearable electronics.

PC Mag coverage

The possibilities range from printing on flexible plastic (opening the door to displays you can roll up and put your briefcase), to paper and cardboard (for packaging that can give audio and video instructions for assembling a product, provide active reminders to take medicine or confirm whether you already took it), to fabric (which could allow wearable electronics – a T-shirt with a display, say, replacing a printed slogan for marketing or for showing support for a political candidate.)

"We will be able to print circuits in almost any size from smaller custom-sized circuits to larger formats such as wider rolls of plastic sheets – unheard of in today's silicon-wafer industry," said Hadi Mahabadi, vice president and center manager of Xerox Research Centre Canada, in a statement.

Xerox says it could bring the cost of RFID tags down from the current dollar or so each to roughly a penny each

Interview of Richard Varvill of Reaction Engines and the Skylon Spaceplane by Sander Olson

Here is an interview, by Sander Olson, with Richard Varvill, the Technical Director and Chief Designer at Reaction Engines Limited. Reaction Engines Limited is a UK company that is developing a fully reusable launch system called skylon. Skylon is an unpiloted reusable spaceplane that will have a hybrid jet/rocket engine and take off from an airport to achieve orbit. Mr. Varvill believes that Skylon could begin flight testing by 2020, and may eventually reduce launch costs to as low as $5 million per flight. [Videos and more pictures are below]

NOTE- There was a follow up discussion related to the comment on this article where Varvill addressed all of Goatguys issues with the design and project

Question 1: Tell us about the Skylon rocket project. How much will it cost to develop, and to what extent could it bring down launch costs?

Answer: Skylon is a reusable single stage to orbit launch vehicle and is intended to replace current expendable launch vehicles. It is designed to last 200 flights and is intended to reduce the cost (to about 1/10th), increase the reliability (about 400fold) and reduce turnaround times (from about 2 months to 2 days). Skylon will cost about €10.5Billion to develop at current (2009) prices. The amount it brings down prices is heavily dependant on the launch rate (since the recurring costs are low). At current worldwide launch rates (approx 100 per year) the launch cost with full development and production cost amortization and without any hidden subsidies will be about €30M. However at say 1000 flights/year the cost falls to €4.5M.

Lapcat Video

LAPCAT (Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies) is a 36 month European FP6 project to examine ways to produce engines for a Mach 4-8 Hypersonic aircraft. The project is funded by the EUROPA general R&D fund rather than ESA.

One possible supersonic transport aircraft being researched as part of this project is the A2 by Reaction Engines Limited. The researchers are looking at an aircraft capable of flying from Brussels (Belgium) to Sydney (Australia) in 2-4 hours, significantly reducing journey times across the globe.

To attain and maintain such high speeds, Reaction Engines Limited would need to develop its newly designed concept engine called the Scimitar, which exploits the thermodynamic properties of liquid hydrogen. The engine is theoretically capable of powering the A2 to a sustained Mach 5 throughout flight with an effective exhaust velocity of 40,900 m/s (4170 s).

"Results so far show [the Mach 5 vehicle from Reaction Engines] can avoid later [technology] pitfalls and could travel from Brussels to Sydney," says ESA's LAPCAT project coordinator Johan Steelant.

Interview Continued
Question 2: The Sabre engine is essentially a hybrid rocket. Is this approach unequivocally superior to having separate and simpler jet and rocket engines?

Answer: The Sabre engine is designed to capitalize on the best aspects of airbreathing propulsion (low fuel consumption) without adding too much hardware mass whilst also increasing the practical airbreathing Mach range by precooling. By combining the airbreathing and rocket modes into a single engine we save a lot of mass compared to separate jet and rocket engines.

Skylon Mission Animation Video

More Interview
Question 3: The Sabre engine will necessarily be quite complex. Will it be able to operate reliably? Will it require extensive and frequent maintenance?

Answer: The Sabre engine is certainly more complex than current jet or rocket engines in terms of parts count. However, reliability is only loosely related to the number of parts. Reliability is mainly related to factors such as component stress levels, fatigue, creep, wear, vibration, production quality control etc and also importantly how much money is spent during the engine development program. The engine on a reusable launch vehicle has to be more reliable than current expendable engines to meet the overall program objectives, which places emphasis on rocket thrust chamber life, turbopump bearings and seals and the precooler.

Question 4: Your company estimates launch costs as low as $5 million per flight. and per-passenger costs to orbit of $100,000. How much confidence do you have in these estimates?

Answer: As discussed above the costs are dependant on the vehicle operational scenario. Our development and production costs are empirically derived from previous aircraft and rocket projects and are estimated to have a standard deviation of about 15%.

Question 5: The Skylon's airframe will be only .5 mm thick, yet will need to withstand the intense heat of re-entry. What material could meet these criteria? Has this material been fabricated?

Answer: Skylon's reentry trajectory is less severe than STS due to its lower ballistic coefficient (resulting in lower skin temperatures). The aeroshell is currently specified in a fiber reinforced glass ceramic which can withstand temperatures up to 1400K. We have been testing coupons of this material in a specially designed test rig at Reaction Engines to verify its ability to survive chemical attack by the reentry plasma. Sections of corrugated aeroshell have already been made.

Question 6: What sort of avionics will be required for the Skylon? Will flight be completely automatic?

Answer: The flight will be completely automatic but with flight data fed back to a ground monitoring center (it is not really a flight control center in a traditional space sense of the word). It is expected that SKYLON operations will be incorporated into existing Air Traffic Control.

The ability to completely conduct a flight of this type as a UAV was proven in the 1980s by the Russian Buran. However we are currently re-looking at the SKYLON avionics incorporating integrated architectures, high capacity data-buses and other features of modern aircraft avionics.

Power is provided by fuel cells fed from the orbital cryogenic propellant supply

Question 7: When is the earliest that the Skylon could be operating? How confident are you of meeting development schedules?

Answer: Earliest possible Entry Into Service is 2020 assuming that system development starts soon. Program delay is more likely to be caused by political wrangling than technical difficulties.

Question 8: Reaction Engines Long-Term Advanced Concepts and Technologies (LAPCAT) aims to reintroduce supersonic commercial flights. How extensively has your company researched this concept?

Answer: LAPCAT is an EU Framework program managed by the European Space Agency and includes 14 partners of which we are one. Our A2 vehicle design aims to capitalize on the technology of Skylon and its Sabre engines. LAPCAT 1 was a feasibility study which showed that the A2 had promise and was able to meet the payload/range requirement under practical operational constraints. In LAPCAT 2 we are now studying some of the technical aspects in more detail.

Question 9: Could you foresee a factory mass-producing Skylon and LAPCAT vehicles within a few decades? Could you see the production cost being reduced to the cost of a jumbo jet?

Answer: Skylon is much more likely to be developed than LAPCAT since it is such a large improvement (in every sense) over current launch vehicles. The initial production run is probably going to be smaller than civil jets due to the current low worldwide flight rate compared to Skylon’s capability. Our initial estimate for the Mk1 machine is for total worldwide sales of only 30 vehicles. For this limited run the production cost will be about 2.5 times a jumbo jet. However, increased production would reduce the cost correspondingly.

Question 10: Reaction Engines has done extensive testing on the benefits of contra-rotating turbines. What are the preliminary results from that research?

Answer: The research proved that contra-rotating turbines have no aerodynamic anomalies and can be designed by similar methods to conventional turbines. They are lighter than conventional turbines (with fewer stages) when the turbine drive gas has a high speed of sound compared to the compressor.

Question 11: Your company has designed an orbital base station. How difficult would such a station be to develop and launch? What logistics/maintenance would be involved in operating such a station?

Answer: The Orbital Base Station on the website was designed as part of Project Troy and is sized to provide an assembly facility for the human mission to Mars. This is a conceptual study which is part of the process of checking what future missions SKYLON can support, which, it turns out, is all of them. We have also looked at supporting Solar Power Satellites, nuclear waste disposal, human lunar missions again all looking good. This OBS will not be the first station to be built when SKYLON becomes operational and the details of the cost and logistics flow have only been looked at superficially. We are looking in more detail at smaller and more imminent space stations and the results of that study – which will answers the questions of cost and maintenance flow, will be ready in about a year.

Question 12: Describe the concepts of Reaction Engines space-based orbital transfer vehicle.

Answer: On the Website we have outlined the Fluyt stage which is a large orbital transfer vehicle, which would be based at a space base (like the OBS). Like the OBS it is a conceptual study intended to test the ability of SKYLON to undertake the most ambitious of future missions. There is also a much smaller SKYLON Upper Stage (SUS) with a propellant load of 7 tons, which is ground based and will be available at the start of SKYLON operations. The details of this stage should be made public in the next few weeks.

Question 13: How much funding has the British Government provided? Is Reaction Engines seeking any venture financing?

Answer: The UK government has contributed €1million into our current Technology Demonstration Program (split between the GSTP and TRP budgets). The balance of the funding (about 75%) has been raised through private investment.

Question 14: Assuming sufficient funding, how do you foresee these projects opening up space access in the next twenty years?

Answer: By reducing launch cost and increasing launch reliability space access will be transformed forever. Hopefully this will initiate a new space age where the economic returns from space based activities far exceed the initial investment.

Skylon Orbital Base Station study page

The Orbital Base Station is a design for an orbital assembly complex in low Earth orbit, functioning as an integral part of a space transportation system and enabling the construction and maintenance of vehicles for the exploration of the Moon and Mars. Orbital Base StationHome > Current Projects > Orbital Base StationAssembly Dock Structure

Construction of the OBS would be highly modular, with the outer shell made from 10m^2 panels, covered with a skin of aluminised Mylar. The structure would also provide tank farms for liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellants, accommodation for construction crews, and fuel cells to provide the base load power. Large doors at either end provide access for vehicles, while payload loading doors along the side enable cargo from docked SKYLON vehicles to be transferred using manipulator arms.

Virus Like Particle Vaccine Trials and Other Paths for Faster Vaccine Development

Viruses and Vaccines are in a race. Two new flu vaccine candidates beginning clinical trials this month, the "virus-like particle," or VLP, vaccine may be about to fulfill a long-heralded potential as a flu vaccine that arrives more quickly. From MIT Technology Review and Forbes.

VLP vaccines can be made quickly. "From the time you identify an outbreak and publish the genetic sequence online, you can have a vaccine in full production within three or four months," says Ted Ross, a microbiologist and geneticist who researches VLPs at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Vaccine Research. This offers a huge improvement over the present approach, which has struggled to produce a vaccine for H1N1 in seven months. It's also fast enough to check a flu pandemic before it switches hemispheres--as the swine flu did when it followed the winter from the north to the south this past May and June.

VLP flu vaccines have moved onto the fast track, and VLP vaccines have done well in animal trials against avian, swine, and seasonal flu, and against Ebola as well. Now two of the leading developers, Novavax, of Maryland, and Medicago, of Quebec City, have taken VLP flu vaccines all the way through preclinical animal testing and into human clinical trials, two of which are beginning this month.

Medicago grows its VLPs in transgenic tobacco plants, which are simple to manipulate, fast to grow, and easily raised in high-tech greenhouses that can be built almost anywhere. The company injects full-grown tobacco plants with genetic information from a target virus, and the plants produce VLPs in their biomass that can be extracted a few weeks later. Novavax uses an insect cell-culture approach, growing its VLPs in a line of identical "immortalized" cells taken 20 years ago from a caterpillar called a fall armyworm. The armyworm cells are injected with a recombinant baculovirus--a virus that only infects insects--that is tweaked to resemble a targeted flu virus. The cell responds by producing and secreting VLPs that have a shell identical to that of the flu virus but contain no flu RNA.

Both processes are relatively cheap and fast. To illustrate, the 400-person phase I clinical trial of Novavax's swine flu vaccine candidate that began in Mexico this week was developed from the genetic information released on the H1N1 virus in early May and has already been through the design, small-scale production, and animal testing phases. Over this same time span, conventional makers have just barely started making the first deliveries of a vaccine that required no fresh design, no animal testing, and only minimal human testing.

VaxInnate, a closely held biotech firm, is working on technology that could derive in only six weeks a new vaccine for the H1N1 swine flu, the virus causing the global scare. Then, in the space of a month, it could turn out 2 billion doses--surpassing the annual production capacity of all flu-shot makers combined. The work is still five years away from possible large scale deployment.

October 27, 2009

WhiteFi Could Be Worth $15 Billion per Year and Lower cost for Wireless Irrigation Control

A report "The economic value generated by current and future allocations of unlicensed spectrum" indicates that WhiteFi (white space spectrum wireless communication) could be worth $15 billion per year

The first White Spaces Network has been used to bring broadband internet to Claudville, Virginia

Some of the key report findings are:
• By 2014 sales of devices using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum will overtake sales of devices using only licensed spectrum. However, both will be eclipsed by sales of devices using only unlicensed spectrum
• The combined economic value to the US economy of the three unlicensed applications we model is likely to be $16 - 37 billion a year over the coming 15 years. Furthermore, these applications will represent only 15% of the total market for unlicensed devices in 2014
• Many fundamental innovations in radio technology are being introduced to unlicensed devices many years before appearing in licensed devices. In addition, more incremental and radical innovation appears to be occurring in unlicensed spectrum than in licensed spectrum
• The improvements to Wi-Fi from having access to lower-frequency high-bandwidth spectrum, such as the white spaces, could generate additional economic value of $3.9 – 7.3 billion a year over the coming 15 years for the US economy

White space enabled devices could have a significant impact is in the area of water saving, especially in agriculture. Sensors can make irrigation 30-60% more water efficient.

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