Jeff Bezos Thrusts Into Space Fri, 15 Oct 2021 19:56:42 +0000 While the world burns. Match ID: 0 Score: 575.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 500.00 space travel, 75.00 space travel
William Shatner Reacts to a Real Space Trip as Only He Can Thu, 14 Oct 2021 19:59:11 +0000 Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek,” has had a long life in the public relations of space. Match ID: 1 Score: 575.00 source: www.newyorker.com age: 2 days qualifiers: 500.00 space travel, 75.00 space travel
NASA Sets Landing Coverage for Russian Cosmonaut, Actress, Producer Tue, 12 Oct 2021 09:13 EDT NASA will provide complete coverage as three space travelers living aboard the International Space Station, including a Russian actress and her producer-director, return to Earth just after midnight on Sunday, Oct. 17. Match ID: 2 Score: 457.14 source: www.nasa.gov age: 4 days qualifiers: 357.14 space travel, 53.57 space travel, 46.43 nasa
Jett: The Far Shore Imagines Conscientious Space Colonization Wed, 13 Oct 2021 12:00:00 +0000 WIRED spoke with the game's devs, plus a senior NASA astrobiologist, about the game and its vision of interstellar environmentalism. Match ID: 3 Score: 270.00 source: www.wired.com age: 3 days qualifiers: 214.29 space colonization, 55.71 nasa
Europa, one of Jupiter's Galilean moons, has twice as much liquid water as Earth's oceans, if not more. An ocean estimated to be anywhere from 40 to 100 miles (60 to 150 kilometers) deep spans the entire moon, locked beneath an icy surface over a dozen kilometers thick. The only direct evidence for this ocean is the plumes of water that occasionally erupt through cracks in the ice, jetting as high as 200 km above the surface.
The endless, sunless, roiling ocean of Europa might sound astoundingly bleak. Yet it's one of the most promising candidates for finding extraterrestrial life. Designing a robotic lander that can survive such harsh conditions will require rethinking all of its systems to some extent, including arguably its most important: communications. After all, even if the rest of the lander works flawlessly, if the radio or antenna breaks, the lander is lost forever.
Ultimately, when NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where I am a senior antenna engineer, began to seriously consider a Europa lander mission, we realized that the antenna was the limiting factor. The antenna needs to maintain a direct-to-Earth link across more than 550 million miles (900 million km) when Earth and Jupiter are at their point of greatest separation. The antenna must be radiation-hardened enough to survive an onslaught of ionizing particles from Jupiter, and it cannot be so heavy or so large that it would imperil the lander during takeoff and landing. One colleague, when we laid out the challenge in front of us, called it impossible. We built such an antenna anyway—and although it was designed for Europa, it is a revolutionary enough design that we're already successfully implementing it in future missions for other destinations in the solar system.
Currently, the only planned mission to Europa is the Clipper orbiter, a NASA mission that will study the moon's chemistry and geology and will likely launch in 2024. Clipper will also conduct reconnaissance for a potential later mission to put a lander on Europa. At this time, any such lander is conceptual. NASA has still funded a Europa lander concept, however, because there are crucial new technologies that we need to develop for any successful mission on the icy world. Europa is unlike anywhere else we've attempted to land before.
The antenna team, including the author (right), examine one of the antenna's subarrays. Each golden square is a unit cell in the antenna.
Traditionally, landers (and rovers) designed for Mars missions rely on relay orbiters with high data rates to get scientific data back to Earth in a timely manner. These orbiters, such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, have large, parabolic antennas that use large amounts of power, on the order of 100 watts, to communicate with Earth. While the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers also have direct-to-Earth antennas, they are small, use less power (about 25 W), and are not very efficient. These antennas are mostly used for transmitting the rover's status and other low-data updates. These existing direct-to-Earth antennas simply aren't up to the task of communicating all the way from Europa.
Additionally, Europa, unlike Mars, has virtually no atmosphere, so landers can't use parachutes or air resistance to slow down. Instead, the lander will depend entirely on rockets to brake and land safely. This necessity limits how big it can be—too heavy and it will require far too much fuel to both launch and land. A modestly sized 400-kilogram lander, for example, requires a rocket and fuel that combined weigh between 10 to 15 tonnes. The lander then needs to survive six or seven years of deep space travel before finally landing and operating within the intense radiation produced by Jupiter's powerful magnetic field.
We also can't assume a Europa lander would have an orbiter overhead to relay signals, because adding an orbiter could very easily make the mission too expensive. Even if Clipper is miraculously still functional by the time a lander arrives, we won't assume that will be the case, as the lander would arrive well after Clipper's official end-of-mission date.
JPL engineers, including the author (bottom row on left), pose with a mock-up of a Europa lander concept. The model includes several necessary technological developments, including the antenna on top and legs that can handle uneven terrain.
I've mentioned previously that the antenna will need to transmit signals up to 900 million km. As a general rule, less efficient antennas need a larger surface area to transmit farther. But as the lander won't have an orbiter overhead with a large relay antenna, and it won't be big enough itself for a large antenna, it needs a small antenna with a transmission efficiency of 80 percent or higher—much more efficient than most space-bound antennas.
So, to reiterate the challenge: The antenna cannot be large, because then the lander will be too heavy. It cannot be inefficient for the same reason, because requiring more power would necessitate bulky power systems instead. And it needs to survive exposure to a brutal amount of radiation from Jupiter. This last point requires that the antenna must be mostly, if not entirely, made out of metal, because metals are more resistant to ionizing radiation.
The antenna we ultimately developed depends on a key innovation: The antenna is made up of circularly polarized, aluminum-only unit cells—more on this in a moment—that can each send and receive on X-band frequencies (specifically, 7.145 to 7.19 gigahertz for the uplink and 8.4 to 8.45 GHz for the downlink). The entire antenna is an array of these unit cells, 32 on a side or 1,024 in total. The antenna is 32.5 by 32.5 inches (82.5 by 82.5 centimeters), allowing it to fit on top of a modestly sized lander, and it can achieve a downlink rate to Earth of 33 kilobits per second at 80 percent efficiency.
Let's take a closer look at the unit cells I mentioned, to better understand how this antenna does what it does. Circular polarization is commonly used for space communications. You might be more familiar with linear polarization, which is often used for terrestrial wireless signals; you can imagine such a signal propagating across a distance as a 2D sine wave that's oriented, say, vertically or horizontally relative to the ground. Circular polarization instead propagates as a 3D helix. This helix pattern makes circular polarization useful for deep space communications because the helix's larger “cross section" doesn't require that the transmitter and receiver be as precisely aligned. As you can imagine, a superprecise alignment across almost 750 million km is all but impossible. Circular polarization has the added benefit of being less sensitive to Earth's weather when it arrives. Rain, for example, causes linearly polarized signals to attenuate more quickly than circularly polarized ones.
This exploded view of an 8-by-8 subarray of the antenna shows the unit cells (top layer) that work together to create steerable signal beams, and the three layers of the power divider sandwiched between the antenna's casing.
Each unit cell, as mentioned, is entirely made of aluminum. Earlier antenna arrays that similarly use smaller component cells include dielectric materials like ceramic or glass to act as insulators. Unfortunately, dielectric materials are also vulnerable to Jupiter's ionizing radiation. The radiation builds up a charge on the materials over time, and precisely because they're insulators there's nowhere for that charge to go—until it's ultimately released in a hardware-damaging electrostatic discharge. So we can't use them.
As mentioned before, metals are more resilient to ionizing radiation. The problem is they're not insulators, and so an antenna constructed entirely out of metal is still at risk of an electrostatic discharge damaging its components. We worked around this problem by designing each unit cell to be fed at a single point. The “feed" is the connection between an antenna and the radio's transmitter and receiver. Typically, circularly polarized antennas require two perpendicular feeds to control the signal generation. But with a bit of careful engineering and the use of a type of automated optimization called a genetic algorithm, we developed a precisely shaped single feed that could get the job done. Meanwhile, a comparatively large metal post acts as a ground to protect each feed from electrostatic discharges.
The unit cells are placed in small 8-by-8 subarrays, 16 subarrays in total. Each of these subarrays is fed with something we call a suspended air stripline, in which the transmission line is suspended between two ground planes, turning the gap in between into a dielectric insulator. We can then safely transmit power through the stripline while still protecting the line from electric discharges that would build up on a dielectric like ceramic or glass. Additionally, suspended air striplines are low loss, which is perfect for the highly efficient antenna design we wanted.
Put together, the new antenna design accomplishes three things: It's highly efficient, it can handle a large amount of power, and it's not very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Removing traditional dielectric materials in favor of air striplines and an aluminum-only design gives us high efficiency. It's also a phased array, which means it uses a cluster of smaller antennas to create steerable, tightly focused signals. The nature of such an array is that each individual cell needs to handle only a fraction of the total transmission power. So while each individual cell can handle only a few watts, each subarray can handle more than 100 watts. And finally, because the antenna is made of metal, it expands and contracts uniformly as the temperature changes. In fact, one of the reasons we picked aluminum is because the metal does not expand or contract much as temperatures change.
The power divider for an 8-by-8 subarray splits the signal power into a fraction that each unit cell can tolerate without being damaged.
When I originally proposed this antenna concept to the Europa lander project, I was met with skepticism. Space exploration is typically a very risk-averse endeavor, for good reason—the missions are expensive, and a single mistake can end one prematurely. For this reason, new technologies may be dismissed in favor of tried-and-true methods. But this situation was different because without a new antenna design, there would never be a Europa mission. The rest of my team and I were given the green light to prove the antenna could work.
Designing, fabricating, and testing the antenna took only 6 months. To put that in context, the typical development cycle for a new space technology is measured in years. The results were outstanding. Our antenna achieved the 80 percent efficiency threshold on both the send and receive frequency bands, despite being smaller and lighter than other antennas.
In order to prove how successful our antenna could be, we subjected it to a battery of extreme environmental tests, including a handful of tests specific to Europa's atypical environment.
One test is what we call thermal cycling. For this test, we place the antenna in a room called a thermal chamber and adjust the temperature over a large range—as low as –170 ℃ and as high as 150 ℃. We put the antenna through multiple temperature cycles, measuring its transmitting capabilities before, during, and after each cycle. The antenna passed this test without any issues.
Each unit cell is pure aluminum. Collectively, they create a steerable signal by canceling out one another's signals in unwanted directions and reinforcing the signal in the desired direction.
The antenna also needed to demonstrate, like any piece of hardware that goes into space, resilience against vibrations. Rockets—and everything they're carrying into space—shake intensely during launch, which means we need to be sure that anything that goes up doesn't come apart on the trip. For the vibration test, we loaded the entire antenna onto a vibrating table. We used accelerometers at different locations on the antenna to determine if it was holding up or breaking apart under the vibrations. Over the course of the test, we ramped up the vibrations to the point where they approximate a launch.
Thermal cycling and vibration tests are standard tests for the hardware on any spacecraft, but as I mentioned, Europa's challenging environment required a few additional nonstandard tests. We typically do some tests in anechoic chambers for antennas. You may recognize anechoic chambers as those rooms with wedge-covered surfaces to absorb any signal reflections. An anechoic chamber makes it possible for us to determine the antenna's signal propagation over extremely long distances by eliminating interference from local reflections. One way to think about it is that the anechoic chamber simulates a wide open space, so we can measure the signal's propagation and extrapolate how it will look over a longer distance.
What made this particular anechoic chamber test interesting is that it was also conducted at ultralow temperatures. We couldn't make the entire chamber that cold, so we instead placed the antenna in a sealed foam box. The foam is transparent to the antenna's radio transmissions, so from the point of view of the actual test, it wasn't there. But by connecting the foam box to a heat exchange plate filled with liquid nitrogen, we could lower the temperature inside it to –170 ℃. To our delight, we found that the antenna had robust long-range signal propagation even at that frigid temperature.
The last unusual test for this antenna was to bombard it with electrons in order to simulate Jupiter's intense radiation. We used JPL's Dynamitron electron accelerator to subject the antenna to the entire ionizing radiation dose the antenna would see during its lifetime in a shortened time frame. In other words, in the span of two days in the accelerator, the antenna was exposed to the same amount of radiation as it would be during the six- or seven-year trip to Europa, plus up to 40 days on the surface. Like the anechoic chamber testing, we also conducted this test at cryogenic temperatures that were as close to those of Europa's surface conditions as possible.
The antenna had to pass signal tests at cryogenic temperatures (–170 °C) to confirm that it would work as expected on Europa's frigid surface. Because it wasn't possible to bring the temperature of the entire anechoic chamber to cryogenic levels, the antenna was sealed in a white foam box.
The reason for the electron bombardment test was our concern that Jupiter's ionizing radiation would cause a dangerous electrostatic discharge at the antenna's port, where it connects to the rest of the lander's communications hardware. Theoretically, the danger of such a discharge grows as the antenna spends more time exposed to ionizing radiation. If a discharge happens, it could damage not just the antenna but also hardware deeper in the communications system and possibly elsewhere in the lander. Thankfully, we didn't measure any discharges during our test, which confirms that the antenna can survive both the trip to and work on Europa.
We designed and tested this antenna for Europa, but we believe it can be used for missions elsewhere in the solar system. We're already tweaking the design for the joint JPL/ESA Mars Sample Return mission that—as the name implies—will bring Martian rocks, soil, and atmospheric samples back to Earth. The mission is currently slated to launch in 2026. We see no reason why our antenna design couldn't be used on every future Mars lander or rover as a more robust alternative—one that could also increase data rates 4 to 16 times those of current antenna designs. We also could use it on future moon missions to provide high data rates.
Although there isn't an approved Europa lander mission yet, we at JPL will be ready if and when it happens. Other engineers have pursued different projects that are also necessary for such a mission. For example, some have developed a new, multilegged landing system to touch down safely on uncertain or unstable surfaces. Others have created a “belly pan" that will protect vulnerable hardware from Europa's cold. Still others have worked on an intelligent landing system, radiation-tolerant batteries, and more. But the antenna remains perhaps the most vital system, because without it there will be no way for the lander to communicate how well any of these other systems are working. Without a working antenna, the lander will never be able to tell us whether we could have living neighbors on Europa.
This article appears in the August 2021 print issue as “An Antenna Made for an Icy, Radioactive Hell."
During the editorial process some errors were introduced to this article and have been corrected on 27 July 2021. We originally misstated the amount of power used by Mars orbiters and the Europa antenna design, as well as the number of unit cells in each subarray. We also incorrectly suggested that the Europa antenna design would not require a gimbal or need to reorient itself in order to stay in contact with Earth.
Match ID: 4 Score: 95.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 87 days qualifiers: 71.43 space travel, 10.71 space travel, 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
Only the company founded by Elon Musk nearly two decades ago has sent an orbital rocket booster into space and landed it safely again. Only SpaceX has landed a rocket the size of a 15-storey building on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean. Only SpaceX has carried both Nasa astronauts and private citizens to the International Space Station. Only SpaceX is producing thousands of its own table-sized communication satellites every year. Only SpaceX has the almost weekly launch cadence necessary to single-handedly double the number of operational satellites in orbit in less than two years. Only SpaceX is launching prototypes of the largest and most powerful rocket ever made, a behemoth called Starship that is destined to carry humans to the moon.
Continue reading... Match ID: 6 Score: 90.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 65.00 nasa, 25.00 mit
Spacecraft with name inspired by a skeleton and the Beatles, and with lab-grown gems, starts 12-year quest
A Nasa spacecraft named Lucy has rocketed into the sky with diamonds on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.
Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation.
Continue reading... Match ID: 7 Score: 65.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 65.00 nasa
NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation Sat, 16 Oct 2021 06:23 EDT NASA’s Lucy mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, launched at 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Match ID: 8 Score: 65.00 source: www.nasa.gov age: 0 days qualifiers: 65.00 nasa
NASA Awards Audit Services Contracts Fri, 15 Oct 2021 15:57 EDT NASA has awarded contracts to Booth Management Consulting LLC of Columbia, Maryland; Castro & Company LLC of Alexandria, Virginia; Deva & Associates PC of Rockville, Maryland; Hamilton Enterprises LLC of Greenbelt, Maryland; Reed & Associates, CPAs Inc. of Manassas, Virginia; Regis & Associates PC of Washington; and Tichenor & Associates LLP of Lou Match ID: 10 Score: 65.00 source: www.nasa.gov age: 1 day qualifiers: 65.00 nasa
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):
SSRR 2021 – October 25-27, 2021 – New York, NY, USA
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.
This project investigates the interaction between robots and animals, in particular, the quadruped ANYmal and wild vervet monkeys. We will test whether robots can be tolerated but also socially accepted in a group of vervets. We will evaluate whether social bonds are created between them and whether vervets trust knowledge from robots.
Collecting samples from Mars and bringing them back to Earth will be a historic undertaking that started with the launch of NASA's Perseverance rover on July 30, 2020. Perseverance collected its first rock core samples in September 2021. The rover will leave them on Mars for a future mission to retrieve and return to Earth. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are solidifying concepts for this proposed Mars Sample Return campaign. The current concept includes a lander, a fetch rover, an ascent vehicle to launch the sample container to Martian orbit, and a retrieval spacecraft with a payload for capturing and containing the samples and then sending them back to Earth to land in an unpopulated area.
FCSTAR is a minimally actuated flying climbing robot capable of crawling vertically. It is the latest in the family of the STAR robots. Designed and built at the Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev by Nitzan Ben David and David Zarrouk.
Team MARBLE, who took third at the DARPA SubT Challenge, has put together this video which combines DARPA's videos with footage taken by the team to tell the whole story with some behind the scenes stuff thrown in.
Computing power doubles every two years, an observation known as Moore's Law. Prof Maarten Steinbuch, a high-tech systems scientist, entrepreneur and communicator, from Eindhoven University of Technology, discussed how this exponential rate of change enables accelerating developments in sensor technology, AI computing and automotive machines, to make products in modern factories that will soon be smart and self-learning.
On episode three of The Robot Brains Podcast, we have deep learning pioneer: Yann LeCun. Yann is a winner of the Turing Award (often called the Nobel Prize of Computer Science) who in 2013 was handpicked by Mark Zuckerberg to bring AI to Facebook. Yann also offers his predictions for the future of artificial general intelligence, talks about his life straddling the worlds of academia and business and explains why he likes to picture AI as a chocolate layer cake with a cherry on top.
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/14/2021 Thu, 14 Oct 2021 16:00:59 +0000 Payloads: Behavioral Core Measures: A crewmember completed a ROBoT-r research session. The Standardized Behavioral Measures for Detecting Behavioral Health Risks during Exploration Missions (Behavioral Core Measures) experiment initially examined a suite of measurements to reliably assess the risk of adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions and psychiatric disorders during long-duration spaceflight, and evaluated the feasibility of … Match ID: 13 Score: 65.00 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 2 days qualifiers: 65.00 nasa
NASA Invites Media to Briefing on New Water Data Platform Thu, 14 Oct 2021 11:37 EDT NASA will hold a virtual media briefing at 1:30 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 21, to share a powerful, new, web-based platform to help those who rely on water resources across the drought-stricken western U.S. Match ID: 14 Score: 65.00 source: www.nasa.gov age: 2 days qualifiers: 65.00 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/13/2021 Wed, 13 Oct 2021 16:00:39 +0000 Payloads: Bio-Monitor: A crewmember disconnected the Bio-Monitor Data Unit from the Garment and doffed and hung the Headband and Garment out to dry. The crewmember then donned a spare Garment and Headband and connected the Data Unit to the spare Garment. Bio-Monitor is a Canadian onboard instrument that serves as a platform for scientific experiments … Match ID: 16 Score: 55.71 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 3 days qualifiers: 55.71 nasa
The second European Service Module is prepared for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA this week at Airbus facilities in Bremen, Germany. Made up of components from ten European countries, ESM-2 will power the first crewed flight to the Moon on the Artemis II mission.
The European Service Modules are a key element of the Orion spacecraft, the first to return humans to the Moon since the 1970s.
Built by the brightest minds in Europe, the module provides propulsion, power and thermal control and will supply astronauts with water and oxygen. The ESM is installed underneath the Crew Module Adapter and Crew Module and together they form the Orion spacecraft.
ESM-2 is currently in route to Florida on an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft, where NASA is finalising preparations for the launch of Artemis I. The first European Service Module has long since been mated with the crew module to form the first Orion spacecraft ready to launch to the Moon. It will soon be integrated on top of the Space Launch System rocket in its final preparations for Artemis I, during which it will be put to the test when it powers the uncrewed maiden flight of the Orion spacecraft on an orbit which will go as far as 64 000 km behind the Moon, around, and back.
ESA is delivering up to six modules to NASA, with three more currently under negotiation. These Artemis missions will allow for assembly and service of the lunar Gateway.
Airbus is ESA’s prime contractor for building the first six service modules. The third European Service Module is at the start of its integration phase where equipment, brackets and harness will be added to the structure.
Match ID: 17 Score: 55.71 source: www.esa.int age: 3 days qualifiers: 55.71 nasa
NASA Is Preparing for the Ravages of Climate Change Wed, 13 Oct 2021 11:00:00 +0000 The agency knows it needs to adapt to climate-driven events that will increasingly threaten coastal launch sites and other key space infrastructure. Match ID: 18 Score: 55.71 source: www.wired.com age: 3 days qualifiers: 55.71 nasa
The second European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way to USA. It is the last stopover on Earth before this made-in-Europe powerhouse takes the first astronauts around the Moon on the Artemis II mission.
Match ID: 19 Score: 55.71 source: www.esa.int age: 3 days qualifiers: 55.71 nasa
NASA Awards Agency/Multi-Location Fire Services Contract Tue, 12 Oct 2021 16:11 EDT NASA has awarded a contract to Chenega Global Protection LLC of Chantilly, Virginia, an 8(a) small business, to perform fire services at the agency’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, and Whi Match ID: 20 Score: 46.43 source: www.nasa.gov age: 4 days qualifiers: 46.43 nasa
This is a sponsored article brought to you by Master Bond.
Sensitive electronic components and other parts that may be damaged due to vibration, shock, or handling can often benefit from
adhesive staking. Staking provides additional mechanical reinforcement to these delicate pieces.
Different components require different methods of staking. Dual inline packages (DIP) and capacitors, for example, will need distinctive
staking approaches for the optimal outcome. For the DIP, the goal is to connect the corners of the component to the circuit board while ensuring that the material does not flow under the component.
To achieve this, use a fine tip syringe with a high viscosity compound and apply the adhesive to each the four corners. For a capacitor, there are several options. You can apply the adhesive to the edge of the component, stake at multiple locations, or even apply the material around the entire component.
Watch the video to see the staking methods.
Here, the objective is to attain enhanced stability while making a mechanical connection with the circuit board. After the material is applied, it must be cured according to the instructions on the technical data sheet.
To demonstrate these staking methods, Master Bond used one part epoxy system EP17HTDA-1. EP17HTDA-1 is a thermally conductive, electrically insulative material featuring a paste viscosity. It is a no mix system that cures in as little as one to two hours at 350° F, with minimal shrinkage. Its consistency is ideal for die attach applications.
Match ID: 21 Score: 46.43 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 4 days qualifiers: 46.43 nasa
Celebrate Virtual International Observe the Moon Night with NASA Tue, 12 Oct 2021 14:48 EDT The public is invited to participate in several of NASA’s virtual activities in celebration of International Observe the Moon Night on Saturday, Oct. 16. Match ID: 22 Score: 46.43 source: www.nasa.gov age: 4 days qualifiers: 46.43 nasa
NASA Awards Regional/Multi-Location Protective Services Contract Tue, 12 Oct 2021 14:34 EDT NASA has awarded a contract to Chenega Global Protection LLC of Chantilly, Virginia, an 8(a) small business, to provide protective services at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, White Sands Testing Facility and White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, etc. Match ID: 23 Score: 46.43 source: www.nasa.gov age: 4 days qualifiers: 46.43 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/12/2021 Tue, 12 Oct 2021 16:00:18 +0000 Payloads: Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME): A crewmember replaced the ACME Thermocouple Array with the ACME Chamber Insert partially installed in the chamber. The ACME Chamber was re-Inserted into the chamber, and the crew replaced three ACME controllers. The ACME project is a set of six independent studies of gaseous flames to be conducted … Match ID: 24 Score: 46.43 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 4 days qualifiers: 46.43 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/11/2021 Mon, 11 Oct 2021 16:00:38 +0000 Payloads: Bio-Analyzer: Crewmembers upload a new Bio-Monitor Application configuration file from an SSC to their iPad. The crew then opened the new Bio-Monitor App configuration file on their iPad and confirmed the overwrite to the internal database with the new file. Bio-Analyzer is a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) onboard instrument that serves as a platform … Match ID: 26 Score: 37.14 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 5 days qualifiers: 37.14 nasa
Filed under ‘forever favourites’, the classic shirt has upsized and moved on from the confines of the neat workwear uniform shirt favoured by city workers
An oversized shirt is the neutral power player of your wardrobe. Choose a striped fabric, or classic white or blue, and you will find that its versatility is limitless. Style it slightly dishevelled, à la Patti Smith, with narrow pants, or offset a miniskirt with its volume – think Julia Roberts in the shopping scene from the 1990 blockbuster Pretty Woman – with sleeves rolled up.
Alternatively, you could supersize your whole look as the Row did with an open shirt over a tucked-in tank top worn with wide-leg trousers (swap the tank out for a fine-gauge black polo neck worn underneath on days when the weather is colder). Comme des Garçons’ aptly named “Shirt” line is top of the class. Top tip: go for men’s styles if you’re after a looser fit. Palmer/Harding are shirting maestros, creating statement seasonless pieces that are destined to be wardrobe talking points. Look for their dual styles with detachable sleeves suitable for year-round wear.
Continue reading... Match ID: 28 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
debbie tucker green’s adaptation of her stage play mixes spoken word, physical theatre and music to offer a vital perspective on racial injustice on both sides of the Atlantic
A mother is talking to her teenage son about what to do when approached by the police. He shows his palms. “Inflammatory,” she says. He puts his hands in his pockets. “Belligerent,” she says. “I didn’t even …” he protests. “Attitude,” she bats back, her voice matter-of-fact but tinged with despair. No matter what he says, wears, does, the list goes on. “Arrogance, insolence, defiance.” What if he looks confidently at them? “Good,” says his mum, “but not.” If he turns away? “Impudence, disobedience.” If he looks at the floor? “We didn’t raise you to look at no floor, son.”
And so begins ear for eye (BBC Two), debbie tucker green’s vital, eloquent and beautifully acted screen adaptation of her original stage play, which opened at the Royal Court in 2018 to rave reviews. I say adaptation, but this is so much more than a straight-up piece of filmed theatre. Which is great, because no matter how brilliant a play is, when the fourth wall becomes the black mirror of my own TV screen my suspension of disbelief is dismantled and the whole theatre comes crashing down. Happily, in making the delicate transfer from stage to screen, ear for eye ends up pushing the boundaries of both forms. Here is a blistering experimental film about British and American black experience, rarely seen side by side. The sparest and most unsparing of cine-poems. A play with extras using spoken word, physical theatre, installation and music to verbalise what remains beyond the bounds of articulacy.
Continue reading... Match ID: 29 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Briton beats Bulgarian in straight sets 6-2, 6-4 in last four
Norrie will contest first Masters 1000 final on Sunday
For the first time in the history of the ATP, all semi-finalists in a Masters 1000 tournament were ranked outside the top 25 as the final four men’s players took to Stadium Court at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday. Of the four players, Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie was the highest ranked, an outcome that nobody could have possibly predicted at the beginning of the year.
Such a rare opportunity can often lead to crippling nerves but Norrie once again embraced the scale of the moment and continued to play with the freedom and conviction that has underlined his performances at Indian Wells and for much of this year. In doing so, Norrie thoroughly outplayed Grigor Dimitrov, the 23rd seed, 6-2, 6-4 to reach his first career Masters 1000 final.
Continue reading... Match ID: 31 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
You don’t expect soft from Maskell and you don’t get it, in Paul Andrew Williams’s queasy criminal underworld
Paul Andrew Williams’s revenge nightmare is a stomach-turningly violent gangland shocker that returns this film-maker to territory he first staked out with his 2006 feature debut, the lowlife thriller London to Brighton. There are brilliant moments here, and Bull is arguably as good as, say, Shane Meadows’s much-admired Dead Man’s Shoes, in a similarly relentless vein. But I have to admit to finding the female characters less interesting than they were in London to Brighton – and opinions might divide about the ending here, which the movie both telegraphs in advance and yet also diverts your attention away from, with a shuffling of the timeline.
Neil Maskell stars as the titular Bull, and for those of us who have enjoyed this actor’s powerfully charismatic and disturbing performances in the past, particularly in Ben Wheatley’s films, the casting should tip you off. You don’t expect anything soft and relaxing from Maskell, and you don’t get it. Bull used to be a London gangland enforcer working for Norm (David Hayman), who, among many unsavoury concerns, runs a dodgy butcher’s business forcing food suppliers to accept his dodgy meat. Norm and the rest of his crew, including Marco (Jason Milligan), Gary (Kevin Harvey) and Beardy (David Nellist), are sometimes to be found in a greasy spoon, wearing hi-vis tabards, indicating some sort of building-trade front.
Continue reading... Match ID: 33 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Match ID: 39 Score: 25.00 source: www.reddit.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Biennial World Cup plan a threat to other sports - IOC Sat, 16 Oct 2021 18:53:36 GMT The International Olympic Committee believes Fifa's plans to hold a men's World Cup every two years pose a threat to other sports and gender equality. Match ID: 40 Score: 25.00 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
With weeks to go before the Cop26 climate summit, documents show PM being warned about the risks of damage to the UK from green investment
Confidential documents leaked to the Observer reveal an extraordinary rift between Boris Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, over the potential economic effects of moving towards a zero-carbon economy, with just weeks to go before the crucial Cop26 climate summit.
As Johnson prepares to position the UK at the head of global efforts to combat climate change and curb greenhouse gas emissions as host of the Glasgow Cop26 meeting, the documents show the Treasury is warning of serious economic damage to the UK economy and future tax rises if the UK overspends on, or misdirects, green investment.
Continue reading... Match ID: 42 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
The Queen is not amused. “We only know about people who are not coming,” the monarch was overheard saying. “It is very irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.”
It is not the turnout for a Buck House party that is exasperating her, but the unanswered invitations to the Cop26 climate summit that will meet in Glasgow in November. With just a fortnight to go, it is still not clear whether the leaders of China, India or Russia will even turn up, never mind agree to do anything meaningful to address the climate crisis.
Continue reading... Match ID: 43 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Inclusion of Māori legal customs could profoundly alter the way law is applied in areas as diverse as defamation and trust law
When English settlers first arrived in New Zealand, they brought with them pests, diseases and England’s common law. Indigenous Māori already had legal customs in the form of tikanga, a set of rules and principles which governed daily life. But the settlers dismissed Māori as “savages” and tikanga as primitive. As their power grew, so did the common law’s. Eventually, though many Māori still followed tikanga, it was pushed to the legal margins.
Jonny Hill try completes visitors’ second-half comeback
The Exeter director of rugby, Rob Baxter, had spoken of this game being a chance to accelerate into the campaign. His resilient team found a way to win thanks to a second-half display of relentless, crushing power. A generous helping of attacking muscle, a ton of committed defending and another brilliant kicking display from Jimmy Gopperth proved insufficient for Wasps to take anything more than a bonus point.
“I am pretty gutted,” said the Wasps head coach, Lee Blackett. “Sometimes the amount of effort you put in, you don’t get the reward it deserved. The effort was there to see, it just needed a victory to back it up.”
Continue reading... Match ID: 46 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Film producer says ministers on ‘path to self-inflicted disaster’ and were ‘pig-ignorant’ in Brexit negotiations
The Oscar-winning film producer and environmentalist David Puttnam has announced his resignation from the House of Lords over concerns the UK government is on a “path to self-inflicted disaster”.
Lord Puttnam, a Labour party member, was nominated to the Lords by Tony Blair in 1997 and has served on a number of select committees focusing on broadcast regulation, media plurality and digital communications.
Continue reading... Match ID: 49 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
The chef on 13 years of MasterChef: The Professionals, the many uses of Marmite and why she can’t have a banana in peace
I grew up in Samoa and, looking back, I don’t think I realised how wonderful life was back then. The chickens used to run wild on the family plantation and we’d collect their eggs. We’d pick guavas, pineapples, papayas. It was such a normal thing to do.
Every Sunday, we’d have an “umu” – a big fire pit with volcanic rocks. When the fire dies down, the rocks are taken off and you lay it with the meat or palusami [wrapped bundles of taro leaves with a coconut and onion filling]. Then it all gets topped with the rocks and covered with banana leaves and left for an hour to cook. The whole family get involved, everyone had a role.
Continue reading... Match ID: 50 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Client-side scanning, as the technology is called, should really be treated like wiretapping and regulated accordingly
For centuries, cryptography was the exclusive preserve of the state. Then, in 1976, Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman came up with a practical method for establishing a shared secret key over an authenticated (but not confidential) communications channel without using a prior shared secret. The following year, three MIT scholars – Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman – came up with the RSA algorithm (named after their initials) for implementing it. It was the beginning of public-key cryptography – at least in the public domain.
From the very beginning, state authorities were not amused by this development. They were even less amused when in 1991 Phil Zimmermann created Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software for signing, encrypting and decrypting texts, emails, files and other things. PGP raised the spectre of ordinary citizens – or at any rate the more geeky of them – being able to wrap their electronic communications in an envelope that not even the most powerful state could open. In fact, the US government was so enraged by Zimmermann’s work that it defined PGP as a munition, which meant that it was a crime to export it to Warsaw Pact countries. (The cold war was still relatively hot then.)
Continue reading... Match ID: 51 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Those who helped fuel China’s growth fear for livelihoods, while power shortages create transition dilemma for Xi Jinping
When he was a little boy in the 1980s, Wang Xiaojun was taught to be proud of his home town of Lüliang in the north-western Chinese province of Shanxi. Shanxi is China’s biggest coal-producing region, and Lüliang was a significant base for the army during the second world war.
Nestled in the mountains of the dusty Loess Plateau, Lüliang, a city of 3.4 million people, has had less to shout about in recent years. A series of corruption scandals in the city brought down several high profile officials shortly after President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013; there are concerns over the high number of babies born with congenital defects, blamed by experts on air pollution; and, last week, a huge flood forced coal mines to close just as China scrambles to tackle its energy crunch.
Continue reading... Match ID: 56 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
We may all have our favorite apps and services, but loyalty only goes so far. When something suddenly stops working, it doesn't take us long to go scrambling for alternatives. That's just what's been happening with Facebook and its properties lately, and a series of high-profile outages has had the consequence of pushing users to competing services, including Telegram. Now we're seeing the evidence of that exodus, as the Telegram app crosses the 1 billion installs threshold in the Google Play Store.
Facebook's servers have been taking users for a roller-coaster ride this month, going down, up, and back down again within days. In addition to Facebook proper, many of those outages also affected Instagram and WhatsApp. The combined effect of that was to deny millions of users access to their favorite messaging platforms — and Telegram was only too happy to help pick up the slack.
CEO Pavel Durov announced that Telegram managed to pick up some 70 million new users as a result of the shake-up, and that's unsurprisingly led to a lot of new installs of the Telegram app. Late last night the Play Store's listing finally rolled over from 500,000,000 installs to the lofty 1,000,000,000+.
That's a whole lot of phones running Telegram. Of course, it's still got a ways to go to catch up with WhatsApp or Facebook, both members of the 5,000,000,000+ club, but you've gotta have to something to motivate you, right?
Match ID: 63 Score: 25.00 source: techncruncher.blogspot.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
‘These children are in control of these planes. They’re using them as their playground’
For years, Michael Christopher Brown had noticed the planes from the road leading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Goma airport. From his first visit in August 2012, they drew his gaze like a magnet, abandoned and inaccessible. “There was a military installation there and a UN base next door,” Brown says. “People would be selling goods to soldiers and you’d see the children crossing the runway. For a foreign photographer, it was off limits.”
Then, in November 2012, the rebel faction M23 arrived in the area, government forces retreated and suddenly there was a window of an hour, maybe two. Brown, the film-maker Daniel McCabe and Horeb Bulambo Shindano, their Congolese friend and fixer, followed the kids all over the aircraft, Brown doing portraits, McCabe shooting footage.“So many things were going through my mind,” Brown says, not least the contrast between modern aviation equipment rendered defunct, and children who had nothing, taking charge.
Continue reading... Match ID: 65 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
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The sale of artwork by Joe Biden’s son – a novice artist – could generate up to half a million dollars. Critics say it is an open door to influence-peddling
It was another starry night in Hollywood. In a white-walled room at the Milk Studios art gallery, where a lone violinist played before a projected animation, musician Moby, artist Shepard Fairey and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti reportedly mingled with about 200 guests.
On display were artworks that combine canvas, yupo paper, wood and metal with oil, acrylic, ink and the written word. Organizers hope they will sell for up to half a million dollars – unusually high for an emerging artist. But then, this artist also happens to be son of the president of the United States.
Continue reading... Match ID: 67 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Although the platform bans content promoting dangerous weight loss, hashtags such as #skinnycheck can still be found
Instagram has attracted a firestorm after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed internal research showing the platform downplayed proof of its toxic effects – including the rise of eating disorders – on children.
But such issues are not limited to the Facebook-owned social media company. The Guardian has found a variety of harmful pro-anorexia hashtags remain searchable on the popular video-sharing app TikTok, where corresponding videos have billions of views combined.
Continue reading... Match ID: 69 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Hailee Steinfeld compares playing Kate Bishop in Hawkeye to the young poet in Dickinson. Created by Alena Smith for Apple TV+, the first season of Dickinson premiered in 2019 along with the debut of the streaming service itself. It was quickly renewed for a sophomore season and now, the Dickinson season 3, its last, is set to air on November 5. Starring Steinfeld in the titular role, the series has received rave reviews for its exploration of 19th century society with a millennial sensibility and tone.
Dickinson isn't the only series Steinfeld is starring in that airs this November, with the other being Hawkeye on Disney+. The Marvel show is set after the events of Avengers: Endgame as the MCU's famous archer, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), heads back to New York City for a fun Christmas with his family, but becomes sidetracked when is he confronted by enemies from his past as Ronin. Barton is then forced to join forces with a young super-fan named Kate Bishop, portrayed by Steinfeld in her MCU debut.
Now, in an interview with Screen Rant, Steinfeld talked about how her Marvel character isn't so much different from the audacious writer that she's been playing on Dickinson over the past three years. Steinfeld described the young poet she plays as a "strong and determined and independent and driven female character," which made the transition to playing Kate Bishop a little easier, since she shares a lot of those same qualities. Read what Steinfeld had to say below:
I am so excited to have gone from playing a character like Emily Dickinson for the last three years -- and because I feel I've spent so much time with her in playing this very strong and determined and independent and driven female character -- going into one that has those same qualities was a very exciting thing for me. And entering the world of Kate Bishop and entering the world of the Marvel Universe has been absolutely incredible and a rollercoaster ride to say the least and I cannot wait for the show to come out.
After her breakthrough role at the age of 13 in the Coen Brothers' True Grit (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), Steinfeld went on to land a number of prominent leading roles like the coming-of-age drama The Edge of Seventeen and Bumblebee. Her career is certainly set to take off in an even bigger way now that she's been cast in the MCU and possibly taking over the Hawkeye mantle as Kate Bishop.
While Emily Dickinson and Kate Bishop might not appear to have much in common at first glance, it's certainly hard to argue with Steinfeld's assessment. The Christmassy vibes and dynamic between Clint and Kate are two of the most anticipated parts of the Hawkeye show. Coming over from Dickinson surely made the transition easier for Steinfeld, but Kate will still have her work cut out for her as she attempts to earn Clint's approval and become his successor.
Match ID: 78 Score: 25.00 source: techncruncher.blogspot.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Warning! Spoilers ahead for Titans season 3, episode 12, "Prodigal."
HBO's Titans season 3 finally sees Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) getting a new animal transformation, and he ends up recreating a classic Batman villain in the process. While Gar Logan is still struggling to control his transformations (beyond turning into a tiger), a traumatic scene triggers a new transformation in season 3, episode 12 when Beast Boy and Raven are trying to help Nightwing. Furthermore, because the Titans have been operating in Gotham for the majority of the season, Gar's transformation makes perfect sense.
With Bruce Wayne having left Gotham in the wake of Jason Todd's death and the Dark Knight's own murder of the Joker (the former Robin's killer), Dick Grayson brought the Titans to Gotham to serve as its new protectors. However, the Scarecrow had Jason resurrected, ushering Todd's transformation into the darker and corrupted Red Hood as they began their plans for a Gotham takeover. During that time, Beast Boy's limited ability to transform into animals has been something he's been struggling with while helping the Titans, seeing as how he's only ever been able to turn into a tiger on command.
However, Titans season 3, episode 12 sees Beast Boy and Raven finding Nightwing in the aftermath of his most recent battle with Red Hood. Having decided to go alone, Dick Grayson ended up being killed by the Red Hood. Todd also had the support of Gotham's citizens, seeing as how he and Scarcrow had tainted the city's water supply with fear chemicals while also controlling the public narrative to make Red Hood appear to be the hero and the Titans criminals. Finding Nightwing dead, the traumatic scene triggered a transformation within Beast Boy that saw him turning into a bat. However, the halfway point of the process saw him looking very much like Dr. Kirk Langstrom's Man-Bat, a classic Batman villain who turned himself into a monstrous were-bat.
One of the Dark Knight's more tragic villains, Kirk Langstrom was trying to create a cure for deafness using bat DNA, hoping to unlock their ability to echolocate. However, the experimental tests he ran on himself resulted in his transformations into the Man-Bat. As such, it's rather fitting that Beast Boy would resemble Langstrom (even if it was just for a moment) as he turned into a full-on bat in Gotham City.
Joining the cloud of bats that had formed in response to Gar's transformation, Beast Boy was seemingly able to direct the nocturnal creatures in his new form. Guiding the bats to pick up Grayson's body and take him to the Lazarus Pit he and Raven had found, they hoped that it would resurrect Nightwing just as it had the Red Hood. While Beast Boy eventually transformed back into his normal human form, it will be interesting to see if becoming a bat will be a new animal form he can now tap into as Titans continues, or if it was a one-time transformation in response to the grief of seeing Nightwing dead in this particular episode. Either way, Beast Boy's recreation of one of Batman's classic foes is a pretty fun Easter egg all the same.
Early Eternals box office projections indicate its opening weekend will be higher than Black Widow and Shang-Chi. While the box office still has a long way to go before it gets back to 2019 levels, theaters are very much on the road to recovery amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year saw a number of high-profile titles leave an impression at the box office, with Shang-Chi even breaking the pre-pandemic record for highest Labor Day debut. Venom: Let There Be Carnage was another strong showing, posting $90.1 million domestically in its first three days.
One of the next major projects on the horizon is Marvel's Eternals, which is set to open in November. The film introduces a bevy of new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many of whom are largely unknown to casual audiences. However, Marvel has demonstrated a knack for turning obscure properties into household names before, so the belief is they'll have similar success with Eternals. If the box office estimates are anything to go by, the MCU will be rewriting the record books again.
Per Box Office Pro, Eternals is projected to earn between $82-102 million domestically in its opening weekend. Even the low end of those figures would be the highest opening in Phase 4 to date. Shang-Chi posted $75.3 million in its first three days ($94.6 million for the four-day Labor Day weekend), and Black Widow earned $80.3 million in its debut.
There's still a few weeks before Eternals premieres, so these estimates could fluctuate. Still, this is a good sign for the film's commercial prospects, indicating audiences are well aware of its impending release and are looking forward to it. In fact, Eternals was voted the fall's most-anticipated movie in a Fandango poll, beating out the likes of No Time to Die, Dune, and others. That shows the strength of the Marvel brand, and illustrates even when some viewers are still wary about returning to the theater, the allure of seeing the latest MCU entry on the big screen is enough of a draw. It will be interesting to see how Eternals' projections change as reviews come in and word-of-mouth spreads.
In the pandemic era, no movie has opened with $100+ million domestically, and the high end of the Eternals estimates would have it hitting that mark. That would be an impressive feat, especially considering Eternals' long runtime, which pegs it as the second-longest MCU movie after only Avengers: Endgame. This factor limits the number of daily screenings theaters can show, which could impact Eternals' box office prospects. Regardless, it looks like all things considered, the film should be another winner for Marvel.
Match ID: 83 Score: 25.00 source: theintercept.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 25.00 mit
The Jan. 6 committee does not have time to waste Fri, 15 Oct 2021 10:54:40 EDT The committee established by House Democrats probably has 15 months to finish its work, which has barely started. Match ID: 84 Score: 25.00 source: www.washingtonpost.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Shares of Merck & Co. Inc. were down 0.1% in premarket trading on Friday, the day after the Food and Drug Administration said it plans to convene an advisory committee on Nov. 30 to discuss the company's experimental COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir. Merck is developing the antiviral with the privately held Ridgeback Biotherapeutics; it recently applied for emergency authorization. The FDA requested advisory committee meetings for each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines but it did not convene one ahead of the authorizations of the monoclonal antibodies or Gilead Sciences Inc.'s remdesivir, an antiviral used to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients that is now fully approved. "We believe that, in this instance, a public discussion of these data with the agency's advisory committee will help ensure clear understanding of the scientific data and information that the FDA is evaluating to make a decision about whether to authorize this treatment for emergency use," Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. Merck's stock is up 0.4% for the year, while the S&P 500 has gained 18.1%.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
Match ID: 88 Score: 25.00 source: feeds.marketwatch.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Squid Game, squeeze over. This weekend (or extremely early on Monday morning for those of us in the UK) the true CEO of compulsively moreish prestige drama Succession returns. Steel yourself for nine glorious weeks of super-rich squabbling, summits in the Hamptons and staggering amounts of swearing. Things are going to go full bleeping beast.
Following the misadventures of a malfunctioning media dynasty as its patriarch mulls over who should eventually replace him, Succession is a show that allows us to have our cake and gorge ourselves into a food coma with it too. As much as we might like to convince ourselves we are watching it solely for the damning critique it offers of unfettered wealth, it also doubles up as the most irresistible super-rich soap opera around. Despite everything, we still ultimately want to know which of the show’s venal, brittle, selfish, blinkered, sadistic, songbird-devouring scrotes will ultimately be the undisputed head honcho of Waystar Royco. And doesn’t the show itself know it: positioning one of the Roy heirs to take over only to see them stumble, falter or commit an act of manslaughter while high at the final hurdle.
Continue reading... Match ID: 91 Score: 25.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 25.00 mit
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 239.6 million on Friday, while the death toll edged above 4.88 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 44.8 million cases and 721,567 deaths. The U.S. is averaging more than 1,800 deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, , although new cases and hospitalizations are declining. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee said Thursday that some Americans who received Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago should get a half-dose booster to rev up protection against the coronavirus. The panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously to recommend a booster shot for seniors, as well as younger adults with other health problems, jobs or living situations that put them at increased risk from COVID-19.The committee will reconvene on Friday to discuss boosters for the Johnson & Johnson shot.
India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34 million and has suffered 451,814 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 602,099 and 21.6 million cases. In Europe, Russia has most fatalities at 216,402, followed by the U.K. at 138,647.
Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.
Match ID: 92 Score: 25.00 source: feeds.marketwatch.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 25.00 mit
IEEE Life Fellow Saifur Rahman has been elected as the 2022 IEEE president-elect. He is set to begin serving as president on 1 January 2023.
Rahman, who was nominated by petition, received 13,296 votes in the election. Fellow S.K. Ramesh received 13,013 votes, Life Fellow Thomas M. Coughlin received 11,802 votes, and Life Senior Member Francis B. Grosz received 6,308 votes.
At press time, the results were unofficial until the IEEE Board of Directors accepts the IEEE Teller's Committee report in November.
Rahman is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech. He is the founding director of the Advanced Research Institute at the university, which helps faculty members get access to research funding, government laboratories, and industry research centers. Rahman is also the founder and chairman of BEM Controls in McLean, Va., a software company that provides buildings with energy efficiency solutions.
Rahman set up IEEE PES Chapters' Councils in Africa, China, India, and Latin America. These councils have empowered local leaders to initiate local programs. He also led the effort to establish the PES University, which offers courses, tutorials, and webinars to IEEE members.
Gaia provides real-time situational awareness for any geographic location, comprised from many different classified and unclassified data sources—massive volumes of satellite imagery, communications data, intelligence reports, and a variety of sensor data. Lattice offers real-time threat tracking and response options. Cosmos allows for strategic and cloud-based collaboration across many different commands. Together, these decision tools are supposed to anticipate what adversaries will do ahead of time, allowing U.S. military leaders to preempt the actions of adversaries before kinetic conflict arises and deny them any perceived benefits from taking any predicted actions.
Such tools are particularly attractive to U.S. defense leaders as they prepare for compressed decision times in the future due to greater use of AI on the battlefield.
These AI-enabled platforms are expected to go beyond merely providing enhanced situational awareness and better early warning to offer U.S. military leaders what is considered the holy grail of operational planning—producing strategic warning of adversarial actions in the gray zone (i.e., the competition phase), prior to any irreversible moves having been made. Such an advancement would allow decision-makers to formulate proactive options (rather than the reactive ones of the past) and enable much faster decisions.
It's tempting ask: What could possibly go wrong? Everyone knows the canon of sci-fi novels and films that explore the dangerous pitfalls of AI-enabled systems—including Minority Report, The Forbin Project, and War Games. The idea is also oddly reminiscent of the Soviet intelligence program known as RYaN, which was designed to anticipate a nuclear attack based on data indicators and computer assessments.
Assembling a truly unbiased dataset designed to predict specific outcomes remains a major challenge, especially for life and death situations and in areas of sparse data availability such as a nuclear conflict.
However, national security experts such as Paul Scharre, Michael Horowitz, and many others point out the critical technical hurdles that will need to be overcome before the benefits of using AI-enabled tools outweigh the potential risks. Though much useful data already exists for plugging into machine learning algorithms, assembling a truly unbiased dataset designed to predict specific outcomes remains a major challenge, especially for life and death situations and in areas of sparse data availability such as a nuclear conflict.
The complexity of the real world offers another major obstacle. To function properly, machine learning tools require accurate models of how the world works, but their accuracy depends largely on human understanding of the world and how it evolves. Since such complexity often defies human understanding, AI-enabled systems are likely to behave in unexpected ways. And even if a machine learning tool overcomes these hurdles and functions properly, the problem of explainability may prevent policymakers from trusting them if they are not able to understand how the tool generated various outcomes.
Leveraging AI-enabled tools to make better decisions is one thing, but using them to predict adversarial actions in order to preempt them is an entirely different ballgame. In addition to raising philosophical questions about free will and inevitability, it is unclear whether any proactive actions taken in response to predicted adversarial behavior might be perceived by the other side as aggressive and end up catalyzing the war we sought to avoid in the first place.
Match ID: 104 Score: 25.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 2 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Since the beginning of 2020, we've heard an awful lot about RNA. First, an RNA coronavirus created a global pandemic and brought the world to a halt. Scientists were quick to sequence the novel coronavirus's genetic code, revealing it to be a single strand of RNA that is folded and twisted inside the virus's lipid envelope. Then, RNA vaccines set the world back in motion. The first two COVID-19 vaccines to be widely approved for emergency use, those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, contained snippets of coronavirus RNA that taught people's bodies how to mount a defense against the virus.
But there's much more we need to know about RNA. RNA is most typically single-stranded, which means it is inherently less stable than
DNA, the double-stranded molecule that encodes the human genome, and it's more prone to mutations. We've seen how the coronavirus mutates and gives rise to dangerous new variants. We must therefore be ready with new vaccines and booster shots that are precisely tailored to the new threats. And we need RNA vaccines that are more stable and robust and don't require extremely low temperatures for transport and storage.
That's why it's never been more important to understand RNA's intricate structure and to master the ability to design sequences of RNA that serve our purposes. Traditionally, scientists have used techniques from computational biology to tease apart RNA's structure. But that's not the only way, or even the best way, to do it. Work at my group at
Baidu Research USA and Oregon State University has shown that applying algorithms originally developed for natural language processing (NLP)—which helps computers parse human language—can vastly speed up predictions of RNA folding and the design of RNA sequences for vaccines.
RNA is a single-stranded molecule composed of nucleobases. It's more prone to mutations than DNA, in which nucleobases pair up to create a double-stranded molecule. Gunilla Elam/Science Source
The fields of NLP (also known as computational linguistics) and computational biology may seem very different, but mathematically speaking, they're quite similar. An English-language sentence is made of words that form a sequence. On top of that sequence, there's a structure, a syntactic tree that includes noun phrases and verb phrases. Those two components—the sequence and the structure—together yield meaning. Similarly, a strand of RNA is made up of a sequence of nucleotides, and on top of that sequence, there's the secondary structure of how the strand is folded up.
In English, you can have two words that are far apart in the sentence, but closely linked in terms of grammar. Take the sentence "What do you want to serve the chicken with?" The words "what" and "with" are far apart, but "what" is the object of the preposition "with." Similarly, in RNA you can have two nucleotides that are far apart on the sequence, but close to each other in the folded structure.
My lab has exploited this similarity to adapt NLP tools to the pressing needs of our time. And by joining forces with researchers in computational biology and drug design, we've been able to identify promising new candidates for RNA COVID-19 vaccines in an astonishingly short period of time.
My lab's recent advances in RNA folding build directly on a natural-language processing technique I pioneered called incremental parsing. Humans use incremental parsing constantly: As you're reading this sentence, you're building its meaning in your mind without waiting until you reach the period. But for many years, computers doing a similar comprehension task didn't use incremental parsing. The problem was that language is full of ambiguities that can confound NLP programs. So-called garden-path sentences such as "The old man the boat" and "The horse raced past the barn fell" show how confusing things can get.
So-called "garden-path sentences" lead the reader in the wrong direction, and also confuse natural-language processing algorithms. In the correct parsing of this sentence [right], the word "man" is a verb.
As a sentence gets longer, the number of possible meanings multiplies. That's why classical NLP parsing algorithms weren't linear—that is, the length of time they took to understand a sentence didn't scale in a linear fashion with the length of a sentence. Instead, comprehension time scaled
cubically with sentence length, so that if you doubled the length of a sentence, it took 8 times longer to parse it. Fortunately, most sentences aren't very long. A sentence in English speech is rarely more than 20 words, and even those in The Wall Street Journal are typically under 40 words long. So while cubic time made things slow, it didn't create intractable problems for classical NLP parsing algorithms. When I developed incremental parsing in 2010, it was recognized as an advance but not a game changer.
When it comes to RNA, however, length is a huge problem. RNA sequences can be staggeringly long: The coronavirus genome contains some 30,000 nucleotides, making it the longest RNA virus we know. Classical techniques to predict RNA folding, being almost identical to classical NLP parsing algorithms, were also ruled by cubic time, which made large-scale predictions impractical.
The fields of natural language processing and computational biology may seem very different, but mathematically speaking, they're quite similar.
In late 2015, a chance conversation with a colleague in Oregon State's
biophysics department made me notice the similarities between dilemmas in NLP and RNA. That's when I realized that incremental parsing could have a much larger impact in computational biology than it had in my original field.
The old-fashioned NLP technique for parsing sentences was "bottom up," meaning that a parsing program would look first at pairs of consecutive words within the sentence, then sets of three consecutive words, then four, and so on until it was considering the entire sentence.
My incremental parser dealt with language's ambiguities by scanning from left to right through a sentence, constructing many possible meanings for that sentence as it went. When it reached the end of the sentence, it chose the meaning that it deemed most likely. For example, for the sentence "John and Mary wrote two papers
each," most of its initial hypotheses about the meaning of the sentence would consider John and Mary as a collective noun phrase; only when it reached the last word—the distributive pronoun "each"—would an alternative hypothesis gain prominence, in which John and Mary are considered separately. With this technique, the time required for parsing scaled in a linear fashion to the length of the sentence.
One significant difference between linguistics and biology is the amount of meaning contained in each piece of the sequence. Each English word carries a lot of meaning; even a simple word like "the" signals the arrival of a noun phrase. And there are many different words in total. RNA strings, by contrast, contain only the four nucleotides adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil, with each nucleotide on its own carrying little information. That's why predicting the structure of RNA from its sequence has long been a huge challenge in bioinformatics.
My collaborators and I used the principle of incremental parsing to develop the LinearFold algorithm for predicting RNA structure, which considers many possible structures in parallel as it scans the RNA sequence of nucleotides. Because there are many more possible secondary structures in a long RNA sequence than there are in an English-language sentence, the algorithm considers billions of alternatives for each sequence.
RNA molecules fold into a complex structure. RNA structure can be depicted graphically [top left] to show nucleotides that pair up and those in “loops" that are unpaired. The same sequence is depicted with lines showing paired nucleotides [top right]; read counter-clockwise, the initial “GCGG" corresponds to the “GCGG" at the top left of the graphical representation. The LinearFold algorithm [bottom] scans the sequence from left to right and tags each nucleotide as unpaired, to be paired with a future nucleotide, or paired with a previous nucleotide.
In 2019, before the start of the pandemic, we published a paper about
LinearFold, which we were proud to report was (and still is) the world's fastest algorithm for predicting RNA's secondary structure. In January 2020, when COVID-19 was taking hold in China, we began to think hard about how to apply our work to the world's most pressing problem. The following month, we tested the algorithm with an analysis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. While standard computational biology methods took 55 minutes to identify the structure, LinearFold did the job in only 27 seconds. We built a web server to make the algorithm freely accessible to scientists studying the virus or working on pandemic response. But we weren't done yet.
Understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 virus folds up is useful for basic scientific research. But as the pandemic began to ravage the world, we felt called to help more directly with the response. I reached out to my friend Rhiju Das, an associate professor of biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine and a long-time user of LinearFold. Das specializes in computer modeling and design of RNA molecules, and he had created the popular Eterna game, which crowdsources intractable RNA design problems to 250,000 online players. In Eterna challenges, players are presented with a desired RNA structure and asked to find sequences that fold into that shape. Players have worked on RNA sequences for a diagnostic device for tuberculosis and for CRISPR gene editing.
Das was already using LinearFold to speed up the processing of players' designs. In response to the pandemic, he decided to launch a new Eterna challenge called
OpenVaccine, asking players to design potential RNA vaccines that would be more stable than existing RNA vaccines. (The RNAs in these vaccines is a particular type called messenger RNA or mRNA for short, hence these vaccines are more formally called mRNA vaccines, but I'll just call them RNA vaccines for simplicity's sake).
Today's RNA vaccines require extremely cold temperatures during transport and storage to remain viable, which has led to vaccines being
discarded after power outages and limited their use in hot places where cold-chain infrastructure is lacking, such as India, Brazil, and Africa. If Eterna's players could design a more robust and stable vaccine, it could be a boon for many parts of the world. The OpenVaccine challenge again used LinearFold to speed up processing, but I wondered if it would be possible to develop an algorithm that would do more—that would design the RNA structures directly. Das thought it was a long shot, but I got to work on an algorithm that I called LinearDesign.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has spike proteins that hook onto human cells to gain entrance. RNA vaccines for the coronavirus typically contain snippets of RNA that code for just the production of the spike protein, so the immune system can learn to recognize it.N. Hanacek/NIST
RNA vaccines for COVID-19 work because they contain a snippet of coronavirus RNA—typically, a snippet that codes for production of the spike protein, the part of the virus that hooks onto human cells to gain entry. Because these vaccines only code for that one protein and not the entire virus, they pose no risk of infection. But when human cells begin to produce that spike protein, it triggers an immune reaction, which ensures that the immune system will be ready if exposed to the real virus. So the challenge for Eterna players was to design more stable RNA snippets that would still code for the spike protein.
Earlier, I said RNA folds up on itself, pairing some complementary nucleotides to produce double-stranded regions, and the unpaired regions remain single-stranded. Those double-strand parts are inherently more stable than single-strand regions, and are less likely to break down inside cells.
Moderna, one of the makers of today's leading RNA vaccines, published
a paper in 2019 stating that a more stable secondary structure led to longer-lasting RNA strands, and thus to greater production of proteins—and potentially a more potent vaccine. But relatively little work has been done since then on designing more stable RNA sequences for vaccines. As the pandemic took hold, it seemed clear that optimizing RNA vaccines for greater stability could have huge benefits, so that's what the players of OpenVaccine set out to accomplish.
If Eterna's players could design a more robust and stable vaccine, it could be a boon for many parts of the world.
It was a massive challenge because of some basic biological facts. The coronavirus spike protein is composed of more than 1,000 amino acids, and most amino acids can be encoded by multiple
codons. The amino acid glycine is encoded by four different codons (GGU, GGC, GGA, and GGG), the amino acid leucine is encoded by six different codons, and so forth. Because of that redundancy, there are a dizzying number of possible RNA sequences that encode the spike protein—about 2.4 x 10632! In other words, a COVID-19 vaccine has roughly 2.4 x 10632 candidates. By comparison, there are only about 1080 atoms in the universe. If OpenVaccine players considered one candidate every second, it would take longer than the life of the universe to get through them all.
Every time an OpenVaccine player changed a codon on an RNA vaccine they were building, LinearFold would compute both the structure of that sequence and how much "free energy" it had, which is a measure of stability (lower energy means more stable). The runtime for each computation was about 3 or 4 seconds. The players came up with a
number of interesting candidates, a few dozen of which were synthesized in labs for testing. But it was clear they were exploring only a tiny number of the possible candidates.
LinearDesign algorithm, which my group completed and released in April 2020, comes up with RNA sequences that are optimized for stability and that rely on the body's most used codons, which leads to more efficient protein production. (We published an update with experimental data just this week.) As with LinearFold, we made the LinearDesign tool publicly available. Today, OpenVaccine players by default use LinearDesign as a starting point for their exploration of vaccine candidates, giving them a jumpstart in their search for the most stable sequences. They can quickly create stable structures with LinearDesign, and then try out subtle changes.
This “wildtype" RNA structure (that found in the natural coronavirus) codes for the production of the spike protein, but it contains a number of loops with unpaired nucleotides, making the structure less stable. Our LinearDesign algorithm produced many structures with far fewer loops; importantly, the RNA still codes for the spike protein. Huang Liang
My team has also used LinearDesign to produce vaccine candidates, and we're working with six pharmaceutical companies in the United States, Europe, and China that are developing COVID-19 vaccines. We sent one of those companies,
StemiRNA of Shanghai, seven of our most promising candidates for COVID-19 last year. Those vaccine candidates are not only confirmed to be more stable, but also have already been tested in mice, with the exciting result of substantially higher immune responses than from the standard benchmark. This means that with the same dosage, our vaccines provide much better protection against the virus, and to achieve the same protection level, the mice required a much smaller dose, which caused fewer side effects. Our algorithm can also be used to design better RNA vaccines for other types of infectious diseases, and it could even be used to develop cancer vaccines and gene therapies.
I wish that this work on analyzing and designing RNA sequences had never become so crucial to the world. But given how widespread and deadly the SARS-CoV-2 virus is, I'm grateful to be contributing tools and ideas that can help us understand the virus—and overcome it.
Match ID: 105 Score: 25.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 2 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
As quadrupedal robots learn to do more and more dynamic tasks, they're likely to spend more and more time not on their feet. Not falling over, necessarily (although that's inevitable of course, because they're legged robots after all)—but just being in flight in one way or another. The most risky of flight phases would be a fall from a substantial height, because it's almost certain to break your very expensive robot and any payload it might have.
Falls being bad is not a problem unique to robots, and it's not surprising that quadrupeds in nature have already solved it. Or at least, it's already been solved by cats, which are able to reliably land on their feet to mitigate fall damage. To teach quadrupedal robots this trick, roboticists from the University of Notre Dame have been teaching a Mini Cheetah quadruped some mid-air self-righting skills, with the aid of boots full of nickels.
If this research looks a little bit familiar, it's because we recently covered some work from ETH Zurich that looked at using legs to reorient their SpaceBok quadruped in microgravity. This work with Mini Cheetah has to contend with Earth gravity, however, which puts some fairly severe time constraints on the whole reorientation thing with the penalty for failure being a smashed-up robot rather than just a weird bounce. When we asked the ETH Zurich researchers what might improve the performance of SpaceBok, they told us that "heavy shoes would definitely help," and it looks like the folks from Notre Dame had the same idea, which they were able to implement on Mini Cheetah.
Mini Cheetah's legs (like the legs of many robots) were specifically designed to be lightweight because they have to move quickly, and you want to minimize the mass that moves back and forth with every step to make the robot as efficient as possible. But for a robot to reorient itself in mid air, it's got to start swinging as much mass around as it can. Each of Mini Cheetah's legs has been modified with 3D printed boots, packed with two rolls of American nickels each, adding about 500g to each foot—enough to move the robot around like it needs to. The reason why nickel boots are important is because the only way that Mini Cheetah has of changing its orientation while falling is by flailing its legs around. When its legs move one way, its body will move the other way, and the heavier the legs are, the more force they can exert on the body.
As with everything robotics, getting the hardware to do what you want it to do is only half the battle. Or sometimes much, much less than half the battle. The challenge with Mini Cheetah flipping itself over is that it has a very, very small amount of time to figure out how to do it properly. It has to detect that it's falling, figure out what orientation it's in, make a plan of how to get itself feet down, and then execute on that plan successfully. The robot doesn't have enough time to put a whole heck of a lot of thought into things as it starts to plummet, so the technique that the researchers came up with to enable it to do what it needs to do is called a "reflex" approach. Vince Kurtz, first author on the paper describing this technique, explains how it works:
While trajectory optimization algorithms keep getting better and better, they still aren't quite fast enough to find a solution from scratch in the fraction of a second between when the robot detects a fall and when it needs to start a recovery motion. We got around this by dropping the robot a bunch of times in simulation, where we can take as much time as we need to find a solution, and training a neural network to imitate the trajectory optimizer. The trained neural network maps initial orientations to trajectories that land the robot on its feet. We call this the "reflex" approach, since the neural network has basically learned an automatic response that can be executed when the robot detects that it's falling.
This technique works quite well, but there are a few constraints, most of which wouldn't seem so bad if we weren't comparing quadrupedal robots to quadrupedal animals. Cats are just, like, super competent at what they do, says Kurtz, and being able to mimic their ability to rapidly twist themselves into a favorable landing configuration from any starting orientation is just going to be really hard for a robot to pull off:
The more I do robotics research the more I appreciate how amazing nature is, and this project is a great example of that. Cats can do a full 180° rotation when dropped from about shoulder height. Our robot ran up against torque limits when rotating 90° from about 10ft off the ground. Using the full 3D motion would be a big improvement (rotating sideways should be easier because the robot's moment of inertia is smaller in that direction), though I'd be surprised if that alone got us to cat-level performance.
The biggest challenge that I see in going from 2D to 3D is self-collisions. Keeping the robot from hitting itself seems like it should be simple, but self-collisions turn out to impose rather nasty non-convex constraints that make it numerically difficult (though not impossible) for trajectory optimization algorithms to find high-quality solutions.
Lastly, we asked Kurtz to talk a bit about whether it's worth exploring flexible actuated spines for quadrupedal robots. We know that such spines offer many advantages (a distant relative of Mini Cheetah had one, for example), but that they're also quite complex. So is it worth it?
This is an interesting question. Certainly in the case of the falling cat problem a flexible spine would help, both in terms of having a naturally flexible mass distribution and in terms of controller design, since we might be able to directly imitate the "bend-and-twist" motion of cats. Similarly, a flexible spine might help for tasks with large flight phases, like the jumping in space problems discussed in the ETH paper.
With that being said, mid-air reorientation is not the primary task of most quadruped robots, and it's not obvious to me that a flexible spine would help much for walking, running, or scrambling over uneven terrain. Also, existing hardware platforms with rigid backs like the Mini Cheetah are quite capable and I think we still haven't unlocked the full potential of these robots. Control algorithms are still the primary limiting factor for today's legged robots, and adding a flexible spine would probably make for even more difficult control problems.
Mini Cheetah, the Falling Cat: A Case Study in Machine Learning and Trajectory Optimization for Robot Acrobatics, by Vince Kurtz, He Li, Patrick M. Wensing, and Hai Lin from University of Notre Dame, is available on arXiv.
Match ID: 106 Score: 25.00 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 2 days qualifiers: 25.00 mit
Analysis: while the short-term consequences are grim, veteran analysts talk of a wobble rather than a fall
China’s decision to build more coal plants is a setback for climate action, but analysts say it could still meet its long-term emission reduction targets and may even have scope to raise its ambition at Cop26 in Glasgow.
In recent days, Beijing has announced a buildup of coal capacity to address the most severe power cuts in a decade, which have caused rolling blackouts in half its provinces.
Continue reading... Match ID: 110 Score: 21.43 source: www.theguardian.com age: 3 days qualifiers: 21.43 mit
Telegram Is Becoming a Cesspool of Anti-Semitic Content Wed, 13 Oct 2021 13:00:00 +0000 A new report shows that channels devoted to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are growing at an alarming rate. Why won’t the platform take action? Match ID: 111 Score: 21.43 source: www.wired.com age: 3 days qualifiers: 21.43 mit
In 1941 Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer, published a short story called "Reason." It was a cautionary tale about robotics and artificial intelligence, but it's also remembered now for its fanciful setting: A space station that gathered solar energy to send to the planets via microwave. Ever since, space-based solar power has been an out-there idea—something with potential to change the world, if we can ever master the technology, and muster the funds, to do it.
Donald Bren has done his share of reading about solar power, and since he is one of America's wealthiest real estate developers, he's in a position to help muster the funds. The California Institute of Technology has just announced that, since 2013, Bren and his wife Brigitte have given the school more than US $100 million to help make photovoltaic power from orbit a reality.
That's a lot of money, and, importantly, the work has been spread out over a decade. A team at Caltech is aiming for the first launch of a test array in late 2022 or 2023.
"This is something that's pretty daring," says Ali Hajimiri, a professor of electrical engineering and a co-director of Caltech's Space Solar Power Project. The long timeline, he says, "allows you take chances, and take risks. Sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don't, but when you do that, in an educated, controlled fashion, you end up with things that you never expected."
Bren, 89, made most of his fortune—estimatedbetween $15.3 billion and $16.1 billion—building offices and homes in Orange County, California. He is majority owner of New York City's iconic MetLife Building. He's also donated land and money for environmental conservation. He gives few interviews (he declined to speak for this story), and while Caltech's Space Solar Power Project has been public, Bren's support of it was a secret until now.
High Earth orbit is a great place for a solar farm—the sun never sets and clouds never form. But to generate a meaningful amount of electricity, most past designs were unrealistically, and unaffordably, massive. Engineers depicted giant truss structures, usually measured in kilometers or miles, to which photovoltaic panels or mirrors were attached, absorbing or concentrating sunlight to convert to direct current, then transmit it to the ground via laser or microwave beams. Hundreds of rocket launches might be needed to build a single installation. It was technology too big to succeed.
"What was really required to make this compelling was to have a paradigm shift in the technology," says Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science at Caltech and a leader of the project. "Instead of weighing a kilogram per square meter, we're talking about systems we can make today in the range of 100 to 200 grams per square meter, and we have a roadmap for getting down to the range of 10 to 20 grams per square meter."
How? Through no single step, but perhaps the biggest change in thinking has been to make solar arrays that are modular. Lightweight gallium-arsenide photovoltaic cells would be attached to "tiles"—the fundamental unit of the Caltech design, each of which might be as small as 100 square centimeters, the size of a dessert plate.
Each tile—and this is key—would be its own miniature solar station, complete with photovoltaics, tiny electronic components, and a microwave transmitter. Tiles would be linked together to form larger "modules" of, say, 60 square meters, and thousands of modules would form a hexagonal power station, perhaps 3 km long on a side. But the modules would not even be physically connected. No heavy support beams, no bundled cables, much less mass.
"You can think of this as like a school of fish," says Atwater. "It's a bunch of identical independent elements flying in formation."
Transmission to receivers on the ground would be by phased array—microwave signals from the tiles synchronized so that they can be aimed with no moving parts. Atwater says it would be inherently safe: microwave energy is not ionizing radiation, and the energy density would be "equal to the power density in sunlight."
Space solar power is probably still years away. Analysts at the Aerospace Corporation's Center for Space Policy and Strategy caution that it "will not be a quick, easy, or comprehensive solution." But there is ferment around the world. JAXA, Japan's space agency, is hard at work, as is China's. Launch costs are coming down and new spacecraft are going up, from internet satellites to NASA's moon-to-Mars effort. The Aerospace Corp. analysts say terrestrial power grids may not be the first users of solar power satellites. Instead, they say, think of…other space vehicles, for which a microwave beam from an orbiting solar farm may be more practical than having their own solar panels.
"Is there a need for a lot of additional work? Yes," says Hajimiri. But "some of the ingredients that were major showstoppers before, we are moving in the direction of addressing them."
All of this has the Caltech engineers excited. "It's important for us to be willing to take chances," Hajimiri continues, "and move forward with challenging problems that, if successful, would work toward the betterment of our lives."
Match ID: 116 Score: 15.71 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 66 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit, 2.86 planets
Climate change: Is the UK on track to meet its targets? Mon, 11 Oct 2021 10:01:38 GMT With weeks to go until the UK hosts a global climate summit, is the government on track to meet its own commitments? Match ID: 117 Score: 14.29 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 5 days qualifiers: 14.29 mit
We search the stars for signs of intelligent life. What if the stars were looking back, wondering the same thing about us?
Austrian astrophysicist Lisa Kaltenegger has an idea of what that might mean, or at least where that perspective might be coming from: 2,034 stars, seven with known and confirmed exoplanents, either are, have been, or will one day be positioned so they could spot Earth using techniques currently known to us.
This would cover a period starting roughly about the beginning of recorded history (a time when people still spoke Proto-Indo-European, and the first Pharaonic dynasty sprouted in the Nile Valley) and going 5,000 years into the future. And at some point during this timeline, beings orbiting one of those 2,034 stars might have a chance to look Earthward and see our pale blue dot transiting the sun.
The observation comes out of a nifty bit of trajectory mining on a giant catalog of nearby stars.
Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, and Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist and star catalog expert at the American Museum of Natural History, teamed up to explore it. They used analytical software to comb through a cosmic chart of observed star positions; this data comes via the European Space Agency craft Gaia. Gaia is a space observatory now eight years in orbit and delivering increasingly robust snapshots in its quest to plot a three-dimensional map of perhaps two billion stars in the Milky Way and further out when it’s all said and done.
Kaltenegger and Faherty use motion calculations to plot linear star trajectories backwards and forwards in time, filtering the observed stars to focus on the region of the sky through which from our perspective the sun appears to pass through during a year. Projected out into space on a narrow band, it is a place from which an observer would be able to detect the transit of our planet across the sun.
In our long-running search for extraterrestrial life, we use transits to examine exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. (We’ve even used transits of Venus to study the solar system.) Starlight passes through the atmosphere of a planet, or is reflected off of it. We can use spectrometry to analyze and gain an understanding of the chemical composition of planetary atmospheres, and so whether they might be friendly to life (as we know it).
Kaltenegger and Faherty show the perspective from the other end of the telescope—where we’d be the aliens—and show the potential, at least, for advanced life forms. Spectrometric sensing from far away might have picked up our Great Oxidation Event and marked us as a living world.
As published in the journal Nature, Faherty and Kaltenegger sifted through a Gaia catalog of nearby stars, starting with 330,000 star positions within 100 parsecs of us (that’s 326 light years and a common celestial distance benchmark). They converted these positions into three-dimensional Cartesian coordinates and back using scripts and a classification algorithm; in going through these steps in increments of time, backwards and forwards, they could see which stars were entering or exiting a position where they’d have a view on Earth. (For a closer look at Faherty’s code subroutines, check her GitHub repository.)
They found 313 stars had been in the zone at some point in the last 5,000 years, 1,402 stars that have been there for some time, and 319 that will do so at some point in the next 5,000 years (Teegarden’s Star will come into the zone in 29 years). Faherty then wrote code in order to ingest the list into OpenSpace visualization software.
The star data Kaltenegger and Faherty worked with is a recent download, as researchers get ready for Gaia’s next full data delivery sometime in 2022. Kaltenegger’s been pondering how we look from space for some time, though. She published the first “Alien ID Chart” in 2007, showing how Earth might appear as seen through geological time. “That’s interesting,” says Leiden Observatory’s Anthony Brown, who heads Gaia’s data processing and analysis consortium. “Thinking about these stars that in principle could see Earth transit across the Sun.”
Brown’s also worked with Gaia astrometry data to build a map, his being an image of star trails projected across the sky for the next 400,000 years. As Gaia takes more and more census observations over time, the projections will get more precise. Gaia’s set to deliver other surprises, too: spectral data from Gaia’s blue and red photometers mean astronomers are in process of characterizing the astrophysics of hundreds of millions of stars.
Sorting through all this and getting to findings will take data processing power and creative thinking, says Minia Manteiga, a member of Gaia’s data processing consortium and astronomer at the University of A Coruña. “Gaia is a paradigmatic example of big data astronomy,” she says. It will require inferential statistics as well as unsupervised algorithms and machine learning techniques, she adds.
Kaltenegger’s role-reversing perspective—where we become the observed instead of the observer—prompt questions for her students, who generally say they’d visit advanced planets, given the means. “But while I love Earth—it is my favorite planet— in terms of technology and evolution we are not that far along yet,” Kaltenegger says, pointing out we have only been using radio waves for 100 years. “Assume the cosmos is teeming with life, would we really be the place everyone would want to contact and visit? Or maybe...not yet?”
Match ID: 118 Score: 14.29 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 106 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 2.86 planets, 2.14 aliens
FAA air traffic controllers supervising flights over Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were confused and frustrated by an increase in military tests that interfered with GPS signals for civilian aircraft, public records show.
In March and April this year, flight controllers at the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center filed reports on NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), a forum where aviation professionals can anonymously share near misses and safety tips.
The complaints accused the FAA of denying controllers permission to ask the military to cut short GPS tests adversely affecting commercial and private aircraft. These so-called "stop buzzer" (or "cease buzzer") requests are supposed to be made by pilots only when a safety-of-flight issue is encountered.
"Aircraft are greatly affected by the GPS jamming and it's not taken seriously by management," reads one report. "We've been told we can't ask to stop jamming, and to just put everyone on headings."
In a second report, a private jet made a wrong turn into restricted airspace over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico after being jammed. On that occasion, the air traffic controller called a stop buzzer. "[The] facility manager on duty later informed me we can't ask them to 'stop buzzer' and to just keep putting aircraft on headings," their ASRS report reads.
Putting an aircraft on headings requires giving pilots precise bearings to follow, rather than letting them perform their own navigation using GPS or other technologies. This adds work for controllers, who are already very busy at certain times of day.
"Busy traffic, bad rides, frequency congestion, then GPS jamming," reads one report. "Limit the length and what time of the day that facilities can GPS jam and have it taken seriously when we call and ask them to stop."
"Give controllers the ability to have White Sands stop GPS jamming during high traffic periods," agrees the other.
The Pentagon uses its more remote military bases, many in the American West, to test how its forces operate under GPS denial. A Spectrum investigation earlier this year discovered that such jamming tests are far more prevalent than had previously been thought, possibly affecting thousands of civilian flights each year.
The FAA does not share how many stop buzzer requests are made, but Spectrum's investigation obtained FAA data detailing four stop buzzers over the skies of California during a nine-week period in 2017. These included passenger jet flights operated by Frontier and Southwest.
The White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), whose tests appear to have caused the GPS jamming in both recent complaints, estimates it receives "in the low single digits" of stop buzzer requests a year.
A spokesperson for WSMR told Spectrum: "The US Army takes the safety of its operations extremely seriously. Calls for a cease buzzer are taken seriously and range control has not denied or ignored any cease buzzers. WSMR has also never requested or required any internal organization or outside agency to not make use of the cease buzzer in the event of an emergency, or unsafe event."
The FAA provided the following statement:
"The FAA cooperates with Department of Defense to mitigate the effects of the military's planned interference activities… to levels of acceptable risk. The primary mitigation when GPS is lost is for a pilot to use another means of navigation. Air Traffic Control (ATC) will assist the pilot with navigation on rare occasions, upon request. Should multiple pilots encounter problems, then ATC has the option to stop the underlying cause through [a] stop buzzer."
When a stop buzzer call is made by a controller, the FAA then has a review process to analyze the appropriateness of the action and the associated operational risk.
However, an FAA source also admitted that one ATC facility "expressed some confusion as to the scope of their authority to suspend operations using stop-buzzer protocols when GPS testing had ramped up significantly." The FAA now believes it has cleared up and abated those field concerns.
Although flight controllers may no longer be instructed not to issue stop buzzer calls when planes are in trouble, pilots continue to experience difficulties in the airspace around White Sands.
In May, the pilot of a light aircraft taking off at night in the Albuquerque area suddenly lost their GPS navigation and terrain warnings. Air traffic control told the pilot that WSMR was jamming, and instructed them to use other instruments. That pilot was ultimately able to land safely, but later submitted their own ASRS report: "Being unfamiliar with this area and possibly a different avionics configuration I feel my flight could have possibly ended as controlled flight into terrain."
Such an outcome–a likely deadly crash–would surely not meet anyone's definition of "acceptable risk."
Match ID: 119 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 9 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
On 3 January 2019, the Chinese spacecraft Chang'e-4 descended toward the moon. Countless craters came into view as the lander approached the surface, the fractal nature of the footage providing no sense of altitude. Su Yan, responsible for data reception for the landing at Miyun ground station, in Beijing, was waiting—nervously and in silence with her team—for vital signals indicating that optical, laser, and microwave sensors had combined effectively with rocket engines for a soft landing. "When the [spectral signals were] clearly visible, everyone cheered enthusiastically. Years of hard work had paid off in the most sweet way," Su recalls.
Chang'e-4 had, with the help of a relay satellite out beyond the moon, made an unprecedented landing on the always-hidden lunar far side. China's space program, long trailing in the footsteps of the U.S. and Soviet (now Russian) programs, had registered an international first. The landing also prefigured grander Chinese lunar ambitions.
Chang'e-5, a complex sample-return mission, returned to Earth with young lunar rocks, completing China's three-step "orbit, land, and return" lunar program conceived in the early 2000s. These successes, together with renewed international scientific and commercial interest in the moon, have emboldened China to embark on a new lunar project that builds on the Chang'e program's newly acquired capabilities.
The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) is a complex, multiphase megaproject that the China National Space Administration (CNSA) unveiled jointly with Russia in June in St. Petersburg. Starting with robotic landing and orbiting missions in the 2020s, its designers envision a permanently inhabited lunar base by the mid-2030s. Objectives include science, exploration, technology verification, resource and commercial exploitation, astronomical observation, and more.
ILRS will begin with a robotic reconnaissance phase running up to 2030, using orbiting and surface spacecraft to survey potential landing areas and resources, conduct technology-verification tests, and assess the prospects for an eventual permanent crewed base on the moon. The phase will consist of Chinese missions Chang'e-4,
Chang'e-6 sample return, and the more ambitious Chang'e-7, as well as Russian Luna spacecraft, plus potential missions from international partners interested in joining the endeavor. Chang'e-7 will target a lunar south pole landing and consist of an orbiter, relay satellite, lander, and rover. It will also include a small spacecraft capable of "hopping" to explore shadowed craters for evidence of potential water ice, a resource that, if present, could be used in the future for both propulsion and supplies for astronauts.
CNSA will help select the site for a two-stage construction phase that will involve in situ resource utilization (ISRU) tests with Chang'e-8, massive cargo delivery with precision landings, and the start of joint operations between partners. ISRU, in this case using the
lunar regolith (the fine dust, soil, and rock that makes up most of the moon's surface) for construction and extraction of resources such as oxygen and water, would represent a big breakthrough. Being able to use resources already on the moon means fewer things need to be delivered, at great expense, from Earth.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) recently unveiled its plans for a lunar base in the 2030s, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). The first phase involves prototyping, exploration, and reconnaissance of possible ILRS locations.James Provost
The utilization phase will begin in the early 2030s. It tentatively consists of missions numbered ILRS-1 through 5 and relies on heavy-lift launch vehicles to establish command, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure; experiment, scientific, and IRSU facilities; and Earth- and astronomical-observation capabilities. CNSA artist renderings indicate spacecraft will use the lunar regolith to make structures that would provide shielding from radiation while also exploring
lava tubes as potential alternative areas for habitats.
The completed ILRS would then host and support crewed missions to the moon in around 2036. This phase, CNSA says, will feature lunar research and exploration, technology verification, and expanding and maintaining modules as needed.
These initial plans are vague, but senior figures in China's space industry have noted huge, if challenging, possibilities that could greatly contribute to development on Earth.
Ouyang Ziyuan, a cosmochemist and early driving force for Chinese lunar exploration, notes in a July talkthe potential extraction of helium-3, delivered to the lunar surface by unfiltered solar wind, for nuclear fusion (which would require major breakthroughs on Earth and in space).
Another possibility is 3D printing of solar panels at the moon's equator, which would capture solar energy to be transmitted to Earth by lasers or microwaves. China is already conducting
early research toward this end. As with NASA's Artemis plan, Ouyang notes that the moon is a stepping-stone to other destinations in the solar system, both through learning and as a launchpad.
The more distant proposals currently appear beyond reach, but in its space endeavors China has demonstrated a willingness to develop capabilities and apply these for new possibilities. Sample-return tech from Chang'e-5 will next be used to
collect material from a near-Earth asteroid around 2024. Near the end of the decade, this tech will contribute to the Tianwen-1 Mars mission's capabilities for an unprecedented Mars sample-return attempt. How the ILRS develops will then depend on success and science and resource findings of the early missions.
China is already well placed to implement the early phases of the ILRS blueprint. The Long March 5, a heavy-lift rocket, had its first flight in 2016 and has since enabled the country to begin constructing a space station and to launch spacecraft such as a first
independent interplanetary mission and Chang'e-5. To develop the rocket, China had to make breakthroughs in using cryogenic propellant and machining a new, wider-diameter rocket body.
This won't be enough for larger missions, however.
Huang Jun, a professor at Beihang University, in Beijing, says a super heavy-lift rocket, the high-thrust Long March 9, is a necessity for the future of Chinese aerospace. "Research and breakthroughs in key technologies are progressing smoothly, and the project may at any time enter the engineering-development stage."
CNSA's plans for its international moon base involve a set of missions, dubbed ILRS-1 through ILRS-5, now projected between 2031 and 2035. IRLS-1, as planned, will in 2031 establish a command center and basic infrastructure. Subsequent missions over the ensuing four years would set up research facilities, sample collection systems, and Earth and spaceobservation capabilities.James Provost
The roughly 100-meter-long, Saturn V–like Long March 9 will be capable of launching around 50 tonnes of payload to translunar injection. The project requires precision manufacturing of thin yet strong, 10-meter-diameter rocket stages and huge new engines. In Beijing, propulsion institutes under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., recently
produced an engineering prototype of a 220-tonne thrust staged-combustion liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine. In a ravine near Xi'an, in north China, firing tests of a dual-chamber 500-tonne-thrust kerosene/liquid oxygen engine for the first stage have been carried out. Long March 9 is expected to have its first flight around 2030, which would come just in time to launch the robotic ILRS construction missions.
A human-rated rocket is also
under development, building on technologies from the Long March 5. It will feature similar but uprated versions of the YF-100 kerosene/liquid oxygen engine and use three rocket cores, in a similar fashion to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. Its task will be sending a deep-space-capable crew spacecraft into lunar orbit, where it could dock with a lunar-landing stack launched by a Long March 9.
spacecraft itself is a new-generation advance on the Shenzhou, which currently ferries astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. A test launch in May 2020 verified that the new vessel can handle the greater heat of a higher-speed atmospheric reentry from higher, more energetic orbits. Work on a crew lander is also assumed to be underway. The Chang'e-5 mission was also seen as a scaled test run for human landings, as it followed a profile similar to NASA's Apollo missions. After lifting off from the moon, the ascent vehicle reunited and docked with a service module, much in the way that an Apollo ascent vehicle rejoined a command module in lunar orbit before the journey home.
China and Russia are inviting all interested countries and partners to cooperate in the project. The initiative will be separate from the United States' Artemis
moon program, however. The United States has long opposed cooperating with China in space, and recent geopolitical developments involving both Beijing and Moscow have made things worse still. As a result, China and Russia, its International Space Station partner, have looked to each other as off-world partners. "Ideally, we would have an international coalition of countries working on a lunar base, such as the Moon Village concept proposed by former ESA director-general Jan Wörner. But so far geopolitics have gotten in the way of doing that," says Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation.
The final details and partners may change, but China, for its part, seems set on continuing the accumulation of expertise and technologies necessary to get to the moon and back, and stay there in the long term.
This article appears in the October 2021 print issue as "China's Lunar Station Megaproject."
Match ID: 120 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 24 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
The ISS's tumble was caused by the inadvertent firing of maneuvering thrusters on the newly arrived Nauka Russian research module (referred to as the MLM module by NASA). But it's become clear that the module had been lurching from crisis to crisis during its weeks-long flight before it rendezvoused and docked at the space station. This is raising concerns about exactly how much NASA knew and when, given the stringent safety requirements normally in place that any visiting vehicle must meet before being allowed to approach the station.
This and other questions have been raised as the last two weeks have seen a remarkable and surprising degree of Russian openness, especially as compared to NASA's. Some of that transparency has also surfaced an interesting coincidence (at minimum) involving a spaceflight-themed movie potentially being filmed aboard Nauka that at least complicates but also perhaps begins to explain some of the curious components of this near-disaster's chronology.
Here's the outline:
First, Alexander Khokhlov, a Russian space expert and member of the private Russian Federation of Cosmonautics, had told the RIA Novosti news agency that several emergency situations had occurred on the Nauka during the flight to the ISS, but that Russian specialists managed to cope with "most" of them.
According to him, systems that had significant problems included the infrared sensors which determine the local horizon, the radar antenna that feeds into the automated Kurs rendezvous system, and the Kurs system itself. He also had described a "severe emergency" with the propulsion system. A number of these failures were subsequently confirmed by the European Space Agency while NASA remained silent.
Then on August 7, Dmitry Rogozin, General Director of Roscosmos, spoke with RIA Novosti about the problems of building the Nauka space module. And on the YouTube channel "Soloviev LIVE" (typically noted for its hosts hewing to the official government line), Rogozin singled out the shutting down of a Ukrainian aerospace factory as creating "predictable difficulties in the flight" of Nauka. In Soviet days, this factory used to make an accordion-like bellows used in the propellant tanks to separate the pressurizing gas from the liquid fuel as it was pushed into the engines. In Rogozin's words, "We understood that we would have to spend, in fact, all eight days in manual control of both the flight of this module and the docking. And indeed we had problems there" While the exact details are unclear, it looks like the Russians were worried that accidental leaks across the propellant/pressurant barrier would frustrate automatic real-time management of propellant flow into the module's rocket engines, and instead required direct valve commanding from ground stations.
When asked about such reports last week, a NASA spokesman in Houston had simply said that "Roscosmos regularly updated NASA and the rest of the international partners on MLM's progress during the approach to station" but gave no details and referred all inquiries about Russian hardware issues to Moscow. "We would point you to Roscosmos for any specifics on MLM systems/performance/procedures."
Moscow Mission Control CenterRoscosmos
On August 13, RIA Novosti reported that 61-year-old Deputy General Designer of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation Alexander Kuznetsov, the senior Russian space official in direct charge of the Nauka module, had been hospitalized with a stroke immediately after the docking. He was, however, soon released—although a few days later was hospitalized again. The agency attributed the stroke to "the colossal tension" and that "Kuznetsov, along with other specialists and members of the state commission, spent all eight days of the module's flight at the Mission Control Center, practically without leaving the premises."
On August 14, RIA Novosti confirmed that "mass failures of the systems of the Nauka module… arose after it was put into low-earth orbit and threatened a serious emergency." But the story was upbeat: According to a "source in the rocket and space industry," these problems "were eliminated thanks to the continuous work of ground specialists for eight days, the revision of the module's flight task and the creation of an emergency working group of the best experts in the industry."
The story's chronology of challenges was daunting: "The main problems of the first two days of the flight of the Nauka module were: the failure of the flight program and the operation of one of the fuel valves, the problem of transmitting the command package on board from the ground measuring complexes, the absence of a signal from two sensors of the infrared vertical [sensor] and from one of the two star sensors." The story described how Mission Control Center director Vladimir Solovyov immediately reported on the critical situation to the general director of the Roskosmos state corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, who took direct control of the module's flight.
Communication between the Moscow Mission Control Center—"TsUP" in Russian—was too uncertain, so "engineers of the Russian Space Systems holding were promptly dispatched to all ground measuring points, who coped with the task of stable transmission of commands to the module and receiving telemetric information from it."
On July 23, a working group was created by Rogozin to save the troubled module. The group was headed by Sergey Kuznetsov, General Designer of the Salyut Design Bureau and included representatives of the Keldysh Center, the developers of Nauka.
Starting from July 25, the main and backup sets of the Kurs rendezvous and docking system were successfully tested, the fuel reserves required for the rendezvous were recalculated, a new docking scheme was calculated taking into account the strength of the station and the module (the maximum docking speed was limited to 8 centimeters per second), and the stable operation of both star sensors, responsible for the exact orientation of the Nauka, was restored.
These ad-hoc fixes raise the issue of how much did those rushed and admittedly often poorly coordinated ground station commanding and flight software reprogramming initiatives themselves contribute to the potential for onboard "software glitches" such as the still-undefined one now blamed for the renegade thruster firing that tumbled the station? And what is the actual current status and residual content level of the propellant tanks aboard Nauka, given the official descriptions of major monitoring function loss during the rendezvous maneuvers?
In any case, the parade of details of the problems overcome during the pre-docking phase of the mission stands in stark contrast to the Russian press treatment of the post-docking thruster firing incident. On August 4 there had been one interview with former cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, executive director for manned programs of Roscosmos. on Russia 24 TV channel:
"The module, apparently, itself could not believe that it had already docked, so when the control system of the module was [reinitialized], the control system decided that it was still in free flight—and, not understanding what was happening, for safety, an algorithm was triggered, turning on the motors … This, of course, should not have happened. The commission is now examining the reasons for this…. The station is a rather delicate device ... Everything was done as lightly as possible. And the additional load causes a load on the [motor] drives of solar batteries, on the [frames] on which everything is installed…. This is an emergency situation that will need to be analyzed in detail… There are probably no damages ... Nothing broke off from the station, I can reassure you, but the extent to which we have loaded the station, what are the consequences, it will now be assessed by experts."
But, aside from these candid comments from Krikalev, the thruster firing became a non-event, except in brief press references to a short interlude in which the "station temporarily lost its orientation." That wording, more suggestive of an addled old man who felt dizzy than of an enormous structure doing a full tumble and a half with counter-thrusting rocket engines shoving at it in totally unexpected directions, recalled the laconic NASA press release after the near-catastrophic Mir fire in 1997: "Small Fire Put Out on Mir."
NASA's narrative-control lid in 1997 was so tight that Jerry Linenger—who'd been aboard Mir in 1997 and considered the incident a very narrow brush with death—later recalled how he was forced to send accurate accounts of that emergency to his wife via a data stick carried by a returning German visiting cosmonaut, since he knew all official messages (including family emails) were being monitored.
Perhaps an echo of that NASA policy is detectable today: Since the Nauka docking, nobody on the US side—three US crew members, a French astronaut, and the Japanese station commander—has been seen to tweet any mention of the dramatic tumble and recovery on docking day. Their public message traffic looks as if the incident never happened.
As the month of August passes, parallel review boards in the United States and Russia are at work behind closed doors. On August 9, NASA ISS program manager Joel Montalbano told journalist Jeff Foust on a Facebook discussion thread that it's a "little too early" to set a timeline for the investigation. NASA is in "regular communications" with Russian colleagues on this, he said. Montalbano also told US specialist on the Russian space program Marcia Smith that they "may have more to say in 2-3 weeks."
If the dramatic launch and trouble-plagued rendezvous of Nauka looks slapdash premature—a bizarre notion for a feat that was originally planned for fifteen years ago—there is one intriguingly suggestive schedule-driver that is only weeks in the future.
A routine launch of the next long-term Russian crew had long been slated for early October. Called "Soyuz MS-19," it was to carry three professional Russian cosmonauts who had been training for at least a year. But several months ago there was a redirection of the mission and the crew.
The project reportedly has high level backing by powerful figures in Moscow, including in the Kremlin, as well as overseas investors.
Even more significant than political favoritism, however, is the simple question of cash. Since the mid-1990s, the influx of foreign funding for the Russian space industry has been a cash cow for space program officials and their political protectors.
Aside from rented official approvals, this first-of-its-kind movie project has been developed and the scene lists tailored specifically to the Nauka module. Nauka contains the living quarters for the extra visitors, the laboratory unit to simulate an in-space operating room (the movie's main theme), and high-quality viewports for spectacular imagery of Earth below.
The potential relevance for any putative urgency to launch Nauka, ready or not, is that it had to occur at least several weeks before this MS-19 mission, or the wrong people would have been aboard the Soyuz, and long-term crew activity planning was not subject to revision. The choice might have been go now, or wait another year for the cash commissions the movie project would have generated. Or the timing could just be a coincidence, just one more unanswered question in an orbital drama of mystery and misdirection.
Match ID: 121 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 51 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
On 9 April 1945, less than a month before the end of hostilities in Europe, a young Luftwaffe pilot named
Hans Guido Mutke put his jet-propelled Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter-bomber into a steep dive, intending to come to the aid of a fellow airman below. As the Messerschmitt accelerated downward, the plane began to shake violently, and the controls became unresponsive. Mutke managed to regain control and lived to describe the incident, in which he later laid claim to having exceeded the speed of sound, a controversial but plausible assertion.
This and similar episodes during and after World War II led some to believe that aircraft would have great difficulty ever "breaking the sound barrier"—a phrase that led to a popular misconception that there is some kind of brick wall in the sky that a plane must pierce to fly at supersonic speeds.
Piloting the bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first person to exceed the speed of sound while in horizontal flight.Everett Collection/Alamy
The aircraft that unquestionably tore down that metaphorical wall was the
Bell X-1, a bullet-shaped experimental rocket-plane. In October of 1947, test pilot Chuck Yeager coaxed his bright orange X-1 to a speed that slightly exceeded that of sound while the plane was in horizontal flight, although the U.S. Air Force didn't officially announce the feat until the following year.
Since then, jets have been regularly exceeding Mach 1—shorthand for the speed of sound in the surrounding air. Even the
Northrop T-38 Talon jet trainer, introduced in 1959, could do so. And some military jets can fly much faster. The SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft, which first flew in the 1960s, can travel at better than Mach 3.
Although military aircraft were breaking the sound barrier daily during the 1950s and '60s, commercial passenger flights during this time remained limited to subsonic speeds. That situation didn't change until early in 1976, with the
first scheduled flights of the French-British Concorde supersonic airliner, which could reach Mach 2. The Soviet Union's Tupolev TU-144, which could fly just as fast and had been used to transport mail and freight the previous year, began carrying passengers in 1977.
It would have been reasonable to project that we'd all be zooming around the globe at supersonic speeds by now. But, of course, we're not.
At the time, it would have been reasonable to project that we'd all be zooming around the globe at supersonic speeds by now. But, of course, we're not. The Concorde last flew nearly
two decades ago. Today's airliners travel no faster than their counterparts of 60 years ago—indeed, they tend to fly somewhat slower to reduce fuel costs.
Now, several aircraft manufacturers and NASA are intent on ushering in a new era of supersonic commercial aviation. They're preparing prototypes for flight and they've got designs for full-blown airliners capable of carrying scores of passengers. And this time, their biggest challenge probably won't be the sonic booms, which backers insist they can adequately address. The main obstacles will be regulatory and, especially, environmental: Supersonic airliners could be hugely more polluting than their subsonic counterparts.
Are we nevertheless on the cusp of a new, golden age of high-speed commercial aviation? Will people soon be jetting across the Pacific in three hours? To answer those questions requires a deeper understanding of what went on, and what went wrong, during that first push to develop supersonic airliners more than a half century ago.
The Concorde, shown here at the start of a test flight in 1970, was particularly noisy, both during takeoff and when exceeding the speed of sound, which subjected people below to the loud double bang of its sonic boom.AP
In 1956, nine years after Yeager's history-making flight, the U.K. government established a Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee, which began discussions with international partners about building a supersonic airliner. And in 1962 the French and British governments forged an agreement to cooperate in the development of what soon became known as the Concorde. The sleek delta-winged airliner made its first supersonic test flight in 1969.
Although the United States
chose not to participate in the development of the Concorde, in 1963 President John F. Kennedy announced plans to develop a U.S. supersonic airliner. Shortly afterward, the federal government issued a contract to Boeing, which had prevailed over Lockheed and others in a design competition, to develop such a plane.
Meanwhile, environmentalists were voicing concern—about how noisy such aircraft are taking off, about the possibility that their high-altitude emissions would erode the ozone layer, and about how disruptive the sonic booms would be. The last of these issues was perhaps the most vexing, prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to mount various exercises to gauge how the public would react to sonic booms.
The most extensive such
experiment took place over Oklahoma City in 1964. For months, supersonic aircraft flew over the city, eight times a day, seven days a week, at unpredictable times but always during daylight hours. Dominic Maglieri, an expert on sonic booms whose career began in the early 1950s, recalls the results of those months-long tests.
"It looked as though people were kind of acclimating to it," says Maglieri. "But as it went on that changed—considerably: Pretty soon they were getting thousands of calls and complaints." Some of that negative feedback included demands for compensation, says Maglieri, including one from the owner of a palatial home who claimed that a sonic boom had cracked his marble floors.
The 1964 Oklahoma City tests involved more than 1,000 flights, which sparked more than 15,000 complaints, as documented in a 1971 report prepared by the National Bureau of Standards.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Clearly, nobody would accept stone-fracturing sonic booms. Those objections added to the concerns environmentalists were raising about the ozone layer—a scenario seemingly justified a few years later by MIT researchers, who concluded that a future fleet of 500 supersonic airliners would deplete the
ozone layer by 16 percent.
Despite strong support from the FAA, the airline industry, and aerospace companies, the U.S. Senate
ceased funding the development of a supersonic airliner in 1971. Two years later, the FAA banned supersonic flight over land, a prohibition that remains to this day.
The Concorde went on to serve various destinations, including some in the United States, flying at supersonic speeds only over water. That continued until 2003, when British Airways and Air France retired their fleets, together amounting to just
12 aircraft. (Fourteen production aircraft were manufactured, but one was scrapped in 1994 and another crashed in 2000.)
While the Concorde successfully overcame the technical hurdles standing in the way of supersonic passenger service, it succumbed to economics: The cost of fuel and maintenance was especially high for these planes. A new generation of aeronautical engineers and entrepreneurs are, however, keen to once again take on the technical, environmental, and economic challenges.
It's perhaps unsurprising that the 21st-century push for supersonic travel is being led by newcomers rather than established manufacturers. The best-funded of this group is Denver-based Boom Technology (which also goes by the trade name Boom Supersonic).
This artist's rendering shows Boom Technology's future Overture airliner, which will be able to carry as many as 88 people.Boom Supersonic
In 2016, while it was still in Y Combinator's
startup incubation program, Boom got a big shot in the arm from the Virgin Group, which offered engineering support and optioned the first 10 of Boom's airliners. (More recently, Virgin Galactic has been designing a supersonic airliner of its own.) Virgin's interest in this sphere shouldn't be surprising: 13 years earlier, the group's founder Sir Richard Branson attempted, unsuccessfully, to purchase the seven Concorde airliners British Airways was retiring, for use by Virgin Atlantic.
Boom went on to garner
more than US $150 million from various venture funds and Japan Airlines. It has used that money to build a one-third scale prototype, called the XB-1, of an airliner that will be able to carry as many as 88 passengers. The company expects commercial flights of the larger plane, which it calls Overture, to begin in 2029.
What these aircraft manufacturers are contending is that their eventual customers are going to be willing to pay to prevent net carbon emissions.
Boom is emphasizing its plans to mitigate the environmental impacts that inevitably arise with supersonic flight.
Testifying to a House subcommittee on aviation this past April, Boom's CEO, Blake Scholl, noted that, "sustainable aviation fuels, or SAF, are key to Overture sustainability, and we are designing Overture from the ground up to run on 100 percent SAF, enabling net-zero-carbon flight." In preparation, Boom has investigated the use of biofuels in the engines of its XB-1 demonstrator, and it has partnered with Prometheus Fuels, which will provide the XB-1 with jet fuel synthesized using carbon extracted from the atmosphere using renewable energy.
Boom has stated that its plane will go supersonic only over water. Even so, the company is "
shaping the aircraft optimally for sonic-boom reduction," according to its website. In a similar vein, another startup, Boston-based Spike Aerospace, is stressing that its planned S-512 supersonic business jet is "aerodynamically designed to offer proprietary Quiet Supersonic Flight Technology. This will enable it to operate at its full cruising speed of Mach 1.6 (1,100 miles per hour) without producing a loud, disturbing sonic boom on the ground." Ditto for California-based Exosonic, which claims that the supersonic airliner it has on the drawing board "will create a softer thump on the ground that will be quieter than typical traffic."
This artist's rendering depicts NASA's X-59 low-noise demonstrator aircraft, now being constructed by Lockheed Martin.Lockheed Martin
This is exactly the strategy that NASA is exploring with an experimental aircraft called the
X-59 QueSST, that name being a contraction of sorts of "quiet supersonic technology." Lockheed-Martin Corp. is right now constructing the X-59 at its famed Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, Calif.
"I used to joke that the airplane looked like an F-16 on steroids," says
David Richwine, NASA's deputy project manager for technology on the X-59. "It's a long airplane—I think it's around 97 feet long." Richwine explains that adding length is one of the ways to "manage the sonic-boom signature," which is an engineer's way of saying to make the sound less jarring.
How successful NASA is in doing so will be
tested as soon as 2024, when the X-59 is flown over a small set of U.S. cities to gauge the public's reactions to what Richwine expects to be a "sonic thump." Assuming this campaign takes place on schedule, it'll be 60 years after the FAA's Oklahoma City tests. Get your marble floors ready.
Interestingly, the company that was working the hardest to reduce the sonic-boom effects from a supersonic jet it was developing, Aerion Corp., now appears to be going out of business. The company, based in Reno, Nev., was founded by billionaire Robert Bass in 2003.
Aerion's initial foray into commercial supersonic aircraft was to be a 12-passenger business jet, the AS2, designed to have a top speed of Mach 1.4. The company was exploring the possibility of flying the AS2 in a fashion that would allow it to travel at supersonic speeds over land without subjecting the people below to a sonic boom. "Boomless Cruise" was Aerion's name for the technology.
Although we won't get to see it in action with Aerion's AS2, another supersonic hopeful might yet pursue this intriguing strategy, which merits a brief description.
The phenomenon of Mach cutoff requires that the air near the ground be warmer and that the plane fly not too much faster than the speed of sound. Its sonic boom would then travel downward at a shallow angle and be refracted sufficiently to stay away from the ground [left]. A plane moving faster would create a sonic boom that travels downward at an angle that is too steep to be refracted away from the ground [right].David Schneider
The key concept is a phenomenon known as
Mach cutoff, the physics of which is straightforward. When a plane flies at supersonic speeds, it outpaces the sound waves it creates. Those sounds pile up, causing a shock wave to form. That boom-inducing shock wave travels away at an angle that depends on how fast the plane is moving relative to the speed of sound. For a jet traveling at many times the speed of sound, the boom propagates at a steep angle from the flight path. For one traveling just barely faster than the speed of sound, the boom propagates at a shallow angle.
That second situation is important here because of another bit of relevant physics: The speed of sound in air
depends on temperature. At altitude, where the air is colder, sound travels more slowly than it does in the warmer air near the ground. This phenomenon causes sound waves to refract (bend) as they travel downward, just as light waves refract when moving between water and air or glass and air.
Because of such refraction, sounds traveling downward at a sufficiently shallow angle can be bent upward enough never to impinge on the ground. Similar physics accounts for the
mirages you might see when shallowly inclined rays of light are bent upward by the air just above hot asphalt, which gives them the appearance of having reflected off a puddle.
So if an aircraft is flown not too much faster than the speed of sound, in air that is sufficiently warmer near the surface, the sonic boom it creates, loud as it might be, will never reach the ground. You can have supersonic flight without the boom.
Society will have to weigh the environmental consequences of supersonic transport against the time savings it would offer a relatively select few travelers.
The compromise is that the plane can't travel much faster than the speed of sound—Mach 1.1 or 1.2, tops. That isn't a big improvement over something like the Cessna's
Citation X business jet, which can travel at Mach 0.94. Exploiting the Mach cutoff phenomenon commercially would also require the FAA to relax its prohibition on supersonic flight over land, which it may never do.
The companies working hard now to bring commercial supersonic flight back understand that they have to address sonic-boom noise, one way or another. And the farthest along, Boom Technology, is also taking pains to explain how its planes can be flown with fuels that won't add to the enormous amounts of carbon that commercial aviation is already spewing into the air.
"There are a couple of problems with that logic," says Dan Rutherford, who is aviation and shipping program director for the
International Council on Clean Transportation. "First of all, once the plane is out the door, there's very little control that a manufacturer has over what fuel is used." What these aircraft manufacturers are contending is that their eventual customers are going to be willing to pay to prevent net carbon emissions. "The planes themselves are not going to be fuel efficient," says Rutherford. He and two colleagues estimated in 2018 that a commercial supersonic airliner like the one Boom is designing would likely use five to seven times as much fuel per passenger-kilometer as a comparable subsonic aircraft.
Rutherford further notes that biomass-derived jet fuels are at least three or four times as expensive as conventional jet fuel and that synthetic jet fuel made from carbon extracted from the atmosphere will be more expensive still. Combine those higher fuel costs with the higher fuel consumption and "you start to have such high operating costs for those planes that it is very difficult to see them succeed in the market," he says.
This past June, United Airlines announced its intention to purchase 15 Overture airliners from Boom Technology. They will presumably resemble this artist's rendering after they go into service.Boom Supersonic
Michael Leskinen, vice president of corporate development for United Airlines, which in early June announced plans to purchase 15 of Boom's Overture airliners, explained to IEEE Spectrum, "We'll be working to introduce and supply the market with more and more sustainable aviation fuel, and our hope is that with more supply, we'll be able to drive that cost of fuel down as well." Still, it's easy to imagine that the economic pressures would be such that, even if United sticks to using sustainable fuels, other operators would end up flying the aircraft with conventional jet fuel, boosting carbon emissions from air travel by five or more times per passenger-kilometer flown.
But it gets worse, according to Rutherford. "If you look at the other emissions from supersonics that also warm the planet—these are the nitrogen oxides, the particulate matter, and the water vapor for supersonics operating in the stratosphere—those could be even worse for the climate, on the order of 20 times or more just because the pollution stays up in the atmosphere so much longer."
Rutherford admits that the science of these noncarbon effects is less certain than it is for CO
2. But as was true for concerns about the ozone layer back in the 1960s, proponents of supersonic commercial aviation need to consider the deleterious effects of
all the pollutants these planes create and their extended residence times at the altitudes these planes fly. Will they actually do that?
"We're committed to being 100 percent green," Leskinen says. "That's across the spectrum of impacts that our aircraft have. And that will be no different for Overture than it is for any other aircraft we choose to operate." It's a grand promise, but even if United can keep to it, it's a promise that
the company is making for 2050, not for 2029 when the Overture will be introduced.
Larger society will have to weigh the likely environmental consequences of supersonic transport against the time savings this futuristic mode of transportation would offer a select few travelers. There are, of course, many ways this could play out over the coming decades, perhaps with different nations adopting different policies. What seems certain, however, is that Adam Smith's
invisible hand will exert considerable influence, just as it did for earlier supersonic wonders: the Concorde and the space shuttle. In the end, both proved technological dead ends simply because they cost more to operate than their services were worth.
Match ID: 122 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 61 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
China is looking to build on its recent moon sample return success by attempting to retrieve material from an ancient near Earth asteroid.
The country will launch a spacecraft in 2024, reaching Kamoʻoalewa, a quasi-satellite of Earth, in 2025. When it returns home a year later it hopes to deliver invaluable samples from a body of rock thought to be made of remnants from the early solar system.
In keeping with China's long-term approach to space of developing and building specific and more advanced technologies, the mission will aim to be a milestone in Chinese exploration by apply newly-developed capabilities and science prowess in a novel scenario.
The mission will follow in the footsteps of the Japanese Hayabusa 1 and 2 missions, and NASA's OSIRIS-Rex, while presenting new and greater challenges for China. The country has so far launched just one interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, which saw an orbiter and rover arrive at Mars earlier this year. And while it has collected samples from the moon with Chang'e-5, conducting operations in deep space means a greater signal delay, requiring greater spacecraft autonomy. The spacecraft will also need to maintain orbit around and approach a small body with very weak gravity. Long-life propulsion engines, high-precision navigation, guidance and control, and a small capsule capable of surviving ultra-high-speed reentry into Earth's atmosphere are also hurdles that need clearing.
And the sampling aspect itself will be a significant feat. According to a correspondence in Nature Astronomy, there are two typical approaches to sampling asteroids like Kamoʻoalewa, namely anchor-and-attach and touch-and-go.
The former requires delicate and dangerous interactions with the planetary body but allows more controllable sampling and more chances for surface analysis. The latter, used by Hayabusa 2 and OSIRIS-Rex, is a quick interaction facilitated by advanced navigation, guidance and control and fine control of thrusters.
China's mission will use both architectures in order to "guarantee that at least one works." The paper states that there is "still no successful precedent for the anchor-and-attach architecture," meaning a possible deep space first. A 2019 presentation reveals that China's spacecraft will attempt to land on the asteroid using four robotic arms, with a drill on the end of each for anchoring.
Chang'e-5 similarly opted to both drill for and scoop up its samples, providing redundancy and greater science value.
The mission is just one of China's ambitious sample return plans in the next few years. Chang'e-6 will follow up the complex Chang'e-5 moon mission, but even more ambitiously attempt to collect samples from the ancient and scientifically enticing South Pole-Aitken basin on the lunar far side. The mission will require assistance from a relay satellite as the moon's far side never faces Earth.
Around 2028 China plans to launch an audacious Mars sample return mission, a so-far not attempted quest (though NASA and ESA are also preparing a mission) that is one of the most sought-after goals of Mars science. Beyond this, a new Chinese company, Origin Space, has launched pathfinding missions and has its sights on utilizing resources from near Earth asteroids for commercial purposes.
But the sample return is just one aspect of the mission. After delivering samples to Earth in a return capsule, the spacecraft will continue its journey, heading out to Mars and using the Red Planet for a gravity-assist to send it on its way to the main-belt comet 311P/PANSTARRS.
Examining 311P/PANSTARRS with the spacecraft's suite of imaging, multispectral and spectrometer cameras and other instruments could provide vital information about the origin of the water on Earth and the theory that much of it was delivered by comet impacts. It would also provide insight into the differences between what are considered active asteroids and classic comets.
Notably both Kamoʻoalewa and 311P were discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) at Haleakala in Hawaii within the last decade.
The spacecraft will also carry an experiment designed by students. Teams of students from primary schools up to universities have submitted proposals, with public voting now underway as part of the selection process.
The probe is likely to be named ZhengHe, after the famous Ming dynasty admiral and explorer. The name would be apt, both drawing on the country's exploration history and marking a new age of Chinese exploration, this time in the deep sea of space.
Match ID: 123 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 67 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.
In an International Space Station major milestone more than fifteen years in the making, a long-delayed Russian science laboratory named Nauka automatically docked to the station on 29 July, prompting sighs of relief in the Mission Control Centers in Houston and Moscow. But within a few hours, it became shockingly obvious the celebrations were premature, and the ISS was coming closer to disaster than at anytime in its nearly 25 years in orbit.
While the proximate cause of the incident is still being unravelled, there are worrisome signs that NASA may be repeating some of the lapses that lead to the loss of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles and their crews. And because political pressures seem to be driving much of the problem, only an independent investigation with serious political heft can reverse any erosion in safety culture.
Let's step back and look at what we know happened: In a cyber-logical process still not entirely clear, while passing northwest to southeast over Indonesia, the Nauka module's autopilot apparently decided it was supposed to fly away from the station. Although actually attached, and with the latches on the station side closed, the module began trying to line itself up in preparation to fire its main engines using an attitude adjustment thruster. As the thruster fired, the entire station was slowly dragged askew as well.
Since the ISS was well beyond the coverage of Russian ground stations, and since the world-wide Soviet-era fleet of tracking ships and world-circling network of "Luch" relay comsats had long since been scrapped, and replacements were slow in coming, nobody even knew Nauka was firing its thruster, until a slight but growing shift in the ISS's orientation was finally detected by NASA.
Nauka approaches the space station, preparing to dock on 29 July 2021. NASA
Within minutes, the Flight Director in Houston declared a "spacecraft emergency"—the first in the station's lifetime—and his team tried to figure out what could be done to avoid the ISS spinning up so fast that structural damage could result. The football-field-sized array of pressurized modules, support girders, solar arrays, radiator panels, robotic arms, and other mechanisms was designed to operate in a weightless environment. But it was also built to handle stresses both from directional thrusting (used to boost the altitude periodically) and rotational torques (usually to maintain a horizon-level orientation, or to turn to a specific different orientation to facilitate arrival or departure of visiting vehicles). The juncture latches that held the ISS's module together had been sized to accommodate these forces with a comfortable safety margin, but a maneuver of this scale had never been expected.
Meanwhile, the station's automated attitude control system had also noted the deviation and began firing other thrusters to countermand it. These too were on the Russian half of the station. The only US orientation-control system is a set of spinning flywheels that gently turn the structure without the need for thruster propellant, but which would have been unable to cope with the unrelenting push of Nauka's thruster. Later mass-media scenarios depicted teams of specialists manually directing on-board systems into action, but the exact actions taken in response still remain unclear—and probably were mostly if not entirely automatic. The drama continued as the station crossed the Pacific, then South America and the mid-Atlantic, finally entering Russian radio contact over central Europe an hour after the crisis had begun. By then the thrusting had stopped, probably when the guilty thruster exhausted its fuel supply. The sane half of the Russian segment then restored the desired station orientation.
Initial private attempts to use telemetry data to visually represent the station's tumble that were posted online looked bizarre, with enormous rapid gyrations in different directions. Mercifully, the truth of the situation is that the ISS went through a simple long-axis spin of one and a half full turns, and then a half turn back to the starting alignment. The jumps and zig-zags were computational artifacts of the representational schemes used by NASA, which relate to the concept of "gimbal lock" in gyroscopes.
How close the station had come to disaster is an open question, and the flight director humorously alluded to it in a later tweet that he'd never been so happy as when he saw on external TV cameras that the solar arrays and radiators were still standing straight in place. And any excessive bending stress along docking interfaces between the Russian and American segments would have demanded quick leak checks. But even if the rotation was "simple," the undeniably dramatic event has both short term and long-term significance for the future of the space station. And it has antecedents dating back to the very birth of the ISS in 1997.
How close the ISS had come to disaster is still an open question.
At this point, unfortunately, is when the human misjudgments began to surface. To calm things down, official NASA spokesmen provided very preliminary underestimates in how big and how fast the station's spin had been. These were presented without any caveat that the numbers were unverified—and the real figures turned out to be much worse. The Russian side, for its part, dismissed the attitude deviation as a routine bump in a normal process of automatic docking and proclaimed there would be no formal incident investigation, especially any that would involve their American partners. Indeed, both sides seemed to agree that the sooner the incident was forgotten, the better. As of now, the US side is deep into analysis of induced stresses on critical ISS structures, with the most important ones, such as the solar arrays, first. Another standard procedure after this kind of event is to assess potential indicators of stress-induced damage, especially in terms of air leaks, and where best to monitor cabin pressure and other parameters to detect any such leaks.
The bureaucratic instinct to minimize the described potential severity of the event needs cold-blooded assessment. Sadly, from past experience, this mindset of complacency and hoping for the best is the result of natural human mental drift that comes when there are long periods of apparent normalcy. Even if there is a slowly emerging problem, as long as everything looks okay in the day to day, the tendency is ignore warning signals as minor perturbations. The safety of the system is assumed rather than verified—and consequently managers are led into missing clues, or making careless choices, that lead to disaster. So these recent indications of this mental attitude about the station's attitude are worrisome. The NASA team has experienced that same slow cultural rot of assuming safety several times over the past decades, with hideous consequences. Team members in the year leading up to the 1986 Challenger disaster (and I was deep within the Mission Control operations then) had noticed and begun voicing concerns over growing carelessness and even humorous reactions to occasional "stupid mistakes," without effect. Then, after imprudent management decisions, seven people died.
The same drift was noticed in the late 1990s, especially in the joint US/Russian operations on Mir and on early ISS flights. It led to the forced departure of a number of top NASA officials, who had objected to the trend that was being imposed by the White House's post-Cold War diplomatic goals, implemented by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. Safety took a decidedly secondary priority to international diplomatic value. Legendary Mission Control leader Gene Kranz described the decisions that were made in the mid-1990s over his own objections, objections that led to his sudden departure from NASA. "Russia was subsequently assigned partnership responsibilities for critical in-line tasks with minimal concern for the political and technical difficulties as well as the cost and schedule risks," he wrote in 1999. "This was the first time in the history of US manned space flight that NASA assigned critical path, in-line tasks with little or no backup." By 2001-'02, the results were as Kranz and his colleagues had warned. "Today's problems with the space station are the product of a program driven by an overriding political objective and developed by an ad hoc committee, which bypassed NASA's proven management and engineering teams," he concluded.
To reverse the apparent new cultural drift, NASA headquarters or some even higher office is going to have to intervene.
By then the warped NASA management culture that soon enabled the Columbia disaster in 2003 was fully in place. Some of the wording in current management proclamations regarding the Nauka docking have an eerie ring of familiarity. "Space cooperation continues to be a hallmark of U.S.-Russian relations and I have no doubt that our joint work reinforces the ties that have bound our collaborative efforts over the many years" wrote NASA Director Bill Nelson to Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency, on July 31. There was no mention of the ISS's first declared spacecraft emergency, nor any dissatisfaction with Russian contribution to it.
To reverse the apparent new cultural drift, and thus potentially forestall the same kind of dismal results as before, NASA headquarters or some even higher office is going to have to intervene. The causes of the Nauka-induced "space sumo match" of massive cross-pushing bodies need to be determined and verified. And somebody needs to expose the decision process that allowed NASA to approve the ISS docking of a powerful thruster-equipped module without the on-site real-time capability to quickly disarm that system in an emergency. Because the apparent sloppiness of NASA's safety oversight on visiting vehicles looks to be directly associated with maintaining good relations with Moscow, the driving factor seems to be White House diplomatic goals—and that's the level where a corrective impetus must originate. With a long-time U.S. Senate colleague, Nelson, recently named head of NASA, President Biden is well connected to issue such guidance for a thorough investigation by an independent commission, followed by implementation of needed reforms. The buck stops with him.
As far as Nauka's role in this process of safety-culture repair, it turns out that quite by bizarre coincidence, a similar pattern was played out by the very first Russian launch that inaugurated the ISS program, the 'Zarya' module [called the 'FGB'] in late 1997. Nauka turns out to be the repeatedly rebuilt and upgraded backup module for that very launch, and the parallels are remarkable. The day the FGB was launched, on 20 November 1998, the mission faced disaster when it refused to accept ground commands to raise its original atmosphere-skimming parking orbit. As it crossed over Russian ground sites, controllers in Moscow sent commands, and the spacecraft didn't answer. Meanwhile, NASA guests at a nearby facility were celebrating with Russian colleagues as nobody told them of the crisis. Finally, on the last available in-range pass, controllers tried a new command format that the onboard computer did recognize and acknowledge. The mission—and the entire ISS project—was saved, and the American side never knew. Only years later did the story appear in Russian newspapers.
Still, for all its messy difficulties and frustrating disappointments, the U.S./Russian partnership turned out to be a remarkably robust "mutual co-dependence" arrangement, when managed with "tough love." Neither side really had practical alternatives if it wanted a permanent human presence in space, and they still don't—so both teams were devoted to making it work. And it could still work—if NASA keeps faith with its traditional safety culture and with the lives of those astronauts who died in the past because NASA had failed them.
Postscript: As this story was going to press, a NASA spokesperson responded to queries about the incident saying:
As shared by NASA's Kathy Lueders and Joel Montalbano in the media telecon following the event, Roscosmos regularly updated NASA and the rest of the international partners on MLM's progress during the approach to station. We continue to have confidence in our partnership with Roscosmos to operate the International Space Station. When the unexpected thruster firings occurred, flight control teams were able to enact contingency procedures and return the station to normal operations within an hour. We would point you to Roscosmos for any specifics on Russian systems/performance/procedures.
Match ID: 124 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 71 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
Look, I know that the Perseverance rover has brought some flashy stuff to Mars. It’s got lasers, it’s got a big robot arm, it’s got a little robot arm, and it even launched a helicopter. That’s all great, but tucked up inside of Perseverance is another instrument about the size of a car battery that doesn’t move even a little bit and in fact spends most of its time not functioning at all. It’s the appallingly bacronymed Mars Oxygen ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) Experiment, or MOXIE, and I’m going to try to convince you that it’s the most exciting thing happening on Mars right now.
It’s a little bit strange to have MOXIE on Perseverance at all; MOXIE would be perfectly happy to remain completely stationary and derives no benefit from being hauled all around Jezero crater. The fact that it ended up on a rover (potentially taking the place of a science instrument that could have taken advantage of Perseverance’s mobility) seems to have been the result of shifting priorities at NASA with a history that goes back to the 1970s. After the successful Apollo missions, some folks at NASA (including Wernher von Braun, chief architect of the Saturn V) advocated for the development of a crewed mission to Mars. NASA decided to focus instead on low Earth orbit, starting work on the Space Shuttle, followed by the International Space Station. There simply weren’t all that many resources left over for any other major initiatives.
However, in the late 1990s, there was a small window where NASA felt like the Shuttle and the ISS were stable programs, and the agency was willing to start thinking about Mars exploration again. The window closed as the ISS rapidly got much more expensive, but one Mars mission squeaked through, sort of—Mars Surveyor 2001. What was unique about this mission was it wasn’t really about Mars science in the sense that it wasn’t doing investigative geology or chemistry the way that missions before and since have. Instead, Mars Surveyor 2001 was intended to run experiments on the Martian surface in the context of future crewed missions. Its payloads included experimental solar cells, dust characterization and mitigation, and perhaps most importantly, the OGS, or Oxygen Generator Subsystem, NASA’s attempt at in-situ propellant production (ISPP), now more generally known as ISRU (in-situ resource utilization).
Well before Mars Surveyor 2001, NASA understood that getting astronauts to Mars and back is all about mass. Really, getting anything into space period is all about mass. For example, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy can put 16,800 kg into Mars transfer orbit, but doing so requires over 1.4 million kg of launch vehicle and fuel, meaning that the payload makes up just over 1% of the mass of the rocket. These single-digit payload fractions are the norm for sending things into space, which is why there’s such an intense focus on finding ways of reducing the amount of stuff that you have to haul out of a gravity well like Earth. This is the reason why NASA wanted to put the Oxygen Generator Subsystem on Mars Surveyor 2001: if we could make our own oxygen on the Martian surface, we’d have to send way, way, waaay less stuff to Mars in the first place. It would be easier, it would be cheaper, and it would be safer.
Unfortunately, after both the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander were lost in 1998 (the latter because sensor errors led to engine shutdown 40m above the Martian surface and the former because of an embarrassing miscommunication involving metric units), NASA cancelled the Mars Surveyor 2001 mission and the lander was later repurposed for the successful Phoenix mission in 2008, with a different and much more sciency payload that didn’t include ISPP.
NASA’s focus throughout the early 2000s continued to be the Shuttle and the ISS, but by the mid-2010s with the Shuttles winding down and the ISS mostly put together, NASA again found itself with another small budgetary window that could be leveraged towards human exploration of Mars. That window would shut again when the agency decided to refocus on the Moon, but it was open long enough for MOXIE to sneak through. “The Mars community recognized that the single most important thing we didn’t get done [after Mars Surveyor] was ISPP,” says Michael Hecht, MOXIE’s principal investigator at the MIT Haystack Observatory. According to Hecht, it took three different NASA directorates, including Science, Space Technology, and Human Exploration to get MOXIE onto the Mars Perseverance rover: “They all got together, which doesn't happen every day, and came up with this plan to say let's just go nail this one, let’s hit it out of the park.” And they did: MOXIE is on Mars.
How MOXIE generates O
2 from CO
Image: Michael Hecht
MOXIE is, fundamentally, a fuel cell. Here on Earth, we use fuel cells to generate energy by combining a gas like hydrogen with ambient oxygen in the air to produce electricity along with water as a byproduct. If you run that same fuel cell backward (in what’s called regenerative mode), you instead consume electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This is what MOXIE does on Mars: it pulls in CO2 from the Martian atmosphere (which is 96% CO2), filters it, compresses it, and then uses solid oxide electrolysis to break off some of those Os and store them, while returning the leftover carbon monoxide to the atmosphere. It takes a significant amount of power to do this—by the time MOXIE heats itself up to operating temperature (800 degrees Celsius) and compresses the Martian atmosphere and runs for an hour, MOXIE has sucked down about 1,000 watt-hours of energy, which it takes Perseverance’s radioisotope thermal generator about 10 hours to produce. So when MOXIE runs, it takes up all of the power available for all of the rover’s payloads for that day. In exchange, MOXIE produces about as much oxygen as a smallish tree, between six and 10g of O2 per hour, less than half what it would take to keep a human alive.
But keeping humans alive is not really what MOXIE is about. A mission to Mars with four crew members that spends a year on the surface will only need about a ton of oxygen for breathing. Getting back to Earth, though, will require at least 25 tons of oxygen, along with seven tons of methane or another kind of rocket fuel. The astronauts will probably have to bring the methane or whatever with them to Mars, but if they can produce all of the oxygen they need, that’ll be an enormous amount of mass that they won’t have to worry about. This is why MOXIE is so important: it’ll generate the bulk of the resources that astronauts will need to get back home.
This is why MOXIE is so important: It’ll generate the bulk of the resources that astronauts will need to get back home.
One important question to ask is why we’re even bothering with MOXIE at all—we know there’s water ice at the poles, and we may be able to find it underneath the surface as well. And while water is very appealing because you can split it into both oxygen and hydrogen, it’s also a lot more complicated than what MOXIE is doing. First, you’ve got to find the ice. If it’s underground, that’s a problem, and even if it’s not underground, then you’ve got to somehow harvest it, with robots or something like that, plus it’s almost certainly going to be full of dust. It’s totally doable, but when you compare all of that complexity to just plopping a bunch of MOXIEs on the surface and letting them sit there, MOXIE seems like a much more straightforward solution.
The other problem with ice, Michael Hecht says, is that the places where we know we can get at it are, for lack of a better word, boring. “Most Mars scientists are geology-driven. They don’t want to have anything to do with those icy areas, because once you have ice, you have erosion, while if you stay near the lower latitudes you're looking at four and a half billion years of history.” And if we’re going to go all the way to Mars, we may as well make it worthwhile, right?
“In spaceflight, we have to take everything with us that we need. If we could instead utilize resources we find at the destination, that would make our exploration efforts more efficient. MOXIE is actually the first ever ISRU experiment on another planet.” —Jeff Sheehy, Chief Engineer, NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate
Producing the 25 tons of oxygen required to get humans off of the Martian surface isn’t something that MOXIE itself is capable of, but the fundamental technology is scalable. Essentially, you’d just send the equivalent of 200 MOXIEs to Mars, in the form of something about the size of a small chest freezer weighing around 1000 kg. It would be able to produce 3 kg of O2 per hour, but you’d send it far in advance of any astronauts, the idea being that MOXIE could chug away on its own for a year or two, slowly but steadily harvesting oxygen from the Martian atmosphere such that by the time NASA was ready to send a crewed mission, the oxygen would be already all taken care of and waiting for them on the surface.
As you might expect, scaling MOXIE up is slightly more complicated than just stapling 200 of them together. For example, MOXIE has to be very careful about how it splits up the CO2, because otherwise the reaction will produce wayward carbon atoms that gum everything up in the form of soot. And each of MOXIE’s components need to be scaled up as well, including the compressor, control system, oxygen storage system, and the filtration system. That last one was of particular concern, but it turns out that thanks to favorable dust particle size and very low atmospheric pressure, filters work much better on Mars that they do on Earth. “When I think of what we have learned,” says Hecht, “that to me is probably one of the most valuable lessons.”
Beyond just making MOXIE bigger, it also has to run reliably, because if it doesn't do what it needs to do, then there won’t be a human mission to Mars. And when you need to spend years on Mars with no maintenance, reliability alone is not enough, explains Hecht. “If you're sending a system to Mars to run for a year and create the return oxygen for a human mission, it’s not going to fail. It can’t fail. So you want some redundancy.” Redundancy means several (probably four or five) independent MOXIE-like systems, each of which will produce about a kilogram of O2 per hour for about 10,000 hours.
The fundamental pieces of these scaled-up MOXIE-like systems are already complete, and there’s a NASA-funded company called OxEon Energy that’s developing commercial versions of the fuel cell technology. It seems like we have the technology to do this, it’s just a question of when, and how much of a difference MOXIE’s success on Mars will mean for the potential for human exploration—is MOXIE a big step forward, or will Mars remain 15 years away, just like it was 15 years ago? Michael Hecht is optimistic:
I think this is different because of the scale of the investment. When NASA puts this much money and resources on the line and takes up a valuable space on a high profile flagship mission to do this, I think they’re serious. And while priorities change and governments change, the fact that three different countries went to Mars this time around tells you that it’s no longer NASA going on its own. And there’s Elon Musk, of course, with SpaceX. This is becoming a broad-based enterprise, and someone’s going to do it. So there’s a real reason for optimism that we are taking the first step in a way that we haven’t in the past.
With that in mind, we asked Jeff Sheehy, Chief Engineer at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, to describe what a MOXIE-based oxygen generation system might look like on Mars:
What people envision generally is that you’d land several tons of MOXIE-based oxygen production capability—a little oxygen production plant with an integrated oxygen storage facility. The oxygen production capability would be set up a few years before the astronauts ever got there. You’d land a fission power plant, and some sort of robotic rover that would attach cables from the power system to the oxygen plant. And ultimately you’d have a Mars ascent vehicle, and some sort of plumbing that goes from the oxygen storage system to the vehicle’s oxidizer tank.
The plan is to test some of these components on the Moon. Not MOXIE, obviously, but a fission power plant and the robots that you’d need to get everything set up and plugged in. “We’re establishing a sustained presence on the Moon by setting up all that capability and designing it in a way that it can be used on Mars,” says Sheehy. “So that the Moon really does become a stepping stone where we will have demonstrated the technologies and capabilities we need on Mars to provide for the first human expeditions.”
As for MOXIE, the plan is to run it up to ten times over the course of the Perseverance mission, characterizing how the system responds to different inputs. All it has left to prove now is that it can survive over the long term, giving us confidence that we can send this technology to Mars and rely on it to get us home.
Match ID: 125 Score: 12.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 141 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 3.57 mit
About Half of Sun-Like Stars Could Host Rocky, Potentially Habitable Planets Thu, 29 Oct 2020 07:00 EDT According to new research using data from NASA’s retired planet-hunting mission, the Kepler space telescope, about half the stars similar in temperature to our Sun could have a rocky planet capable of supporting liquid water on its surface. Match ID: 126 Score: 12.14 source: www.nasa.gov age: 352 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 2.86 planets
Gravity Assist: Puffy Planets, Powerful Telescopes, with Knicole Colon Fri, 12 Jun 2020 09:01 EDT NASA astrophysicist Knicole Colon describes her work on the Kepler, Hubble, TESS and Webb missions, and takes us on a tour of some of her favorite planets. Match ID: 127 Score: 12.14 source: www.nasa.gov age: 491 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa, 2.86 planets
NASA Invites Media to James Webb Space Telescope Launch Fri, 08 Oct 2021 14:59 EDT Members of the media may now register their interest in attending the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the premier space science observatory for the next decade. Match ID: 128 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 8 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
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NASA Releases Climate Action Plan Thu, 07 Oct 2021 11:41 EDT NASA released a climate action plan Thursday, Oct. 7, aimed at averting mission impacts due to climate change, ensuring the resiliency of facilities and assets, and providing the nation and world unique climate observations, analysis, and modeling through scientific research. Match ID: 131 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 9 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Sets Coverage, Invites Public to Virtually Join Lucy Launch Wed, 06 Oct 2021 16:11 EDT NASA will provide coverage of upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for Lucy, the agency’s first mission to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. Match ID: 132 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 10 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/06/2021 Wed, 06 Oct 2021 16:00:31 +0000 Payloads: Immersive Exercise: A crewmember charged the Wireless VR Headset with the Pilote Headset Cable on the USB multiport in preparation for Immersive Exercise operations. The Immersive Exercise project focuses on the development of a virtual reality (VR) environment for biking sessions aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The VR equipment is interfaced with the … Match ID: 133 Score: 9.29 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 10 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
The European Space Agency is playing a vital role in humankind’s return to the Moon. In a few months NASA will launch Artemis I from the Kennedy Space Center. The uncrewed mission will carry NASA’s Orion spacecraft incorporating ESA’s European Service Module (ESM-1), built and tested by Airbus Bremen, in Germany, with the help of 10 European nations. ESM-1’s main engine and 32 thrusters will propel Orion into orbit around the Moon and return it to Earth.
As Artemis I prepares for launch, the second European Service Module (ESM-2) is about to ship to the US with ESM-3 also currently under construction. The second Artemis mission, however, has a crucial difference: it will carry four astronauts for a lunar flyby. ESM-2 will provide propulsion, power, oxygen, water and life support as well as controlling the temperature in the orbiting crew module. ESM-3 will go one step further and put the first person on the Moon for 50 years.
This film features soundbites from: Matthias Gronwoski, Chief Engineer Orion ESM, Airbus; Rachid Amerkrane, Project Manager Orion ESM, Airbus; Philippe Deloo, ESM Programme Manager, ESA.
Match ID: 134 Score: 9.29 source: www.esa.int age: 10 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/05/2021 Tue, 05 Oct 2021 16:00:02 +0000 Vehicle Traffic: 65S Launch and Dock: 65S successfully launched at 3:55 AM CT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Spaceflight Participant Klim Shipenko, and Spaceflight Participant Yulia Peresild on board. The vehicle docked at MRM1 at 7:22 AM CT. The ISS complement has increased to 8 crewmembers and 2 spaceflight participants and will … Match ID: 135 Score: 9.29 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 11 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
On 4 October 2021 ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet became commander of the International Space Station, taking over from Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut and fellow Crew-2 member Akihiko Hoshide. Thomas will hold this role until shortly before Crew-2 return to Earth in November. Thomas officially accepted his new position during a traditional ceremony, broadcast live from the International Space Station, where a symbolic handover of a key from Aki to Thomas denoted the change of command. The full title of this role is International Space Station crew commander. While overall command of the Station lies with ground-based flight directors, unless there is an emergency on board, the role of crew commander is vital to mission success. Aki became commander on 27 April 2021 when he took over from NASA astronaut Shannon Walker. In September Aki and Thomas conducted the first spacewalk without a Russian or US astronaut.
Match ID: 136 Score: 9.29 source: www.esa.int age: 11 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
La NASA y FEMA presentarán la serie Alianza para la Acción Climática en octubre Tue, 05 Oct 2021 10:02 EDT La NASA y la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por sus siglas en inglés) serán coanfitriones de la Alianza para la Acción Climática, una serie virtual para abordar la creciente demanda de información precisa, pronta y práctica en una era de rápido cambio climático global. Match ID: 137 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 11 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA, FEMA to Host Alliance for Climate Action Series in October Tue, 05 Oct 2021 09:01 EDT NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will co-host the Alliances for Climate Action, a virtual series to address rising demand for accurate, timely, and actionable information at a time of rapid global climate change. Match ID: 138 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 11 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/04/2021 Mon, 04 Oct 2021 16:00:42 +0000 Payloads: Cool Flames Investigation with Gases: A crewmember replaced the bottle in CIR Manifold #4 with 100 percent C4H10 (Butane). Cool diffusion flames were discovered during droplet combustion experiments aboard the ISS in 2012, and this initiated a rapidly growing field of combustion research. A cool flame is one that burns at about 600 degrees … Match ID: 139 Score: 9.29 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 12 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet takes you on a tour of the International Space Station like no other. Filmed with a 360 camera, the Space Station 360 series lets you explore for yourself alongside Thomas’s explanation – episode seven is NASA’s Destiny laboratory.
The International Space Station’s fourth module, Destiny, was waunched on 7 February 2001 on Space Shuttle Atlantis. The American module is the heart of the non-Russian part of the Station and allows experiments to be performed in many disciplines, from biology to physics, including a rack for burning liquids in weightlessness and the European Microgravity Science Glovebox.
Conductive bonding agents play a fundamental role in ensuring reliable electrical connectivity in many electromechanical assemblies designed to operate at the extremes of temperature and pressure of space. Failure of a single bond between conductive components in an assembly can ripple rapidly through mechanical and electrical systems, ultimately threatening spacecraft integrity and crew safety. In two applications, Master Bond EP21TDCS-LO conductive epoxy met critical requirements for maintaining robust bonds in electromechanical systems intended to operate in space conditions.
Master Bond Polymer System EP21TDCS-LO is a two component, silver-filled epoxy designed to ensure high-strength conductive bonds between dissimilar materials at temperatures down to 4K. Unlike most two-part silver-filled adhesives, Master Bond EP21TDCS-LO uses a simple one-to-one mix ratio that remains workable for 30-40 minutes and cures at room temperature in 24-48 hours or in 1-2 hours at 200°F. With volume resistivity less than 10
-3 ohm-cm, this adhesive cures to an electrically conductive bond that combines high strength (shear strength over 850 psi) and flexibility (T-peel strength over 5 pounds per linear inch) – properties unusual in a silver epoxy. Along with its workability and performance characteristics, Master Bond EP21TDCS-LO meets critical requirements for space operations including passing NASA low-outgassing test criteria.
The applications listed in the table below highlight use of Master Bond EP21TDCS-LO in ensuring high-strength, conductive bonds in assemblies designed to survive the harsh conditions of space.
Bonding electrodes needed to generate electric fields for EHD
Ease of use for bonding dissimilar materials
Bond conductivity and durability through extended mechanical, thermal, and electrical stress
Non-reactive, no volatiles, NASA-outgassing compliant
1Dekany, Justin; Johnson, Robert H.; Wilson, Gregory; Evans, Amberly; and Dennison, JR, "Ultrahigh Vacuum Cryostat System for Extended Low Temperature Space Environment Testing," All Physics Faculty Publications, Paper 1455, 2012.
2Sinnamon, Samuel, "Coolant Distribution Control in Satellite Structural Panels Using Electrohydrodynamic Conduction Pumping," MS thesis, Mechanical Engineering, University of New Mexico, May 2012.
Match ID: 141 Score: 9.29 source: www.masterbond.com age: 15 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Since its introduction in 1978, Master Bond EP29LPSP has been the epoxy compound of choice in a variety of challenging applications. Ideal for demanding cryogenic environments, two-part EP29LPSP can withstand temperatures as low as 4K and can resist cryogenic shock when, for instance, it is cooled from room temperature to cryogenic temperatures within a 5-10 minute window. Optically clear EP29LPSP has superior physical strength, electrical insulation, and chemical resistance properties. It also meets NASA low outgassing requirements and exhibits a low exotherm during cure. This low viscosity compound is easy to apply and bonds well to metals, glass, ceramics, and many different plastics. Curable at room temperature, EP29LPSP attains its best results when cured at 130-165°F for 6-8 hours.
In over a dozen published research articles, patents, and manufacturers' specifications, scientists and engineers have identified EP29LPSP for use in their applications due to its unparalleled performance in one or more areas. Table 1 highlights several commercial and research applications that use Master Bond EP29LPSP. Table 2 summarizes several patents that reference EP29LPSP. Following each table are brief descriptions of the role Master Bond EP29LPSP plays in each application or invention.
The success of any engineered product depends on the performance of all of its parts, including any chemical compound used to join or protect one or more parts. If an adhesive, coating, or potting compound fails, the product fails. Leading companies, research labs, and inventors around the world rely on Master Bond EP29LPSP to perform unfailingly in extremely demanding applications.
1Manufacturing Specification and Statement of Work: FLARE (Facility for Laboratory Reconnection Experiments) Project —Fabrication of Flux Core, FLARE-Spec-03-Rev.00, WP1995, Revision 0, Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory, 19 Mar. 2015. flare.pppl.gov/Construction/FLARE%20FCSpec-03%2019Mar15.pdf.
2Lee, David, et al. Properties of optical fibres at cryogenic temperatures. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 326, no. 2, 11 Sept. 2001, pp. 774-780. ResearchGate, doi: 10.1046/j.1365-8711.2001.04630.x. Accessed 2 Aug. 2017.
4Chen, Bingqiang. Numerical Performance Prediction of a Miniature Ramjet at Mach 4, MS thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2012.
5 Xu, Jingke. Study of Argon from Underground Sources for Direct Dark Matter Detection. Dissertation, Princeton University, 2013.
Match ID: 142 Score: 9.29 source: www.masterbond.com age: 15 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
ISS Daily Summary Report – 10/01/2021 Fri, 01 Oct 2021 16:00:13 +0000 Payloads: Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF): The crew gained access to the ELF facility, removed and stowed processed samples, replaced four fixation fasteners, and then installed a new sample cartridge. ELF is an experimental facility designed to levitate, melt, and solidify materials by container-less processing techniques using the electrostatic levitation method. With this facility, thermophysical properties of high temperature melts can be … Match ID: 143 Score: 9.29 source: blogs.nasa.gov age: 15 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Issues Contracts to Mature Electrified Aircraft Propulsion Technologies Thu, 30 Sep 2021 16:03 EDT NASA has selected two U.S. companies to support its Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) that will rapidly mature Electrified Aircraft Propulsion (EAP) technologies through ground and flight demonstrations. Match ID: 144 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 16 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA’s Lucy Mission Prepares for Launch to Trojan Asteroids Tue, 28 Sep 2021 13:59 EDT NASA has tested the functions of Lucy, the agency’s first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, filled it with fuel, and is preparing to pack it into a capsule for launch Saturday, Oct. 16. Match ID: 145 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 18 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Transfers Air Traffic Management Tool Updates to FAA Tue, 28 Sep 2021 12:07 EDT As part of an effort aimed at making aviation more sustainable, NASA has transferred findings from an air traffic management project to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for nationwide implementation, the two agencies announced at a media briefing Tuesday. Match ID: 146 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 18 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is on his second mission to the International Space Station called Alpha. In this video Thomas explains the process behind relocating the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour to another port on the Space Station.
NASA astronauts Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide and Thomas flew to the International Space Station in Crew Dragon Endeavour as part of Crew-2. On 21 July the four astronauts got into their spacesuits and took their Dragon spacecraft for a spin to undock from the forward port of Harmony and redocked with the same module on another port.
Over 200 experiments are planned during Thomas’ time in space, with 40 European ones and 12 new experiments led by the French space agency CNES.
Match ID: 147 Score: 9.29 source: www.esa.int age: 18 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Launches New Mission to Monitor Earth’s Landscapes Mon, 27 Sep 2021 15:47 EDT Landsat 9, a NASA satellite built to monitor the Earth’s land surface, successfully launched at 2:12 p.m. EDT Monday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Match ID: 148 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 19 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Announces Virtual Webb STEAM Day Event for Students, Educators Thu, 23 Sep 2021 10:20 EDT NASA invites learners of all ages, including students and teachers who recently returned to the classroom environment, to register for a special event ahead of the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Match ID: 149 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 23 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA, FAA Invite Media to Briefing on Air Traffic Control Updates Wed, 22 Sep 2021 09:58 EDT NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will hold a virtual briefing for media Tuesday, Sept., 28 at 1 p.m. EDT to discuss efforts to improve the sustainability of aviation through the demonstration of more efficient airport operations, contributing to the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to tackle climate change. Match ID: 150 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 24 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Invites Media to Webb Telescope Prelaunch Events in French Guiana Wed, 22 Sep 2021 08:33 EDT NASA invites members of the media to register their interest in attending events in French Guiana ahead of the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a mission led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies. Match ID: 151 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 24 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA TV to Air Landsat 9 Launch, Prelaunch Activities Mon, 20 Sep 2021 13:18 EDT NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the Landsat 9 satellite, a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission that will continue the legacy of monitoring Earth’s land and coastal regions that began with the first Landsat satellite in 1972. Match ID: 152 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 26 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Statement on National Aerospace Week Wed, 15 Sep 2021 10:51 EDT The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on National Aerospace Week, hosted by Aerospace Industries Sept. 13-17. This week recognizes innovations from aerospace manufacturers, suppliers, and workforce. Match ID: 153 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 31 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Innovations Will Help US Meet Sustainable Aviation Goals Thu, 09 Sep 2021 15:06 EDT NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined federal government and industry leaders Thursday at a White House event highlighting sustainable aviation and the administration’s focus on medium- and long-term goals to combat climate change. Match ID: 154 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 37 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Readies James Webb Space Telescope for December Launch Wed, 08 Sep 2021 08:59 EDT NASA plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit Dec. 18, 2021, to serve as the premier deep space observatory for the next decade. Match ID: 155 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 38 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Begins Air Taxi Flight Testing with Joby Wed, 01 Sep 2021 08:06 EDT NASA began flight testing Monday with Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft as part of the agency’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign. Match ID: 156 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 45 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Media Invited to Virtual Briefing on Launch of NASA, USGS Landsat 9 Fri, 27 Aug 2021 14:00 EDT Officials from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will discuss next month’s planned launch of the Landsat 9 satellite during a media briefing at 10 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 31. Match ID: 157 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 50 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Spacecraft Provides Insight into Asteroid Bennu’s Future Orbit Wed, 11 Aug 2021 12:19 EDT NASA researchers used precision-tracking data from the agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to better understand movements of the potentially hazardous asteroid Bennu, significantly reducing uncertainties related to its future orbit, and improving scientists’ ability to determine the total impact probability and predict orbits of other asteroids. Match ID: 158 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 66 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is currently preparing for its 12th flight in Jezero Crater on Mars, which is 11 flights more than was strictly necessary for NASA to have declared the technology demonstrator a success. Over the last four months, Ingenuity has proven that flight on Mars is not only possible, but practical, and can contribute tangible scientific value—even for a vehicle that was not designed to do much in the way of science at all.
The question now is how Ingenuity's spectacular performance will influence NASA's future Mars exploration strategy.
It turns out NASA has been thinking about this since long before Ingenuity landed on Mars. About three years ago, as Ingenuity's design and testing phase was mostly over and the Perseverance rover was getting closer to launch, roboticists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NASA Ames Research Center, and
AeroVironment (a company that helped to develop Ingenuity) got together and began to sketch out what a next generation Mars helicopter might look like. How would a Martian helicopter effectively scale up? What kinds of science instruments could it carry? What missions could only be done with such a helicopter?
The result was the
Mars Science Helicopter (MSH), a 30-kilogram hexacopter able to do unique science on the Martian surface without requiring rover support.
The first element in JPL's design approach was to provide as many options as possible to the scientific community, explains
J. (Bob) Balaram, Ingenuity Chief Engineer at JPL and one of the authors of a white paper on the Mars Science Helicopter. That meant thinking about all kinds of different vehicle sizes and mission architectures. "Ingenuity could be scaled both up and down," Balaram tells us. "We could make it even smaller, into a scout. Or, we could scale it up into a full-size standalone helicopter. And there are things in between, maybe something in the 5kg class, where it's taking samples from distant sites and bringing them back to a lander for analysis." JPL presented this menu of Mars helicopter options to planetary scientists, asking them to imagine what kinds of new research might be possible with each platform. And there's a lot to imagine.
Airborne Science on Mars
"This is a brand new way of looking at Mars," Balaram says. "Aerial mobility gives you reach, range, and resolution. You can reach places that no wheeled vehicle can get to. You can travel kilometers every day. And depending on what height you fly at, you can get whatever resolution you want with your instruments. We were just telling the scientists, think big!"
Here are examples of some of the ways in which scientists have been thinking big, in the form of two potential missions for a future Mars Science Helicopter.
Mawrth Vallis: Searching for Life at Inaccessible Sites
A version of MSH could image and sample crater walls, inaccessible to ground robots.
Mawrth Vallis is a huge 640-kilometer long outflow channel that may have hosted rivers, lakes, and wetlands about 3.5 billion years ago. On Earth, minerals found at sites like these preserve organic material. This mission concept would combine a stationary lander with smaller helicopter using a two rotor coaxial design, similar to Ingenuity. The helicopter would scout for promising locations over a wide area, and then use an arm and microdrill to bring samples back to the lander, which would carry science instruments including a micro-imaging suite and a life-detection instrument. And on the off chance that life is discovered on Mars, airborne sampling from a helicopter would help to guard against contamination.
Milankovič Crater: Mapping Subsurface Water Ice
A hexacopter version of MSH could map subsurface water ice over a large area, while also collecting atmospheric data from the lower atmosphere that's hard to measure from the surface or from orbit.
High northern latitudes on Mars are thought to host a significant amount of water ice just under the surface. This is important for understanding the water cycle and climate history of Mars, and also because water ice can potentially provide oxygen to breathe as well as rocket fuel for future human exploration. Creating accurate maps of subsurface ice from orbit is challenging, but a large hexacopter version of MSH equipped with a neutron spectrometer, infrared imager, and meteorology package would be able to provide high resolution data over a very large area.
"You'd shoot a little projectile from the drone that embeds itself in the cliff wall, and then you'd reel it back in with a sample."
Within these mission scenarios, perhaps the most astonishing potential application suggested in the white paper is contact interrogations of otherwise inaccessible surfaces—that is, taking in-flight samples of rocks or soil from areas that a rover (and perhaps even a human) could never reach, like midway up a cliff wall. "The ability to do station keeping against a cliff wall is fairly standard machine vision," Balaram says. "So then the question becomes, what is the actual end effector? You can imagine something like a penetrator with a reel-in device. You'd shoot a little projectile from the drone that embeds itself in the cliff wall, and then you'd reel it back in with a sample. Or maybe you find some green slime that you want to collect, so you shoot something at it that's sticky, like fly paper. This is the kind of science that we can potentially do."
A Serious Engineering Effort
Each of the Mars Science Helicopter's rotors is the size of Ingenuity's rotors. Balaram describes MSH as "basically six Ingenuitys."
Although MSH's science payload is still very conceptual, Balaram says that the concept for the vehicle itself "isn't just a cartoon—it's a serious engineering effort." The hexacopter shown in the rendering above is the most mature design; JPL considered simply scaling up Ingenuity and making MSH a larger coaxial helicopter, but Balaram explains that there were some control issues that, while not unsolvable, make a hexarotor design more appealing. The hexacopter airframe will be somewhat heavier than the coaxial design, but a hexacopter also has the advantage of being able to operate with one (or even possibly two) nonfunctional rotors.
The current MSH concept has a mass of about 31 kg and a total diameter of just over four meters, with six rotors each sporting a quartet of 0.64 meter blades. The payload of 5 kg gives MSH what Balaram calls a very attractive sweet spot for science instruments. MSH would have a top speed of about 30 m/s, a five minute hover time, or a range of up to 10km per flight, and a solar cell on top of the vehicle would be able to recharge MSH's batteries over the course of one Martian day. This kind of range and speed means that MSH could cover as much ground in a few days as a rover like Curiosity has covered in years. JPL and its partners have also been working on things like blade design, manufacturability, and how MSH would fold up inside of an aeroshell for entry, descent, and landing. There's even the exciting possibility of a mid-air deployment as part of the landing process, which would avoid the additional cost and complexity of a dedicated lander.
MSH could fold up to fit inside of the same aeroshell used for the Mars Pathfinder mission.
Since much of the work done on the Mars Science Helicopter took place before Perseverance and Ingenuity landed on Mars, the MSH team has been learning a lot about Martian rotorcraft operations from how Ingenuity has been performing over the last several months, which in turn is informing design decisions about MSH. "One of the main unknowns that we had was how much we could rely upon orbital images to pick landing sites," Balaram says. Ingenuity has shown that orbital images are actually pretty good for this, and even with relatively low resolution images, finding safe landing fields is fairly reliable. This means MSH might not need quite as sophisticated of a hazard detection system for making autonomous landings, simplifying the design and saving mass. Ingenuity's experience has also given the MSH team more confidence about flying in windy conditions. "In terms of the control performance, Ingenuity has turned out to be exceeding our expectations," says Balaram, which translates into potentially tuning the performance of MSH to be a little less conservative. "It's kind of like, let's just relax our design margins, because some of the tough problems that we thought were tough are probably not as challenging as we thought they could be. So those lessons learned feed forward into the science helicopter."
Ingenuity has also shown how modern computing hardware and software can be used in spacecraft. Its technology demo status meant that JPL could get a little more creative than normal, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 running Linux which gave the little helicopter 150 times more computing power than the Perseverance rover. Balaram wants to leverage Ingenuity's success into a similar approach with MSH: "One of the things that we demonstrated with Ingenuity is even though it was a technology demo, we could still build in the right amount of redundancy through clever computing architecture. You can imagine using processors that may be slightly fragile from a radiation perspective, but that use a voting system to make decisions, running three of them in parallel. It's a way of thinking about how we want to do computing that isn't insisting on bulletproof hardware from the 90s—it's still conservative, just not necessarily the old way of doing things. And there's no fundamental reason why these kinds of things cannot be done in the next generation helicopter."
Making It Happen
Currently, NASA's Mars program is focused on sample return, and while a Mars Helicopter could play a unique and compelling role in a sample return mission, it's by no means the obvious choice. Unless NASA decides that helicopters on Mars are absolutely the way to go and funds MSH directly, the next Mars helicopter will have to survive a competitive proposal process that weighs potential science against cost, complexity, and risk. As of right now, Balaram says that the MSH concept is mature enough for a broad range of potential science missions, and that the next step is to optimize it for a specific mission scenario, taking into account a landing location, time of year, and overall goals and constraints.
If the idea of a flagship helicopter mission to Mars seems far-fetched, it's important to remember that NASA's first rover on Mars was also a small technology demonstrator: Sojourner. With an initial mission length of seven Martian days, Sojourner stayed active for 83 days, and helped to give NASA the experience and confidence required to send first the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and then the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, to Mars.
Like Sojourner, Ingenuity is really just a brief preview of what a science helicopter mission could do, and Bob Balaram believes that the concept has proved itself. Given that Ingenuity has been "very effective, I'm hopeful that NASA will give us the chance to engage with Mars in a completely new way with MSH," Balaram tells us. "We've opened up aerial mobility on Mars. We've landed in a few places, and flown a little bit here and there. But let's put our imaginations to the test and see what we could do if we had access to the whole planet—what could we achieve? That's what the challenge is for all of us. To imagine that, and then make it happen."
Match ID: 159 Score: 9.29 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 67 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Renews Support of Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence Tue, 10 Aug 2021 10:57 EDT NASA is continuing its support of university research into technologies for future helicopters and other vertical lift aircraft in partnership with the U.S. Army and Navy. Match ID: 160 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 67 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA’s TESS Tunes into an All-sky ‘Symphony’ of Red Giant Stars Wed, 04 Aug 2021 17:00 EDT Using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, astronomers have identified a vast collection of pulsating red giant stars that will help us explore our galactic neighborhood. Match ID: 161 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 73 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Media Invited to Learn About NASA Mission to Study Intense Storms Wed, 21 Jul 2021 11:40 EDT NASA is inviting media to learn more about an upcoming airborne science campaign to study intense summer thunderstorms over the central United States, which will aid scientists in their understanding of how such storms affect Earth’s atmosphere and climate change. Match ID: 162 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 87 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Invites Media to Launch of Landsat 9 From West Coast Mon, 19 Jul 2021 15:41 EDT Media accreditation is open for the upcoming launch of the Landsat 9 satellite, a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission that will continue the legacy of monitoring Earth’s land and coastal regions that began with the first Landsat in 1972. Match ID: 163 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 89 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Unmanned Aircraft Destroyed During Research Test Flight Fri, 09 Jul 2021 18:00 EDT Today shortly after 7:30 a.m., the X-56B remotely piloted experimental aircraft experienced an anomaly after takeoff from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. Match ID: 165 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 99 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA-DLR Study Finds Sustainable Aviation Fuel Can Reduce Contrails Thu, 17 Jun 2021 11:00 EDT Cleaner-burning jet fuels made from sustainable sources can produce 50%-70% fewer ice crystal contrails at cruising altitude, reducing aviation’s impact on the environment, according to research conducted by NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Match ID: 166 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 121 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
How do you pack food for a trip to Mars? This is not a trick question. As astronauts and space scientists gear up for longer missions and spaceflights—just the journey to and from Mars takes about six months—they will need an adequate supply of food, for which they need refrigeration.
The problems: Earthly refrigerators don’t work in zero gravity and existing cooling systems aren’t efficient enough. So for decades, scientists have struggled to build a refrigerator suitable for space.
Now a solution may be nigh. A team of engineers from Purdue University, in collaboration with Whirlpool and the technology company Air Squared, have designed a refrigerator that cools food with a vapor-compression cycle similar to conventional fridges, but without oil, that could work in zero gravity.
In May 2020, they tested the prototype in a microgravity lab, a specially designed plane for parabolic flights that provides a series of 20-second intervals of weightlessness during which scientists make their observations.
On the flight, they tested the fridge’s vulnerability to liquid flooding the compressor and to check if microgravity affects the vapor-compression cycles. While data analysis is still pending, the tests indicated that the prototype does not show a higher likelihood of flooding in microgravity, and works just as well in those conditions. This microwave-sized design would also fit into the International Space Station’s rack system.
When they started working on the project, says Leon Brendel, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Purdue, and part of the research team, they weren’t sure what to expect. “One problem was easy to identify, and that is the oil lubrication of the compressor,” says Brendel. Conventional compressors, like the ones in fridges and air conditioners on Earth, pick up oil from a sump at the bottom, where it accumulates because of gravity. Without gravity, that lubrication system would not work.
“The thrust of the project [therefore] was to develop an oil-free compressor that is suitable for the refrigeration temperatures we wanted to achieve,” Brendel adds. For this, the team used special oil-free compressors, developed by Air Squared, with proprietary manufacturing techniques and the use of greased bearings to lubricate the wearing components.
The other challenge was the presence of both liquid and vapor the refrigeration cycle. “With gravity they behave very predictably—liquid has a higher density, so it will be at the bottom, and the vapor will be in the form of bubbles or will be on top of the liquid.” Take away gravity, and not only is there nothing to pull the liquid down anymore, the flow patterns of the fluids are extremely difficult to predict, increasing the possibility of liquid flooding.
Even in terrestrial applications, Brendel says, liquid flooding is fairly prevalent, causing damage or complete failure in the compressor. But “because liquid [travels] in one direction [due to gravity], you can build a…liquid trap.” In microgravity, this is not possible. Thus, one of their experiments was dedicated solely to this—checking if liquid reaches the compressor.
Purdue researchers Leon Brendel (right) and Eckhard Groll stand next to the experiment.
JARED PIKE/PURDUE UNIVERSITY
“What we did, in simple terms, [is] work on the system until it was orientation independent,” says Brendel. Before testing it on the parabolic flight, the researchers had ensured the prototype worked in different orientations—sideways, upside-down, and so on. Since there is no way to simulate microgravity on the ground, they changed the relative direction of gravity instead.
The Purdue team also worked closely with Michael Ewert, a NASA engineer, who has extensive experience researching and building refrigeration systems for space. The collaboration also resulted in a paper reviewing literature on vapor compression refrigeration in microgravity environments.
There are still corners to iron out, says Brendel. “There are a few situations, particularly when the system is off, that could lead to liquid reaching the compressor. So we want to work on a liquid containment system.”
Another aspect that they did not look into much, but needs to be addressed, is the defrosting of the evaporator. “You [could] just use a big fan to blow the droplets off the evaporator,” Brendel says. “Alternatively, there are special coatings for surfaces, which would basically absorb and transport the water away from the evaporator. Both are options, but we haven't settled on a solution yet.”
Match ID: 167 Score: 9.29 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 128 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Ever since humans started launching rockets into space, the amount of junk flying around Earth has been growing, to the point where debris has damaged satellites or forced the space station to shift its orbit. Now researchers in Australia want to use lasers to track the wayward particles, and even shove them out of the way before they cause problems.
“If we leave all this debris in space, eventually they are going to collide with each other and there's going to be a snowballing effect where more debris is created,” says Celine D’Orgeville, a professor at Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Canberra. “And at some point it would be so much debris at certain altitudes that we won't be able to use those altitudes anymore for human endeavors.”
She’s talking about the Kessler syndrome, shown to dramatic—and exaggerated—effect in the 2013 movie Gravity. Though it’s unlikely to produce a dramatic cascade of orbital crashes that shreds the International Space Station and leaves Sandra Bullock wearing a spacesuit in a lake, the space junk can cause problems. NASA says there are more than half a million pieces of debris, from disused satellites to flecks of paint, speeding around the earth at up to 17,500 mph.
D’Orgeville and her colleagues propose applyingadaptive optics, a technique widely used in astronomy, to the problem of tracking the smaller pieces of debris, between 1 and 10 cm in size, which can be hard to see. Adaptive optics lets astronomers overcome the atmospheric turbulence caused by changes in pressure and temperature that makes the stars twinkle.
To do that, astronomers create a laser guide star by firing a yellow laser beam through a telescope. The beam strikes a layer of sodium particles high in the atmosphere, above the turbulence, and bounces back. Photodetectors measure distortions in the reflected beam to calculate the amount of turbulence, then instruct a series of actuators on a deformable mirror to push and pull on different parts of the mirror to compensate for the distortion. That causes a dramatic improvement in focus.
ANU instrument scientist Celine d'Orgeville stands in front of the EOS 1.8 meter telescope at Mount Stromlo Observatory.
Using the system, D’Orgeville and her colleagues can fire a series of infrared laser pulses at the orbiting flotsam to measure where they are and where they’re headed. Without adaptive optics, they wouldn’t be able to focus the infrared laser well enough to find small objects. Knowing the path of the debris, they can warn, say, a communications satellite to alter its orbit slightly to avoid getting hit.
But the team wants to go further than that, and use yet another laser to actually push some of the debris out of the way. If they discover that two tiny pieces of space junk were headed for a crash—which might result in more, harder-to-track debris—they could fire a 20-kilowatt infrared laser at one of the pieces. The light pressure from the laser would be enough, after a few shots, to gently nudge the junk onto a different trajectory. “It's not going to destroy the debris or anything, but at least you can move it out of its way,” she says. “So the idea is to delay the Kessler effect.”
If they wanted to actually destroy the space junk, they could push it into a lower orbit, until it fell into the atmosphere and burned up like a meteor. But barring the development any sort of “tractor beam”-like pulling force, the laser would probably have to be based in space, where it could more easily push debris toward the planet.
The idea was developed at ANU’s Space Environment Research Centre, whose government funding recently dried up, so D’Orgeville is looking for a new funding source to help her demonstrate the proposal. All of the laser and adaptive optics equipment is available at the university’s Mt. Stromlo Observatory outside Canberra.
And she wants to reassure anyone who worries she may be shooting airplanes out of the sky or destroying expensive government satellites. There are regulations in place to avoid interfering with sky and orbital traffic, and the laser doesn’t pack that kind of punch. “We're nowhere near the power that would be required to damage anything,” she says. “We're just using pressure to change the orbit by a few centimeters at a time.”
Match ID: 169 Score: 9.29 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 155 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Planetary Sleuthing Finds Triple-Star World Mon, 11 Jan 2021 13:40 EST Years after its detection, astronomers have confirmed a planet called KOI-5Ab orbiting in a triple-star system with a skewed configuration. Match ID: 170 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 278 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
NASA Awards SETI Institute Contract for Planetary Protection Support Fri, 10 Jul 2020 12:04 EDT NASA has awarded the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, a contract to support all phases of current and future planetary protection missions to ensure compliance with planetary protection standards. Match ID: 171 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 463 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Imagining Another Earth Thu, 28 May 2020 10:27 EDT This artist's concept shows exoplanet Kepler-1649c orbiting around its host red dwarf star. Match ID: 172 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 506 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
AAS Names 29 NASA-Affiliated Legacy Fellows Thu, 30 Apr 2020 09:00 EDT Twenty-nine scientists working at or affiliated with NASA have been named Fellows of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Match ID: 174 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 534 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Earth-Size, Habitable Zone Planet Found Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data Wed, 15 Apr 2020 11:21 EDT A team of transatlantic scientists, using reanalyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star's habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water. Match ID: 176 Score: 9.29 source: www.nasa.gov age: 549 days qualifiers: 9.29 nasa
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):
A busy commuter is ready to walk out the door, only to realize they've misplaced their keys and must search through piles of stuff to find them. Rapidly sifting through clutter, they wish they could figure out which pile was hiding the keys. Researchers at MIT have created a robotic system that can do just that. The system, RFusion, is a robotic arm with a camera and radio frequency (RF) antenna attached to its gripper. It fuses signals from the antenna with visual input from the camera to locate and retrieve an item, even if the item is buried under a pile and completely out of view.
While finding lost keys is helpful, RFusion could have many broader applications in the future, like sorting through piles to fulfill orders in a warehouse, identifying and installing components in an auto manufacturing plant, or helping an elderly individual perform daily tasks in the home, though the current prototype isn't quite fast enough yet for these uses.
If you watch this video closely, you'll see that whenever a simulated ANYmal falls over, it vanishes from existence. This is a new technique for teaching robots to walk by threatening them with extinction if they fail.
In August the
U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered its starkest warning ever. The IPCC concluded that human influence has unequivocally warmed the planet and changed weather patterns. At the same time, it noted, there is still a window in which humans can alter Earth's climate path. The actions we take to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases can impact the future climate, the report emphasizes.
There are many ways that members of the technical and scientific community can help with this urgent and important grand challenge. One natural fertile area that we can exploit is information technology.
Information and communication technology together are responsible for an
estimated 1.4 percent of global CO2 emissions. There are ways to lower those emissions. But the IT sector also holds the potential to help reduce overall global emissions. In fact, a report by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative estimates that IT solutions can help cut nearly 10 times more CO2 than they emit.
Here are several strategies we can employ to address the climate crisis and create a sustainable environment for us and the generations that follow. They can all be categorized as ways to "Green IT," an umbrella term referring to environmentally sound information technologies and systems, applications, and practices. I address them more fully in a recent
Cutter Consortium report, Greening IT: Need and Opportunities, which you can access for free.
1. GREENING OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
This inward-looking approach focuses on reengineering IT products and processes to improve their energy efficiency, maximize their use, minimize their carbon footprint, and meet compliance requirements. We can make elements of IT greener, including hardware, software, data centers, and the Internet of Things. To make the entire life cycle of IT greener, we must address environmental impacts and sustainability in three major areas associated with computers: their design and manufacture; their use; and their disposal, reuse, and recycling.
What many don't realize is that, like hardware, software can contribute to environmental problems. Computationally inefficient software can have a major impact on energy consumption, and hence the need for environmentally friendly types, branded as
The computational demands and use of advanced artificial-intelligence and machine-learning systems are increasing significantly. From 2012 to 2018, for instance, the
computational cost of advanced AI applications that use deep-learning models increased by 300,000 times, causing a significant rise in electric power consumption and resource utilization. The wasteful approach of throwing more computing power at a problem to get better results has been dubbed red AI. The emerging green AI, or environmentally friendly AI, on the other hand, addresses the issue by minimizing ML's computational demand and reducing its carbon footprint.
As outlined in a recent
IEEE Spectrumarticle, AI can be made greener by developing and using a less-power-consuming ML model; creating and sharing reproducible code that will reduce duplicated efforts; and developing and using specialized hardware optimized for AI workload. For more details, refer to this article. The IEEE Special Interest Group on Green AI focuses on issues related to performance and power efficiency in green AI.
The other embodiment of green AI is the use of artificial intelligence as a powerful enabler or tool in minimizing carbon emissions in other key industry sectors, as briefly outlined below.
2. GREENING BY IT
In addition to making IT greener, engineers can use it to help make manufacturing, energy, agriculture, health care, and buildings greener. Software can be used, for example, to analyze, model, and simulate environmental impacts in areas such as manufacturing, logistics, and transportation. Algorithms could help logistics firms optimize routes and manage fleets. Sensors and wireless sensor networks can facilitate collection of real-time data and improve efficiency in a range of applications.
U.K grocery chain
Morrisons, for example, uses external and internal data sets such as weather, sales information, and real-time inventory to optimize demand and replenishment—which has resulted in reduced waste, according to industry publication RetailWeek.
Machine learning and other software tools can help guide decisions that could reduce carbon emissions. Electronics company
Bosch, for example, used AI to predict its future energy consumption, avoid high peaking loads, and manage patterns of consumption, resulting in emissions reduction by 10 percent in two years.
3. GREEN AWARENESS
Many people are not yet aware of how serious the climate crisis is and how it affects them and the world. IT can help keep them informed and get them more involved.
use social media and websites to disseminate information and create collaborative platforms for raising awareness of the climate crisis and environmental sustainability, as well as for promoting best practices and behavioral changes. The WikiHow Environmental Awareness web page, for example, presents information that the public can easily comprehend. On its social media pages and relevant LinkedIn groups, people can post links to news articles, reports, and scientific evidence and videos from trusted sources. They can discuss changes that have happened in their community due to climate change and the practices they have adopted, and they can motivate others to adopt them.
CarbonClick is a platform that generates support for a greener planet by connecting people to carbon-offset projects. It offers businesses and volunteer teams a simple, trustworthy, and cost-effective solution that enables them to develop and manage programs.
Online tools such as those on the
UKCIP website can help organizations, industry sectors, and governments address the crisis.
For many companies, green issues have become a priority at the board level. There are several reasons including rising energy consumption and energy prices, growing consumer interest in green products and services, higher expectations by the public regarding environmental responsibilities, and stricter compliance requirements in the works. Environmental issues affect the competitive landscape, so businesses have to create strategies that address them.
But we must look beyond the bottom line. The climate crisis is upon us, and it is the defining story of our times. It is everyone's ethical and social responsibility to do their part to decrease global warming and its disastrous consequences. We engineers and ICT professionals can and should be part of the solution. We ought to exploit the promise of IT and other technologies to deliver significant environmental, social, and economic benefits to us all—a triple win!
Let's pledge—and act now—to create a cleaner and greener planet.
It seems inevitable that sooner or later, the performance of autonomous drones will
surpass the performance of even the best human pilots. Usually things in robotics that seem inevitable happen later as opposed to sooner, but drone technology seems to be the exception to this. We've seen an astonishing amount of progress over the past few years, even to the extent of sophisticated autonomy making it into the hands of consumers at an affordable price.
The trick here, to the extent that there's a trick, is that the drone performs a direct mapping of sensor input (from an Intel RealSense 435 stereo depth camera) to collision-free trajectories. Conventional obstacle avoidance involves first collecting sensor data; making a map based on that sensor data; and finally making a plan based on that map. This approach works perfectly fine as long as you're not concerned with getting all of that done quickly, but for a drone with limited onboard resources moving at high speed, it just takes too long. UZH's approach is instead to go straight from sensor input to trajectory output, which is much faster and allows the speed of the drone to increase substantially.
The convolutional network that performs this sensor-to-trajectory mapping was trained entirely in simulation, which is cheaper and easier but (I would have to guess) less fun than letting actual drones hammer themselves against obstacles over and over until they figure things out. A simulated "expert" drone pilot that has access to a 3D point cloud, perfect state estimation, and computation that's not constrained by real-time requirements trains its own end-to-end policy, which is of course not achievable in real life. But then, the simulated system that will be operating under real-life constraints just learns in simulation to match the expert as closely as possible, which is how you get that expert-level performance in a way that can be taken out of simulation and transferred to a real drone without any adaptation or fine-tuning.
The other big part of this is making that sim-to-real transition, which can be problematic because simulation doesn't always do a great job of simulating everything that happens in the world that can screw with a robot. But this method turns out to be very robust against motion blur, sensor noise, and other perception artifacts. The drone has successfully navigated through real world environments including snowy terrains, derailed trains, ruins, thick vegetation, and collapsed buildings.
"While humans require years to train, the AI, leveraging high-performance simulators, can reach comparable navigation abilities much faster, basically overnight." -Antonio Loquercio, UZH
This is not to say that the performance here is flawless—the system still has trouble with very low illumination conditions (because the cameras simply can't see), as well as similar vision challenges like dust, fog, glare, and transparent or reflective surfaces. The training also didn't include dynamic obstacles, although the researchers tell us that moving things shouldn't be a problem even now as long as their speed relative to the drone is negligible. Many of these problems could potentially be mitigated by using
event cameras rather than traditional cameras, since faster sensors, especially ones tuned to detect motion, would be ideal for high speed drones.
The researchers tell us that their system does not (yet) surpass the performance of expert humans in these challenging environments:
Analyzing their performance indicates that humans have a very rich and detailed understanding of their surroundings and are capable of planning and executing plans that span far in the future (our approach plans only one second into the future). Both are capabilities that today's autonomous systems still lack. We see our work as a stepping stone towards faster autonomous flight that is enabled by directly predicting collision-free trajectories from high-dimensional (noisy) sensory input.
This is one of the things that is likely coming next, though—giving the drone the ability to learn and improve from real-world experience. Coupled with more capable sensors and always increasing computer power, pushing that flight envelope past 40 kph in complex environments seems like it's not just possible, but inevitable.
Match ID: 179 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 9 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Ros Atkins On... China's climate change promises Wed, 06 Oct 2021 23:00:26 GMT Ahead of COP26, Ros Atkins looks at what the world's biggest emitters are doing to tackle climate change. Match ID: 180 Score: 3.57 source: www.bbc.co.uk age: 10 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Those heels! Seems like a real sponsorship opportunity, right?
The version of LEO you see here is significantly different from the version we first met two years ago. Most importantly, while "Leonardo" used to stand for "LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne," it now stands for "LEgs ONboARD drOne," which may be the first even moderately successful re-backronym I've ever seen. Otherwise, the robot has been completely redesigned, with the version you see here sharing zero parts in hardware or software with the 2019 version. We're told that the old robot, and I'm quoting from the researchers here, "unfortunately never worked," in the sense that it was much more limited than the new one—the old design had promise, but it couldn't really walk and the thrusters were only useful for jumping augmentation as opposed to sustained flight.
To enable the new LEO to fly, it now has much lighter weight legs driven by lightweight servo motors. The thrusters have been changed from two coaxial propellers to four tilted propellers, enabling attitude control in all directions. And everything is now onboard, including computers, batteries, and a new software stack. I particularly love how LEO lands into a walking gait so gently and elegantly. Professor Soon-Jo Chung from Caltech's Aerospace Robotics and Control Lab explains how they did it:
Creatures that have more than two locomotion modes must learn and master how to properly switch between them. Birds, for instance, undergo a complex yet intriguing behavior at the transitional interface of their two locomotion modes of flying and walking. Similarly, the Leonardo robot uses synchronized control of distributed propeller-based thrusters and leg joints to realize smooth transitions between its flying and walking modes. In particular, the LEO robot follows a smooth flying trajectory up to the landing point prior to landing. The forward landing velocity is then matched to the chosen walking speed, and the walking phase is triggered when one foot touches the ground. After the touchdown, the robot continues to walk by tracking its walking trajectory. A state machine is run on-board LEO to allow for these smooth transitions, which are detected using contact sensors embedded in the foot.
It's very cool how Leo neatly solves some of the most difficult problems with bipedal robotics, including dynamic balancing and traversing large changes in height. And Leo can also do things that no biped (or human) can do, like actually fly short distances. As a multimodal hybrid of a bipedal robot and a drone, though, it's important to note that Leo's design includes some significant compromises as well. The robot has to be very lightweight in order to fly at all, which limits how effective it can be as a biped without using its thrusters for assistance. And because so much of its balancing requires active input from the thrusters, it's very inefficient relative to both drones and other bipedal robots.
When walking on the ground, LEO (which weighs 2.5kg and is 75cm tall) sucks down 544 watts, of which 445 watts go to the propellers and 99 watts are used by the electronics and legs. When flying, LEO's power consumption almost doubles, but it's obviously much faster—the robot has a cost of transport (a measure of efficiency of self-movement) of 108 when walking at a speed of 20 cm/s, dropping to 15.5 when flying at 3 m/s. Compare this to the cost of transport for an average human, which is well under 1, or a typical quadrupedal robot, which is in the low single digits. The most efficient humanoid we've ever seen, SRI's DURUS, has a cost of transport of about 1, whereas the rumor is that the cost of transport for a robot like Atlas is closer to 20.
Long term, this low efficiency could be a problem for LEO, since its battery life is good for only about 100 seconds of flight or 3.5 minutes of walking. But, explains Soon-Jo Chung, efficiency hasn't yet been a priority, and there's more that can potentially be done to improve LEO's performance, although always with some compromises:
The extreme balancing ability of LEO comes at the cost of continuously running propellers, which leads to higher energy consumption than leg-based ground robots. However, this stabilization with propellers allowed the use of low-power leg servo motors and lightweight legs with flexibility, which was a design choice to minimize the overall weight of LEO to improve its flying performance.
There are possible ways to improve the energy efficiency by making different design tradeoffs. For instance, LEO could walk with the reduced support from the propellers by adopting finite feet for better stability or higher power [leg] motors with torque control for joint actuation that would allow for fast and accurate enough foot position tracking to stabilize the walking gait. In such a case, propellers may need to turn on only when the legs fail to maintain stability on the ground without having to run continuously. These solutions would cause a weight increase and lead to a higher energy consumption during flight maneuvers, but they would lower energy consumption during walking. In the case of LEO, we aimed to achieve balanced aerial and ground locomotion capabilities, and we opted for lightweight legs. Achieving efficient walking with lightweight legs similar to LEO's is still an open challenge in the field of bipedal robots, and it remains to be investigated in future work.
A rendering of a future version of LEO with fancy yellow skins by artist Sam Binkin.
At this point in its development, the Caltech researchers have been focusing primarily on LEO's mobility systems, but they hope to get LEO doing useful stuff out in the world, and that almost certainly means giving the robot autonomy and manipulation capabilities. At the moment, LEO isn't particularly autonomous, in the sense that it follows predefined paths and doesn't decide on its own whether it should be using walking or flying to traverse a given obstacle. But the researchers are already working on ways in which LEO can make these decisions autonomously through vision and machine learning.
As for manipulation, Chung tells us that "a new version of LEO could be appended with lightweight manipulators that have similar linkage design to its legs and servo motors to expand the range of tasks it can perform," with the goal of "enabling a wide range of robotic missions that are hard to accomplish by the sole use of ground or aerial robots."
Perhaps the most well-suited applications for LEO would be the ones that involve physical interactions with structures at a high altitude, which are usually dangerous for human workers and could use robotic workers. For instance, high voltage line inspection or monitoring of tall bridges could be good applications for LEO, and LEO has an onboard camera that can be used for such purposes. In such applications, conventional biped robots have difficulties with reaching the site, and standard multi-rotor drones have an issue with stabilization in high disturbance environments. LEO uses the ground contact to its advantage and, compared to a standard multi-rotor, is more resistant to external disturbances such as wind. This would improve the safety of the robot operation in an outdoor environment where LEO can maintain contact with a rigid surface.
It's also tempting to look at LEO's ability to more or less just bypass so many of the challenges in bipedal robotics and think about ways in which it could be useful in places where bipedal robots tend to struggle. But it's important to remember that because of the compromises inherent in its multimodal design, LEO will likely be best suited for very specific tasks that can most directly leverage what it's particularly good at. High voltage line and bridge inspection is a good start, and you can easily imagine other inspection tasks that require stability combined with vertical agility. Hopefully, improvements in efficiency and autonomy will make this possible, although I'm still holding out for what Caltech's Chung originally promised: "the ultimate form of demonstration for us will be to build two of these Leonardo robots and then have them play tennis or badminton."
Match ID: 181 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 10 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Picture your favorite photograph, say, of an outdoor party. What's in the picture that you care about most? Is it your friends who were present? Is it the food you were eating? Or is it the amazing sunset in the background that you didn't notice at the time you took the picture, but looks like a painting?
Now imagine which of those details you'd choose to keep if you only had enough storage space for one of those features, instead of the entire photo.
Why would I bother to do that, you ask? I can just send the whole picture to the cloud and keep it forever.
That, however, isn't really true. We live in an age in which it's cheap to take photos but will eventually be costly to store them en masse, as backup services set limits and begin charging for overages. And we love to share our photos, so we end up storing them in multiple places. Most users don't think about it, but every image posted to Facebook, Instagram or TikTok is compressed before it shows up on your feed or timeline. Computer algorithms are constantly making choices about what visual details matter, and, based on those choices, generating lower-quality images that take up less digital space.
These compressors aim to preserve certain visual properties while glossing over others, determining what visual information can be thrown away without being noticeable. State-of-the-art image compressors—like the ones resulting in the ubiquitous
JPEG files that we all have floating around on our hard drives and shared albums in the cloud—can reduce image sizes between 5 and 100 times. But when we push the compression envelope further, artifacts emerge, including blurring, blockiness, and staircase-like bands.
Still, today's compressors provide pretty good savings in space with acceptable losses in quality. But, as engineers, we are trained to ask if we can do better. So we decided to take a step back from the standard image compression tools, and see if there is a path to better compression that, to date, hasn't been widely traveled.
We started our effort to improve image compression by considering the adage: "a picture is worth a thousand words." While that expression is intended to imply that a thousand words is a lot and an inefficient way to convey the information contained in a picture, to a computer, a thousand words isn't much data at all. In fact, a thousand digital words contain far fewer bits than any of the images we generate with our smartphones and sling around daily.
So, inspired by the aphorism, we decided to test whether it really takes about a thousand words to describe an image. Because if indeed it does, then perhaps it's possible to use the descriptive power of human language to compress images more efficiently than the algorithms used today, which work with brightness and color information at the pixel level rather than attempting to understand the contents of the image.
The key to this approach is figuring out what aspects of an image matter most to human viewers, that is, how much they actually care about the visual information that is thrown out. We believe that
evaluating compression algorithms based on theoretical and non-intuitive quantities is like gauging the success of your new cookie recipe by measuring how much the cookie deviates from a perfect circle. Cookies are designed to taste delicious, so why measure quality based on something completely unrelated to taste?
It turns out that there is a much easier way to measure image compression quality—just ask some people what they think. By doing so, we found out that humans are pretty great image compressors, and machines have a long way to go.
Algorithms for lossy compression include equations called loss functions. These measure how closely the compressed image matches the original image. A loss function close to zero indicates that the compressed and original images are very similar. The goal of lossy image compressors is to discard irrelevant details in pursuit of maximum space savings while minimizing the loss function.
We found out that humans are pretty great image compressors, and machines have a long way to go.
Some loss functions center around abstract qualities of an image that don't necessarily relate to how a human views an image. One classic loss function, for example, involves comparing the original and the compressed images pixel-by-pixel, then adding up the squared differences in pixel values. That's certainly not how most people think about the differences between two photographs. Loss functions like this one that don't reflect the priorities of the human visual system tend to result in compressed images with obvious visual flaws.
Most image compressors do take some aspects of the human visual system into account. The JPEG algorithm exploits the fact that the human visual system prioritizes areas of uniform visual information over minor details. So it often degrades features like sharp edges. JPEG, like most other video and image compression algorithms, also preserves more intensity (brightness) information than it does color, since the human eye is much more sensitive to changes in light intensity than it is to minute differences in hues.
For decades, scientists and engineers have attempted to distill aspects of human visual perception into better ways of computing the loss function. Notable among these efforts are methods to quantify the impact of blockiness, contrast, flicker and the sharpness of edges on the quality of the result as perceived by the human eye. The developers of recent compressors like Google's Guetzli encoder, a JPEG compressor that runs far slower but produces smaller files than traditional JPEG tools, tout the fact that these algorithms consider crucial aspects of human visual perception such as the differences in how the eye perceives specific colors or patterns.
But these compressors still use loss functions that are mathematical at their heart, like the pixel-by-pixel sum of squares, which are then adjusted to include some aspects of human perception.
In pursuit of a more human-centric loss function, we set out to determine how much information it takes for a human to accurately describe an image. Then we considered how concise these descriptions can get, if the describer can tap into the large repository of images on the Internet that are open to the public. Such public image databases are under-utilized in image compression today.
Our hope was that, by pairing them with human visual priorities, we could come up with a whole new paradigm for image compression.
When it comes to developing an algorithm, relying on humans for inspiration is not unusual. Consider the field of language processing. In 1951, Claude Shannon—founder of the field of information theory—used humans to determine the variability of language in order to come to an estimate of its entropy. Knowing the entropy would enable researchers to determine how far the text compression algorithms are from the optimal theoretical performance. His setup was simple: he asked one human subject to select a sample of English text, and another to sequentially guess the contents of that sample. The first subject would provide the second with feedback about their guesses—confirmation for every correct guess, and either the correct letter or a prompt for another guess in the case of incorrect guesses, depending on the exact experiment.
With these experiments plus a lot of elegant mathematics, Shannon estimated the theoretically optimal performance of a system designed to compress English-language texts. Since then, other engineers have used experiments with humans to set standards for gauging the performance of artificial intelligence algorithms. Shannon's estimates also inspired the parameters of
the Hutter Prize, a long-standing English text compression contest.
We created a similarly human-based scheme that we hope will also inspire ambitious future applications. (This project was a collaboration between our lab at Stanford and three local high schoolers who were interning with the lab; its success inspired us to launch a full-fledged high school summer internship program at Stanford, called
STEM to SHTEM, where the "H" stands for the humanities and the human element.)
Our setup used two human subjects, like Shannon's. But instead of selecting text passages, the first subject, dubbed the "describer," selected a photograph. The second test subject, the "reconstructor," attempted to recreate the photograph using only the describer's descriptions of the photograph and image editing software.
In tests of human image compression, the describer sent text messages to the resconstructor, to which the reconstructor could reply by voice. These messages could include references to images found on public websites.
Ashutosh Bhown, Irena Hwang, Soham Mukherjee, and Sean Yang
In our tests, the describers used text-based messaging and, crucially, could include links to any publicly available image on the internet. This allowed the reconstructors to start with a similar image and edit it, rather than forcing them to create an image from scratch. We used video-conferencing software that allowed the reconstructors to react orally and share their screens with the describers, so the describers could follow the process of reconstruction in real time.
Limiting the describers to text messaging—and allowing links to image databases—helped us measure the amount of information it took to accurately convey the contents of an image given access to related images. In order to ensure that the description and reconstruction exercise wasn't trivially easy, the describers started with original photographs that are not available publicly.
The process of image reconstruction—involving image editing on the part of the reconstructor and text-based commands and links from the describer—proceeded until the describer deemed the reconstruction satisfactory. In many cases, this took an hour or less, in some, depending on the availability of like images on the Internet and the familiarity of the reconstructor with Photoshop, it took all day.
We then processed the text transcript and compressed it using a typical text compressor. Because that transcript contains all the information that the reconstructor needed to satisfactorily recreate the image for the describer, we could consider it to be the compressed representation of the original image.
Our next step involved determining how much other people agreed that the image reconstructions based on these compressed text transcripts were accurate representations of the original images. To do this, we crowdsourced via
Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. We uploaded 13 human-reconstructed images side-by-side with the original images and asked Turk workers (Turkers) to rate the reconstructions on a scale of 1—completely unsatisfied—to 10—completely satisfied.
Such a scale is admittedly vague, but we left it vague by design. Our goal was to measure how much people liked the images produced by our reconstruction scheme, without constraining "likeability" by definitions.
In this reconstruction of the compressed images of a sketch (left), the human compression system (center) did much better than the WebP algorithm (right), in terms of both compression ratio and score, as determined by MTurk worker ratings.Ashutosh Bhown, Irena Hwang, Soham Mukherjee, and Sean Yang
Given our unorthodox setup for performing image reconstruction—the use of humans, video chat software, enormous image databases, and reliance on internet search engine capabilities to search said databases—it's nearly impossible to directly compare the reconstructions from our scheme to any existing image compression software. Instead, we decided to compare how well a machine can do with an amount of information comparable to that generated by our describers. We used one of the best available lossy image compressors,
WebP, to compress the describer's original images down to file sizes equivalent to the describer's compressed text transcripts. Because even the lowest quality level allowed by WebP created compressed image files larger than our humans did, we had to reduce the image resolution and then compress it using WebP's minimum quality level.
We then uploaded the same set of original and WebP compressed images on MTurk.
The verdict? The Turkers generally preferred the images produced using our human compression scheme. In most cases, the humans beat the WebP compressor, for some images, by a lot. For a reconstruction of a sketch of the wolf, the Turkers gave the humans a mean rating of more than eight, compared with one of less than four for WebP. When it came to reconstructing the human face, WebP had a significant edge, with a mean rating of 5.47 to 2.95, and slightly beat the human reconstructions in two other cases.
In tests of human compression vs the WebP compression algorithm at equivalent file sizes, the human reconstruction was generally rated higher by a panel of MTurk workers, with some notable exceptionsJudith Fan
This is good news, because our scheme resulted in extraordinarily large compression ratios. Our human compressors condensed the original images, which all clocked in around a few megabytes, down to only a few thousand bytes each, a compression ratio of some 1000-fold. This file size turned out to be surprisingly close—within the same order of magnitude—to the proverbial thousand words that pictures supposedly contain.
The reconstructions also provided valuable insight about the important visual priorities of humans. Consider one of our sample images, a safari scene featuring two majestic giraffes. The human reconstruction retained almost all discernible details (albeit somewhat lacking in botanical accuracy): individual trees just behind the giraffes, a row of low-lying shrubbery in the distance, individual blades of parched grass. This scored very highly among the Turkers compared to WebP compression. The latter resulted in a blurred scene in which it was hard to tell where the trees ended and the animals began. This example demonstrates that when it comes to complex images with numerous elements, what matters to humans is that all of the semantic details of an image are still present after compression—never mind their precise positioning or color shade.
The human reconstructors did best on images involving elements for which similar images were widely available, including landmarks and monuments as well as more mundane scenes, like traffic intersections. The success of these reconstructions emphasizes the power of using a comprehensive public image database during compression. Given the existing body of public images, plus user-provided images via social networking services, it is conceivable that a compression scheme that taps into public image databases could outperform today's pixel-centric compressors.
Our human compression system did worst on an up-close, portrait photograph of the describer's close friend. The describer tried to communicate details like clothing type (hoodie sweatshirt), hair (curly and brown) and other notable facial features (a typical case of adolescent acne). Despite these details, the Turkers judged the reconstruction to be severely lacking, for the very simple reason that the person in the reconstruction was undeniably not the person in the original photo.
Human image compressors fell short when working with human faces. Here, the WebP algorithm's reconstruction (right) is clearly more successful than the human attempt (center) Ashutosh Bhown, Irena Hwang, Soham Mukherjee, and Sean Yang
What was easy for a human to perceive in this case was hard to break into discrete, describable components. Was it not the same person because the friend's jaw was more angular? Because his mouth curved up more at the edges? The answer is some combination of all of these reasons and more, some ineffable quality that humans struggle to verbalize.
It's worth pointing out that, for our tests, we used high schoolers for the tasks of description and reconstruction, not trained experts. If these experiments were performed, for example, with experts at image description working in cultural accessibility for people with low or no vision and paired with expert artists, they would likely have much better results. That is, this strategy has far more potential than we were able to demonstrate.
Of course, our human-to-human compression setup isn't anything like a computer algorithm. The key feature of modern compression algorithms, which our scheme sorely lacks, is reproducibility: every time you shove the same image into the type of compressor that can be found on most computers, you can be absolutely sure that you'll get the exact same compressed result.
We are not envisioning a commercial compressor that involves sets of humans around the world discussing images. Rather, a practical implementation of our compression scheme would likely be made up of various artificial intelligence techniques.
One potential replacement for the human describer and reconstructor pair is something called a generative adversarial network (GAN). A GAN is a fascinating blend of two neural networks: one that attempts to generate a realistic image ("generator") and another that attempts to distinguish between real and fake images ("discriminator"). GANs have been used in recent years to accomplish a variety of tasks: transmuting zebras into horses, re-rendering photographs à la the most popular Impressionist styles, and even generating phony celebrities.
Our human compressors condensed the original images, which all clocked in around a few megabytes, down to only a few thousand bytes each.
A GAN similarly designed to create images using a stunningly low number of bits could easily automate the task of breaking down an input image into different features and objects, then compress them according to their relative importance, possibly utilizing similar images. And a GAN-based algorithm would be perfectly reproducible, fulfilling the basic requirement of compression algorithms.
Another key component of our human-centric scheme that would need to be automated is, ironically, human judgment. Although the MTurk platform can be useful for small experiments, engineering a robust compression algorithm that includes an appropriate loss function would require not only a vast number of responses, but also consistent ones that agree on the same definition of image quality. As paradoxical as it seems, AI in the form of neural networks able to predict human scores could provide a far more efficient and reliable representation of human judgment here, compared to the opinions of a horde of Turkers.
We believe that the future of image compression lies in the hybridization of human and machine. Such mosaic algorithms with human-inspired priorities and robotic efficiency are already being seen in a wide array of other fields. For decades, learning from nature has pushed forward the entire field of biomimetics, resulting in robots that locomote as animals do and uncanny military or emergency rescue robots that almost—but not quite—look like man's best friend. Human computer interface research, in particular, has long taken cues from humans, leveraging crowdsourcing to create more conversational AI.
It is time that similar partnerships between man and machine worked to improve image compression. We think, that with our experiments, we moved the goalposts for image compression beyond what was assumed to be possible, giving a glimpse of the astronomical performance that image compressors might attain if we rethink the pixel-centric approach of the compressors we have today. And then we truly might be able to say that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Five years ago, the remote village of Lingshed in the Ladakh region of the northern Himalayas finally got electricity. A team of IEEE volunteers installed 14 solar-powered microgrids at the monastery and a nearby elementary school. The effort was led by IEEE Smart Village, a program that brings electricity—as well as educational and employment opportunities—to remote communities worldwide. The program is one of the donor-supported priority initiatives of the IEEE Foundation.
The Lingshed project was done in collaboration with the Global Himalayan Expedition, an organization that couples tourism with technology to deliver solar energy to remote communities.
In July GHE founder Paras Loomba returned to Lingshed at the request of IEEE Smart Village to learn what kind of impact the microgrids have had on the community. He found that the IEEE project has helped the villagers improve their living conditions with modern conveniences and inspired the construction of a new 100-kilometer-long road to make it easier to travel between Lingshed and Leh, the largest city in the area. It is hoped that the route, which is still in progress, also will increase tourism in the area.
The road replaces a gravel trail that could be traversed only by foot, with donkeys carrying any luggage or packages. The new road is expected to transform a two-day walk to a six-hour drive by car.
ELECTRICITY FOR THE HIMALAYAS
To bring electricity to Lingshed, the IEEE group installed 14 solar microgrids, each powering a string of LEDs in homes and along the streets. The grids were divided among the village's monastery, dormitories at the elementary school, and a small computer lab built by GHE that doubles as an Internet café for travelers. The lab has a satellite Internet link and "offline Internet," a collection of encyclopedias on a hard drive that students can use for school. Each microgrid includes a 250-watt photovoltaic panel, a pair of 12-volt lead-acid deep-discharge tubular batteries designed for solar systems, and about 30 3-W LEDs, according to Jean Kumagi's article in IEEE Spectrum about the expedition, in which she gave her first-hand account.
Before the 2016 electrification project, the monks and the temple's acolytes conducted pujas—Buddhist prayer ceremonies—in the dark or with little light at dawn and dusk, Sonam Dorje, Linghsed's mayor, told Loomba in a recent interview. The monks were dependent on kerosene lamps, not only for light but also to heat the monastery. Now, thanks to the microgrids, the room where they conduct the prayer ceremonies has light. Students can now study at night, and the satellite Internet link, which was active until 2019 when the services stopped, allowed students to stay up to date on news. The local government installed a mobile tower this year—which has enabled the village to have cellular service and Internet access.
Monks using the lights inside the Lingshed Monastery's main prayer room where monks conduct pujas.Sonam Dorje
After IEEE Smart Village and GHE engineers installed the microgrids, Loomba says, the villagers approached another organization and asked it to install more of them.
Some villagers now use space heaters during the winter at home instead of kerosene lamps. Some even purchased televisions.
The mayor told Loomba that the villagers now want to focus on motivating their children to pursue higher education.
THE ROAD TO CONNECTIVITY
Traveling from Leh to Lingshed was quite a feat before construction of the road began in 2017.
Kumagi described the trek in her 2016 Spectrum article. The team traveled the first leg of the trip to Lingshed in an SUV. "The two-lane road heading out of town is winding but relatively smooth," Kumagi wrote. "Once the pavement runs out at the village of Wanla, the hairpin turns become more frequent, and the pace slows down considerably."
Unable to drive the rest of the way, the team loaded its luggage onto donkeys. The engineers trekked alongside them. They traveled through two mountain passes up to the village. That section of the journey alone took nearly 10 hours.
The unpaved, single-lane route allows for four-wheel drive Jeeps to travel through the mountain pass, but it's not wide enough to accommodate vans or buses.
Global Himalayan Expedition
Thanks to the road, "it became easier for the people to transport materials and medical supplies," Dorje says. People now can be transferred to the hospital if they need urgent medical attention.
Because of heavy snowfall in the winter, the route is open only from June to October. The road must be regraded every spring—which provides villagers with jobs and a steady income, Loomba says.
The road will help attract tourists to the area and increase local businesses' revenue, he told The Institute. The route is currently being extended to reach Zanskar Valley, an up-and-coming tourist destination, he says. The valley is 40 km from Lingshed and is known for its scenic landscape. It usually takes four days for travelers to reach it from Lingshed, and they have to walk across the frozen Zanskar River—which can be dangerous, Loomba says. Thanks to the road, the trip from Lingshed to the valley will take about 10 hours, he says.
Loomba says he never could have foreseen how big of an impact electrification would have on Lingshed.
"Sometimes when you [take part in] a project, you don't [envision] how [the community] will evolve," he says.
IEEE Smart Village is an IEEE Foundation supported program. Learn more about how you can support it on the IEEE Foundation website.
Match ID: 183 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 11 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Happy IEEE Day! IEEE Day celebrates the first time in history when engineers worldwide and IEEE members gathered to share their technical ideas in 1884.
Worldwide celebrations demonstrate the ways thousands of IEEE members in local communities join together to collaborate on ideas that leverage technology for a better tomorrow.
From activities such as IEEE Day Contest Submission and Voting and member discounts such as IEEE Day Offers, this holiday-special newsletter can help you find what you are looking for to advance your educational and career endeavors.
Here are highlights from this month's IEEE Member Benefits Bulletin, listing select IEEE Day activities and events, as well as educational and technical resources that IEEE Members have access to.
In honor of IEEE Day, take the challenge, learn more about what IEEE is doing to advance current, emerging, and future technologies. Answer the quiz (open during the entire month of October) for the chance to win a Fire Tablet, gift bag and other prizes. Learn more.
Get a first look at all these amazing educational resources IEEE has to offer. This IEEE Day, learn about IEEE Education Week (4-8 April 2022), a weeklong celebration of educational opportunities in pre-university STEM, university, and continuing professional education. To learn more and get involved, visit the newly launched website.
IEEE ComSoc celebrates IEEE Day with special discounts on membership and training through 21 October. New members enjoy 20% off when they join. Registrants receive a 15% discount on the "Cloud-Native 5G: Architecture, Enablers, and Roadmap" training course. Visit the IEEE ComSoc IEEE Day web page to
For IEEE Day 2021, the IEEE Learning Network (ILN) is offering 10 select courses at US$10 each. Jumpstart your learning on cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, Machine Learning, Blockchain, and more!
See the courses and start learning today!
photo contest and a 60-second innovation video contest are being organized as part of IEEE Day. Take a look at the contest rules and enter for a chance to win prizes. IEEE members and non-members are encouraged to vote (one vote per entry).
Celebrate IEEE Day with your local organizational Unit and submit your events to the Event submission platform. All of the events that have been submitted by 15 October will be displayed on the
Your events will not be as strong as they can be if you do not proactively take steps to drive engagement. IEEE member and author, Paige Kassalen, explains how to do this and drive stronger engagement for your events. Learn more.
In our world full of fad diets and halfway completed DIY projects, grit — sustained passion and perseverance — seems to be wanting. Author Jacquelyn Adams offers some tips on promoting that rare trait in your work environment. Learn more.
The teaching laboratory plays an important role in engineering education, helping the development of cognitive, psychomotor and affective skills. Check out this Teaching Excellence Hub article to see how elements are needed for a successful laboratory activity.
Add value and credibility to your technical courses, conferences or virtual events by issuing IEEE Certificates. With the IEEE Certificates, you can offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and Professional Development hours (PDHs) for virtual and in-person educational events.
Learn more today.
The IEEE Educational Activities Board (EAB) is seeking qualified professionals from industry, government, and academic sectors to serve as Program Evaluators to assist in accrediting Engineering and Engineering Technology Programs for the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC) of ABET, Inc. The deadline for submitting an application is 5 November 2021. This is a strictly volunteer position. (PLEASE NOTE: ETAC Applicants must be IEEE Members. EAC Applicants must be IEEE SENIOR MEMBERS.) General information and the link to submit through the ABET website for prospective applicants can be found here.
"IEEE gave me a lot in all aspects and visibility across the globe. My association with IEEE brought radical and drastic changes in my profession and it helped me a lot in research, innovation, and teaching-learning activities. I can not think of a life without IEEE."
—Shashikant Patil, Senior Member, Associate Professor, Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering, Mumbai, India
From 4-7 October, learn, interact with global subject matter experts on progress made in the fight against COVID-19, and in better preparations for future pandemics, through the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods and tools with Biomedical and Health Informatics (BHI). Attend the data hackathon and poster presentations on the power of BHI and AI in combating pandemics. Click here for more details.
Engineering and technology education is crucial to help today's technical professionals meet the challenges they face. Join 2021 IEEE President Susan K. (Kathy) Land as she shares how IEEE is leading the way in providing innovative educational experiences around the world and increasing diversity throughout STEM-impacted industries. Come join her as she provides an update on what has now become a portfolio of lifelong learning opportunities. Learn about some of our pre-university STEM, university, and continuing professional education programs. These programs offer the continuing development of those critical knowledge and skills needed to provide support to students and practicing professionals around the globe as they work in an increasingly challenging and ever more technically complex world. Discover how you can be part of our mission to provide impactful educational experiences to prepare our leaders of the future! Learn more.
IEEE President Kathy Land is hosting a live, virtual panel discussion with the top female leadership in nonprofit membership organizations representing the many facets of the science, technology, and engineering industries. The discussion will focus on why the panelists chose to pursue careers in these industries and their experiences as women in science and technology. Learn more.
28 October | 1pm ET Get an understanding of the current cybersecurity trends that will help you determine the level of cyber threats to your organization. Join IEEE and ISACA on 28 October at 1pm at the free virtual event, Cybersecurity Considerations for an Effective Cyber Strategy Within Your Workforce. Register today!
Share. Give Back. Inspire. Are you an IEEE member interested in pre-university STEM Outreach or an active IEEE volunteer already engaged in STEM Outreach? The IEEE STEM Summit, taking place 1-6 November 2021, is for you! Join us as we share and learn from one another on all things STEM! Click here to learn more.
In Book 2 of his IEEE-USA educational series, Harry T. Roman takes a deep dive into how energy has an impact on our world every day, and offers energy-related activities to help develop lesson plans or assignments for students. FREE download for all IEEE members.
This sixth and final volume in IEEE-USA's popular Women in Engineering e-book compilations includes four inspiring narratives written by successful women engineers and technologists. Free download for all IEEE members!
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There is still time to take advantage of some great IEEE Day Offers. Here are a few to consider: ILN Courses, IEEE Communications Society Membership, and IEEE Future Directions.
Check the IEEE Day website for the details on all this year's Offers.
IWG works with IEEE to offer members an exclusive 10% discount on selected workspace solutions. IWG provides workspace solutions that can be tailored to your exact business needs with locations available worldwide. Learn more.
Explore new deals this month with the Dell Small Business Program (US) and Dell Member Purchase Program (Canada). Starting in October 2021, Dell Small Business discount will now be available to members in the UK and Northern Ireland. Learn more.
The IEEE Computer Society encourages everyone to take some time to reflect on the many new and persistent threats that challenge the computing industry and our everyday lives. Make sure your company and personal practices stay cyber secure. Bookmark this page as it will be updated throughout the month with new resources to keep you informed!
EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) in IEEE gives university students a platform to work with engineering professionals to develop solutions that transform communities across the globe. Imagine your company supporting a project that helps a small village become more sustainable or working with students to build an app that reads sign language. To learn more, please visit us here.
A patent for a storage battery was issued to Elihu Thomson and Edwin Houston on 14 October 1879; the patent states that the battery may be used as an energy bank. (Earlier devices that could function as storage batteries were not invented for that purpose.)
In October 1780, Alessandro Volta sent a letter to Carlo Count of Firmian announcing that his electric lighter was a success and was being manufactured by the famous instrument maker Edward Nairne, who had presented it to the Royal Society. Volta's lighter was the first electric household appliance.
The ESA-owned Short Arm Human Centrifuge has been upgraded, installed and inaugurated at the Olympic Sport Centre Planica facility near Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. Soon to be home to ESA bedrest studies, this recently enhanced clinical research centre will help further scientists’ knowledge of human physiology in space.
Run by the Jozef Stefan Institute on behalf of ESA, bedrest studies at the facility offer scientists a way to see how the human body adapts to weightlessness. This allows researchers to test techniques, known as “countermeasures”, to counteract the negative effects of living in space.
The Short-Arm Human Centrifuge offers an extra suite of possible countermeasures by exposing people to artificial gravity. At 35 revolutions of the 3-m arms per minute, riders may experience a force of gravity that is more than twice their own body weight at their centre of mass, and more than four times their body weight at their feet.
Artificial gravity has the potential to reduce many of the negative effects of weightlessness on the human body in one go. As spinning encourages blood to flow back towards a subject’s feet, they are provided with a force to push against, while they follow a carefully controlled exercise regime of squats, jumps, heel raises and toe raises, for 30 minutes per day. These countermeasures should mitigate the reduction of bone and muscle mass that astronauts, and bedrest subjects, can otherwise experience.
The Planica facility provides equipment to collect all ESA Bedrest Core Data, allowing for comparison between different ESA-sponsored studies. It can also be maintained under adjustable environmental conditions, such as a low-oxygen atmosphere, which is highly relevant for human exploration missions.
In bedrest studies, volunteers spend from five to 60 days in bed, usually tilted backwards with their heads at 6° below the horizontal. They are not permitted to stand up unless a research programme demands it and must perform all daily activities in bed – including eating, showers and exercise.
The results of these studies also benefit people on Earth. Many negative effects of living in space are similar to those experienced naturally as we age, such as osteoporosis, muscle loss and orthostatic intolerance.
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher signed the loan agreement for the centrifuge with representatives from the Jozef Stefan Institute during his tour of Slovenia last week.
Many AIs may depend on things called neural networks, but there's very little about them that works in the way human and animal brains do. Intel has been experimenting with computers that think more like a brain does for several years now, racking up some impressive if quirky results with their Loihi neuromorphic chip. Now Loihi is getting its first upgrade, and it's a pretty big one. Using a manufacturing process called Intel 4 that's not yet available for commercial chips, the company packed in up to eight-times as many artificial neurons into a chip that's half the area of Loihi. That, and a host of changes motivated by the past few years of experiments, make the Loihi 2 faster and more flexible, says Mike Davies director of Intel's neuromorphic computing lab.
Unlike the artificial neurons in conventional AI, which store information as weights that measure the strength of connection between neurons, Loihi's neurons carry information in the timing of digitally-represented spikes, which is more analogous to what goes on in your brain. Neural computation is triggered by these spikes, so there's no need for a central clock to keep things synchronous. And much of the chip will be idle when there is no event to observe, saving power.
Some 250 research partners have been using Loihi systems for things like controlling drones or robot arms, optimizing train schedules, searching databases, and learning to identify different odors. "The results have been quite encouraging," says Davies. Some energy efficiency gains were "orders of magnitude" and there were also gains in energy efficiency and the amount of data needed for the system to learn. (The results are tabulated in the May 2021 issue of Proceedings of the IEEE.)
But these experiments also pointed to a set of limitations that Davies' team wanted to address in the next generation. For one, Davies says, the neural network model Loihi used wasn't flexible enough to do all the things Intel and its partners wanted. They also found that the model of neural activity as a binary spike where only the timing information was conveyed from one neuron to another limited the precision of Loihi's calculations. Other hinderances included congestion between multiple Loihi chips and challenges to integrating the system with conventional computers.
Loihi 2 tackles these issues using the same basic architecture, but with a set of circuits that were "redesigned from the ground up," according to Davies. Here's a summary of what's new:
New spike messages to improve precision: The spike signals in original-flavor Loihi contained only timing information. This there-or-not information, is called a binary-value spike message. Loihi 2 allows spikes that have both timing and magnitude parameters, without much of an energy or performance penalty. "We can solve the same problems with fewer resources if we have this magnitude that can be sent alongside" the timing information, says Davies.
Enhanced programmability: The previous Loihi was designed for a specific spiking-neural-network (SNN) model. Loihi 2 neuromorphic cores can now also do arithmetic, comparison, program control flow and other operations that allow the chip to perform and expanded set of SNN models.
Faster learning: Loihi basically supported one set of brain-inspired learning rules. Loihi 2 changes this in a way that lets it perform some of the latest learning algorithms, as well as an approximation of the backpropagation algorithm used in deep learning. The change means algorithms that could only be done as proof-of-concept on Loihi can be scaled up on Loihi 2 allowing it to learn more quickly.
More of everything: As mentioned above, Loihi 2 is built using a manufacturing process so advanced the company doesn't yet even use its own commercial chips. That means a million neurons per chip versus Loihi's 125,000. What's more, the circuits and memory that implement those neurons and their memory were optimized leading to between 2x and 160x more resources for neuromorphic computing, depending on what kind of network is running.
Speedier circuits: Loihi 2's redesigned circuits mean a doubling of processing speeds when updating the state of neurons, five-fold faster synaptic operations, and as much as a 10-fold bump in the speed of spike generation. All told, the chip can now process neuromorphic networks up to 5000-times faster than biological neurons
New chip interfaces: Loihi 2 chips support 4x faster asynchronous chip-to-chip signaling, as well as a feature that reduces interchip bandwidth needs 10-fold. It's also all set to do communications in a 3D chip-stacking arrangement and has an Ethernet interface and one for emerging event-based sensors, such as Prophesee's camera chips.
As is a common theme with chips having new architectures, software is the key to getting any use out of it. "Software continues to hold back the field," says Davies. "There hasn't been the emergence of a single software framework as you see in the deep learning world."
"Because the emergence of a single framework hasn't happened, we're now offering something ourselves," he says. The new software framework, Lava, takes the lessons of the previous three-and-a-half years of research projects and attempts to offer a common platform that support them all. Lava is an open-source framework that supports systems that do event-based, asynchronous message passing, not just Loihi or Loihi 2.
There are no specific plans to commercialize Loihi 2, says Davies. "This is still a research chip that we are going to be offering to research partners." Davies says that the technology behind Loihi is likely to first appear as an acceleration core on a system-on-chip that is performing a specific algorithm rather than as a general purpose chip.
Intel may not be ready to make a business out of neuromorphic chips, but that doesn't mean others aren't. Sydney-based Brainchip received its first shipment of finished event-based neural processor chips in August and is hoping to help customers develop low-power systems where things like incremental and one-shot learning would be helpful.
Match ID: 186 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 11 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Welcome to the planet's grandest high-stakes poker game, one where the players at the table are auto manufacturers frantically raising the ante in their financial commitments, betting tens of billions and their very survival on their electric vehicle development decisions.
In early 2019, Reuters estimated that the top 29 global auto manufacturers had already pledged to invest more than $300 billion towards developing electric vehicles (EVs) and supporting technologies including autonomous driving capability. Since then Daimler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Stellantis and Volkswagen Group, have committed an additional $152 billion in investments, a sum four times their combined 2019 operating profits.
An additional $60 billion plus in investments have also been made in more than 70 EV start-ups wanting in on the game. Of course, all this money does not include the other untold billions being directed to the 400 plus start-ups in China, or the billions being invested by global auto suppliers like Bosch, Denso or ZF Friedrichshafen.
Deciding that the future of transportation, and therefore their survival, will be based on EVs, many of the top auto companies have promised to end production of their internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035, if not earlier. Others like Audi, Daimler and VW have stated they are now stopping the development of new internal combustion engines altogether.
Yet, even with the global EV market share projected to grow from only about 2.6 percent of auto sales today to some 20 to 25 percent of sales by 2030, not all competitors will be winners in a world soon to be awash in electric vehicles. Consulting firm KPMG, for example, estimates that in addition to the 179 new battery EV model launches and refreshes between 2016 and 2020, at least another 251 are expected between 2021 and 2023 by traditional auto manufacturers, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as they are referred to in the industry, as well as start-ups.
These numbers above exclude all the existing hybrid electric and other alternative fuel models available or in the works, which number at least another 265 models. As a comparison, in 2011, there were only two battery electric and 29 hybrid electric vehicle models offered for sale in the US.
With all these EVs chasing the same relatively small number of current EV-inclined buyers, how does an EV maker differentiate itself in such a crowded market?
While EV driving range and price are obviously key market differentiators, an EV's software suite is quickly becoming as, if not more, important. Even now, if an EV's software is not perceived as being advanced, buyers for it become harder to entice. For instance, in China, which boasts the world's largest and most competitive EV market, VW has had problems selling its new flagship EV ID.4 model, according to a report by Reuters, because its features are not as sophisticated as those offered by other EVs already available in the country, which have self-parking, advanced-voice control and self-driving capabilities.
While VW says new software-updates are planned to provide these features, unless the company can not only provide the same experiences but ones more advanced than its competitors fairly quickly, VW may find its ID.4 is already considered passé, at least for many potential EV customers in China.
VW's experience highlights a looming problem for all competitors in the EV poker game. A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey & Companyasserts, "Advanced electrical and electronic (E/E) capabilities… and the ability to make design upgrades during the (EV) vehicle life cycle are becoming crucial to remain competitive, both in China and globally." Falter at one or the other, and an EV player's betting position might be wiped out quickly.
Not only are EV makers chasing the same limited number of customers, they are also pursuing an even more limited supply of software and systems engineers with smart mechatronics and robotics expertise. Software's complexity in current ICE vehicles is staggering, with many vehicles having 150 million lines or more of code. However, future EVs will likely have triple or more the lines of code as advanced autonomous driving features become available.
Complicating the expertise issue further is that new EVs (and ICE vehicles) are increasingly "cyber-physical systems." Simply put, cyber-physical systems unify the physical world with the world of information technology. Vehicles as cyber-physical systems are not mere self-contained and isolated entities but are ones that will evolve in capability over a decade or more often in response to other evolving systems such as transportation infrastructure, manufacturer monitoring or dealer management systems, the Internet, and other vehicles.
"Much of that future data, perhaps up to 90%, will be unstructured," observes Jeff Fochtman, Senior Vice President of Business and Marketing at data storage company Seagate Technology, given it will be originally generated by a vehicle's camera, lidar, radar and or ultrasonic sensors. The amount, type and usefulness of the data poses unique challenges for automakers in deciding which data to store, how to store it, and where to store it. Data privacy, safety and security compliance issues intensify the challenges involved. Underpinning all this data communication is the assumption by auto companies that sufficient network bandwidth with minimum latency will be available soon to support tens of millions of continuously communicating vehicles.
"However, bandwidth alone does not suffice to move—in order to use—all this data," Fochtman adds. "There will be a necessity to move massive data sets (100TB and over) quickly via data shuttles and arrays, for example, from fleet vehicles to data centers."
Creating "smart vehicles" that sense, think, act and communicate in real time within a large transportation ecosystem, that use and generate vast volumes of data, that are increasingly electric powered, and that need to evolve their capabilities over time via over-the-air (OTA) software updates and upgrades represent a radically different system design paradigm for traditional auto manufacturers. The systems and software engineering challenges are materially more demanding. And creating reliable, interconnected, open, updatable and secure system-of-systems at scale is, to put it mildly, non-trivial.
Hence, separating EV winners from losers will depend not only on financial wherewithal, but on each competitor's "relative strength in their cyber-physical systems engineering," states Chris Paredis, the BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration at Clemson University. He adds that vehicle complexity "has pushed beyond what we can handle traditionally. Automotive systems have risen to a level of complexity where formal systems engineering approaches are needed."
However, if it is performed well, "Cyber-physical systems engineering becomes the enabler of (necessary) complexity and innovation," which will be critical to those wanting to stay in the EV game, according to Paredis.
Furthermore, while the "trade-offs of economics and performance are all going the same direction, where it is now feasible to build an EV for the middle class," Paredis observes, there is little consensus over the best way to design smart, affordable EVs over the next decade.
"There will be a necessity to move massive data sets (100TB and over) quickly via data shuttles and arrays, for example, from fleet vehicles to data centers."
Among the numerous multi-billion-dollar cyber-physical system engineering decisions that are being hotly debated within the industry, two tend to stand out presently. The first revolves around the tradeoffs and timing involving which EV drivetrain option should be pursued, while the second concerns the systems and software architecture that should be the foundation for providing the intelligence in smart cars.
The consequences of these decisions are profound. One or more top tier OEMs will likely get their choices wrong and disappear or be acquired in the next decade, consultant firm KPMG predicts. On the other hand, the number of EV start-ups that are forced out of the game might be counted by the score.
Modify ICE or Go EV? Drivetrains Force Hard Choices
"We are in the midst of a revolution, the ongoing digital redesign of the historically analog automobile," says Venkat N. Krovi, Michelin Endowed Chair of Vehicle Automation in the Departments of Automotive Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University, "which has led to the unraveling of the original vehicle form."
The elimination of the ICE powertrain along with the combination of affordable electric motors and control software creates "a fundamental flattening of the automotive industry," Krovi observes, thereby allowing everyone, "to gain insight into the formerly opaque world of the car and has lowered the barriers to entry to new automotive competitors." This has catalyzed the explosion of EV start-ups, each of which fervently believes they will be the one to fundamentally disrupt the automotive industry.
Importantly, Krovi points out, the EV drivetrain is much simpler because of the reduction in system complexity. "Think of the efforts needed to make building the controlled explosions in an internal combustion engine safe, powerful and free from pollution," he says.
Additional vehicle elements are also simplified. For example, when financial services company UBS conducted a teardown (PDF) a few years ago of both the Chevy Bolt, the world's first mass-market EV and a VW Golf, which it considered an equivalent ICE vehicle, it found that the Bolt only had 35 moving and wearing parts compared to the 167 in the Golf. The Tesla EV has only around 20 such parts.
"Unlike an ICE vehicle where the steering column requires a physical mechanical connection, in electric vehicles, software becomes the controlling element now. You can control an EV with a joystick, inside or even outside the vehicle, for instance. Once you decouple the physical connections required, your design freedom explodes," declares Clemson's Krovi.
How OEMs and EV start-ups choose to use their newfound design freedom varies greatly. For example, VW, following Tesla's lead, has decided to create an EV specific, or native, electric battery platform, called the modular electric driver matrix (MEB). This so-called "skateboard-like" approach which underpins its EV ID.4, is simpler, more flexible, and less costly than the modular transversal toolkit (MQB) approach that VW previously used for its battery powered e-Golf. For that car, the MQB platform was highly modified to allow batteries to be placed throughout the vehicle, while the MEB approach allows for a larger battery pack and thus longer driving range, which is a major advantage of creating EV specific platforms.
Yet for now some manufacturers, like BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Stellantis have held out against introducing an EV-specific drivetrain architecture, although each has plans to do so in a few years. They believe that their optimal approach is to continue to build EVs on flexible drivetrain platforms that support both ICE and EV vehicles, albeit with some EV driving range limitations. Udo Hänle, BMW's Head of production strategy is quoted in Automotive News Europestory as saying, "In our view, market forecasts are too uncertain to warrant inflexible, electro-only platforms."
In addition, it is expensive to build EV-specific platforms (about €1 billion), and given the uncertainties of just how quickly the EV market will grow, some carmakers believe it is better to hedge their financial risk for a while still. Furthermore, BMW does not believe customers will purchase an EV based on its underlying EV platform alone. "It's not relevant for a buying decision," argues BMW Group CEO Oliver Zipse.
Larger automotive suppliers are also challenged to place high-stakes bets. For example, ZF has stated it will no longer develop any traditional ICE transmissions without a hybrid or electric variant and pledged to spend $14 billion to develop electric and autonomous technologies. "The coming transformation in the industry is clear and the bets are huge and will vary so much by region—the rate of EV and autonomy adoption in developed Western markets or China will be very different from that of say India or South America," says Andy Whydell, ZF's Vice President of Product Planning for Vehicle Systems.
As always, the market will decide which EV platform approach, dedicated or ICE retrofit, is ultimately correct. What no manufacturer disputes, however, is their ever-growing dependence on the software executing in their EVs computing systems to provide a competitive edge. And here too, people passionately argue about the best approaches to provisioning, architecting, owning and executing that software.
Supercomputers on Wheels
"EVs are a total reset opportunity, with both hardware and software architectures being revisited and rethought," states Chet Babla, Vice-President of the automotive business for semiconductor design firm Arm Ltd. "The variety of computing elements is becoming important and driving a lot of software complexity that everyone is trying to get their head around."
A variety of computing elements are needed to support infotainment, connectivity and battery management. For example, while the elimination of an ICE powertrain simplifies a major source of software complexity, efficiently managing an EV's batteries presents its own complexity that software must manage. Efficient battery management systems are not only important for EV range and safety considerations, it is especially crucial for EVs with autonomous capability.
The variety of computing elements also stems in large measure from the desire to evolve current advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) into ones that can eventually provide full autonomous driving capability. An autonomous vehicle needs multiple sensors, such as cameras, LiDAR, ultrasonic sensors and/or radars to provide the 360-degree information required for safe navigation. For example, a Tesla currently uses eight cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors to provide the inputs needed for Level 2 autonomous driving capability, meaning the vehicle can take over steering, acceleration and braking in specific circumstances, but the driver must still have their hands on the wheel to take over if necessary (see SAE Table). Even more sensors will likely be needed to permit full Level 5 autonomous driving, where the vehicle can drive everywhere in all conditions and driver intervention is not needed.
Of course, this voluminous sensor data need to be processed in real time, not to mention the data required for all the other vehicle electronics, increasing the need for extremely fast and powerful computing processors. As a result, "Standard compute is no longer acceptable, we need specialized compute," states Suraj Gajendra, Arm's Senior Director of Technology Strategy for the automotive business, which has "moved computing requirements from an inside-out to an outside-in approach."
"The coming transformation in the industry is clear and the bets are huge and will vary so much by region—the rate of EV and autonomy adoption in developed Western markets or China will be very different from that of say India or South America."
In other words, manufacturers must define their EV computing requirements from a cyber-physical perspective of their vehicles, which possess some level of autonomy, interacting and evolving within a larger, highly connected system-of-systems ecology that itself is also evolving. As Gajendra explains, "The software applications and services that run in a vehicle are developed in the cloud and deployed over-the-air directly onto vehicle. Given the versatile nature of these applications, specialized compute elements like CPUs, GPUs, image signal processors, and neural (network) compute engines are required to execute them efficiently and accurately."
"These applications are 'mixed-critical' in nature. Some of them need hard real-time response within milli-seconds and some don't, some of them need high degree of safety and security, some don't," Gajendra states. "Understanding the needs of applications at a higher level of abstraction and then deriving the processor requirements from them is very critical."
Whereas the past approach to providing computing power was to spread electronic control units (ECUs) throughout a vehicle for localized processing, the strategy currently in vogue has been to consolidate the processing of multiple ECUs into more powerful domain control units (DCUs), or even to consolidate most of a vehicle's computing into a handful of central processors. With this latter approach, vehicle computing resembles more of a generalized computing platform in terms of hardware and software architectures, but with the processing power of a supercomputer.
VW decided with the development of its EV specific platform MEB that it was also getting late to start with a clean-slate approach to vehicle electronics and software, especially if it was going to develop autonomous driving capability. VW felt engineering trade-offs are easier to manage and less costly when building a system with a desired future capability from the beginning than trying to retrofit it in afterwards.
Another reason VW chose to build its own OS instead of using something like Google's Android OS (which Ford and GM are doing) is to keep tight control over vehicle data that can be monetized in the future. VW believes that it will generate "triple-digit-millions" in sales in the future through selling customized services, like offering autonomous driving on a pay-per-use basis. It envisions customers would be willing to pay 7 euros per hour for the capability. Tesla has recently offered a monthly subscription to owners of Tesla's who have a Full Self-Driving computer 3.0 or above, plus Basic Autopilot or Enhanced Autopilot, a subscription for FSD capabilities from $99 to $199 per month depending on the vehicle's configuration.
VW is not alone in rethinking its vehicle computing architecture. BMW, Mercedes and Volvo are but a few OEMs who already have or are planning to move to more centralized computing architectures, as well as taking over more of their own software development. Like VW, they all hear the siren call of future software-driven feature subscription revenue.
Chip maker Nvidia's CEO Jensen Huang takes the subscription idea a step further. He envisions auto manufacturers offering future EVs at cost which provide basic driving features, and making their profit on the sale of customized services via subscriptions. If this indeed occurs, those auto manufacturers who have delayed major upgrades to both their EV and digital architectures could find themselves in an eroding competitive position.
Coders Will Clean Up
In this EV high-stakes poker game, winners will be determined both by player skill and more than a bit of luck. Much of the decision-making occurring today is predicated on a multitude of assumptions about EV versus ICE vehicle sales, as well as which type of EV will sell the most, pure electrics and/or hybrid electrics. For example, GM and VW see no future for hybrids, but Toyota, Ford and BMW disagree and see a market for both. EV start-ups disagree which is the best strategy to pursue as well.
Then there is the question of obtaining the software and cyber-physical systems engineering expertise needed now and in the future. "OEMs built everything around the engine and chassis. Electronics were never core, but now they are all in a rush to do it," notes Uwe Class, ZF's Vice President of Advanced System Development at ZF Friedrichshafen AG and one of the world's largest suppliers of automotive components.
For instance, VW has set out the ambitious objective of developing more vehicle software internally, up to 60 percent by 2025 from the less than 10 percent it does now. To achieve this, it has created an independent business unit Car.Software that will eventually be the central group developing the software across VW Group vehicles. The unit has about 5,000 digital specialists working in it today, double that by 2025.
Chip maker Nvidia's CEO Jensen Huang takes the subscription idea a step further. He envisions auto manufacturers offering future EVs at cost which provide basic driving features, and making their profit on the sale of customized services via subscriptions.
Similarly, Toyota has created a holding company, Woven Planet Holdings, Inc. to "focus on a more agile 'software-first' development process and Software Defined Architecture for future Toyota vehicles," which will bring more software development inside the organization. BMW and Volvo have also publicly said they plan to take over more of their own software development.
One question is whether these and other OEMs can really transform themselves into software-first companies, especially given vehicle software and electronics expertise has traditionally resided at their suppliers. The other question is how these same suppliers will respond to OEMs increasingly turning from customers to competitors? Suppliers are not sitting still in their development of advanced EV technologies, especially in software.
Another potentially disruptive wild card includes the entry of a digital dynamo like Apple into the fray, which it is always rumored to be on the verge of doing. If it does, it could make the EV poker game a lot more interesting. In the past year, Chinese internet giant Baidu and Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn have both decided to get into the EV game. Sony is sniffing around, which may spur Apple or perhaps other tech companies to finally join in as well. Even then, as Tesla found out, transforming from a tech company into an auto company can be hell.
And speaking of Tesla, against which nearly every EV player measures themselves against both financially and technologically, it continues to innovate. Recently, it has decided to move away from its archetypal skateboard chassis to a structural battery pack design, which will undoubtedly will cause some soul-searching in other EV competitors who imitate Tesla.
But if the hype is to believed, Tesla may be finding itself in the future challenged by EV start-up Lucid Motors beginning next year. If true, it could also mean a second "existential threat" OEMs will have to confront. It is likely there are other worrisome rivals within all the EV start-ups popping up around the world.
How the planet's largest, high-stakes poker game will play out in an industry undergoing a once-in-a-century revolution is anyone's guess. One thing is guaranteed; it will be the most intriguing contest to watch as players vie to create an automotive industry radically different than today's.
Match ID: 187 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 15 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos, more below!
Mini Pupper is now on Kickstarter!
The basic kit is $250, which includes just the custom parts, so you'll need to add your own 3D printed parts, some of the electronics, and the battery. A complete Mini Pupper kit is $500, or get it fully assembled for an extra $60.
Everything should (with all the usual Kickstarter caveats in mind) ship in November, which is plenty of time to get it to me for the holidays (for any of my family reading this).
An Inflatable robotic hand design gives amputees real-time tactile control and enables a wide range of daily activities, such as zipping a suitcase, shaking hands, and petting a cat. The smart hand is soft and elastic, weighs about half a pound, and costs a fraction of comparable prosthetics.
Among the first electronic mobile robots were the experimental machines of neuroscientist W. Grey Walter. Walter studied the brain's electrical activity at the Burden Neurological Institute (BNI) near Bristol, England. His battery-powered robots were models to test his theory that a minimum number of brain cells can control complex behavior and choice.
Autonomous Micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) have the potential to be employed for surveillance and monitoring tasks. By perching and staring on one or multiple locations aerial robots can save energy while concurrently increasing their overall mission time without actively flying. In this paper, we address the estimation, planning, and control problems for autonomous perching on inclined surfaces with small quadrotors using visual and inertial sensing.
Human environments are filled with large open spaces that are separated by structures like walls, facades, glass windows, etc. Most often, these structures are largely passive offering little to no interactivity. In this paper, we present Duco, a large-scale electronics fabrication robot that enables room-scale & building-scale circuitry to add interactivity to vertical everyday surfaces. Duco negates the need for any human intervention by leveraging a hanging robotic system that automatically sketches multi-layered circuity to enable novel large-scale interfaces.
The key idea behind Duco is that it achieves single-layer or multi-layer circuit fabrication on 2D surfaces as well as 2D cutouts that can be assembled into 3D objects by loading various functional inks (e.g., conductive, dielectric, or cleaning) to the wall-hanging drawing robot, as well as employing an optional laser cutting head as a cutting tool.
Baidu researchers have proposed a novel reinforcement learning-based evolutionary foot trajectory generator that can continually optimize the shape of the output trajectory for a quadrupedal robot, from walking over the balance beam to climbing up and down slopes. Our approach can solve a range of challenging tasks in simulation by learning from scratch, including walking on a balance beam and crawling through a cave. To further verify the effectiveness of our approach, we deploy the controller learned in the simulation on a 12-DoF quadrupedal robot, and it can successfully traverse challenging scenarios with efficient gaits.
Here's a robotics problem: objects that look very similar but aren't! How can you efficiently tell the difference between objects that look almost the same, and how do you know when you need to make that determination?
Hyundai Motor Group has introduced its first project with Boston Dynamics. Meet the new 'Factory Safety Service Robot', based on Boston Dynamics' quadruped, Spot, and to support industrial site safety.
About 60 percent of IEEE conferences, magazines, and journals have no practices in place to ensure reproducibility of the research they publish. That's according to a study by an ad hoc committee formed by the IEEE Computer Society to investigate the matter and suggest remedies.
Reproducibility—the ability to repeat a line of research and obtain consistent results—can help confirm the validity of scientific discoveries, IEEE Fellow Manish Parashar points out. He is chair of the society's Committee on Open Science and Reproducibility.
"Ensuring the robustness and trustworthiness of science that is done using computing and data is absolutely critical," Parashar says.
The inability to reproduce the results of an experiment can lead to a range of consequences, including the retraction of research and injury to the reputations of the authors and the journal that published it.
For example, after a string of failed attempts to replicate the results of a study on preventing fraud in policy review and insurance claim forms, a request was made in August to the Proceedings of the [U.S.] National Academy of Sciences to retract a 2012 paper on the research. According to the study, when people signed an honesty declaration at the beginning of an insurance policy form, rather than the end, they were less likely to lie about the information they provided. Insurance companies, private organizations, and government agencies then adopted the seemingly inexpensive and effective method to reduce fraud. But other research teams could not confirm the finding, and an anonymous group of scientists then found evidence suggesting that the original experiment used fabricated data.
ENSURING REPRODUCIBILITY AT IEEE
The goal of the ad hoc committee's study was to ensure that research results IEEE publishes are reproducible and that readers can look at the results and "be confident that they understand the processes used to create those results and they can reproduce them in their labs," Parashar says.
"Ensuring the robustness and trustworthiness of science that is done using computing and data is absolutely critical."
The committee's international membership spans academia and national laboratories as well as representatives from IEEE leadership.
To get a better sense of the issue, the group surveyed more than 100 IEEE journals, magazines, and conferences and analyzed the reproducibility models and practices they use. The findings were published online.
Here are three key recommendations from the report:
Researchers should include specific, detailed information about the products they used in their experiment. When naming the software program, for example, authors should include the version and all necessary computer codes that were written. In addition, journals should make submitting the information easier by adding a step in the submission process. The survey found that 22 percent of the society's journals, magazines, and conferences already have infrastructure in place for submitting such information.
All researchers should include a clear, specific, and complete description of how the reported results were reached. That includes input data, computational steps, and the conditions under which experiments and analysis were performed.
Journals and magazines, as well as scientific societies requesting submissions for their conferences, should develop and disclose policies about achieving reproducibility. Guidelines should include such information as how the papers will be evaluated for reproducibility and criteria code and data must meet.
The report covers roadblocks researchers and journals could face when ensuring reproducibility, such as the allocation of responsibilities and economic issues, as well as ways to overcome them.
Also included is an overview of an ongoing pilot being conducted by IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems. It is offering incentives such as "reproducibility badges" to authors for making code and data available for reuse along with their publications.
Match ID: 189 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 16 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
If you've seen
IEEE Spectrum's October 2021 special issue on artificial intelligence, you may have noticed provocative quotes scattered throughout the magazine's pages. These quotes were drawn from the many Q&As and articles we've done over the years with top thinkers in AI. Here are the quotes, with links to the full articles.
“In terms of how much progress we've made in this work over the last two decades: I don't think we're anywhere close today to the level of intelligence of a two-year-old child. But maybe we have algorithms that are equivalent to lower animals for perception.”
“We need to think about how to steer AI. How do we transform today's buggy and hackable AI systems into systems we can really trust and make sure they really do what we intend them to do? How do we teach machines to understand our goals, adopt our goals, and retain our goals?”
“General intelligence doesn't mean you have to understand humans. There will be a lot of intelligent machines that don't need to know that stuff. [Take the] example of robotic construction workers on Mars: I don't think they need to understand human emotions and human desires to be able to construct things.”
“AI will take many single-task, single-domain jobs away. You can argue that humans have abilities that AI does not: We can conceptualize, strategize, create. Whereas today's AI is just a really smart pattern recognizer that can take in data [and] optimize. But how many jobs in the world are simple repetitions of tasks that can be optimized?”
“AI is fundamentally an applied technology that's going to serve our society. Humanistic AI not only raises the awareness of the importance of the technology. It's a really important way to attract diverse students, technologists, and innovators to participate.”
“Those of us in machine learning are really good at doing well on a test set, but unfortunately deploying a system takes more than doing well on a test set. All of AI…has a proof-of-concept-to-production gap.”
“While the science-fiction discussions about AI and superintelligence are fun, they are a distraction. There's not been enough focus on the real problem, which is building planetary-scale machine learning–based systems that actually work, deliver value to humans, and do not amplify inequities.”
“What's missing is a principle that would allow our machine to learn how the world works by observation and by interaction with the world. A learning predictive world model is what we're missing today, and in my opinion is the biggest obstacle to significant progress in AI.”
“Those who argue that the risk from AI is negligible have failed to explain why superintelligent AI systems will necessarily remain under human control; and they have not even tried to explain why superintelligent AI systems will never be developed.”
Orbiting at a speed that matches the rotation of the Earth, satellites in geostationary orbit occupy unique positions and provide invaluable services. Effectively fixed in place over points on the equator 35,786 kilometers below, they provide communication and broadcasting services, constant weather observation, and calibration for navigation constellations.
These satellites are huge and vastly expensive—typically hundreds of millions of US dollars—and operate for up to fifteen years. They have a store of propellant required to keep them in position and pointed the right way, and once this propellant is almost used up, a final push is used to send the satellites into a graveyard orbit. This prevents them from becoming a threat to active satellites and makes way for a replacement. There the satellites remain dormant, their otherwise still functional systems and transponders rendered useless. But engineers around the world are coming up with ways to keep these spacecraft on the job.
The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), an arm of China's main space contractor, has unveiled a concept for servicing satellites in geostationary orbit at the Zhuhai Airshow, running from September 28-October 3. The Supplemental service Vehicle would approach a satellite near the end of its mission lifetime and, using artificial intelligence, maneuver in to attach itself to the target. It could then carry out the station keeping and attitude control functions needed to keep the target satellite in its orbit and correctly directed to provide its services.
Yet SAST is merely a newcomer to a growing field of space actors looking to extend the lives of satellites, including the European Space Agency, with its Geostationary Servicing Vehicle, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Astroscale of Japan and SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.
Northrop Grumman has already carried out the first such servicing and has two Mission Extension Vehicles (MEV) in orbit doing the station keeping for a pair of Intelsat satellites, prolonging their missions by five years. The company last week released footage from an infrared camera of MEV-2, launched in 2020, making a 12-hour rendezvous and docking with Intelsat IS-10-02 satellite.
"The technical prowess required to accomplish these missions took years to develop because of the complexity of doing something that had never been done in the unyielding environment of space," said Joe Anderson, vice president of operations and business development at Space Logistics.
While docking a spacecraft to the International Space Station or China's Tianhe space station module are relatively routine, the space stations are designed to received visitors. The satellites in geostationary orbit are, for now, not designed to allow rendezvous and docking. The MEV servicing spacecraft thus use a suite of instruments including narrow and wide field optical and infrared imagers as well as active scanning LIDAR to provide the navigation data needed to rendezvous and operate in proximity of the target satellites. MEVs then dock by locking on to structures—engine nozzles and launch adaptor rings—found on nearly 80 percent of all geostationary satellites in orbit today.
Space Logistics is also developing the second-generation Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) which includes a partnership with DARPA that provides a robotic arm and will be capable of installing a Mission Extension Pod (MEP) on target satellites. Together these will be able to carry a range of mission-extending services, including inspection and repair, relocations, propulsion augmentation, and replacement of parts and systems. Eventual in-orbit robotic assembly of space structures is a long-term goal. The MRV and MEP face critical design reviews next year ahead of launch of the first MRV and the first three MEPs in 2024.
Having new capabilities and more actors looking to extend the life of satellites could be more than a cost benefit for satellite operators. It could help mitigate the growing issue of orbital debris which threatens the use of low Earth and geostationary orbits in particular. Currently there are more than 500 active satellites operating in finite positions in geostationary orbit, with more in graveyard orbits. Anderson also states that Space Logistics proposes that all new spacecraft should include requirements that make satellites serviceable.
The other, darker side of the coin is that servicing spacecraft will be inherently "dual-use", that is, capable of not just servicing but also closing in and disabling a satellite. Satellite servicing will provide opportunities to boost space sustainability, but will require international discussion and a measure of openness to define a common and beneficial way forward.
Match ID: 191 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 18 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Michelin-starred vegetarian dining, model cities and a solar powered river safari – here’s how Germany became a world leader in sustainable tourism
Germany might have a reputation for meaty meals, fast cars and heavy industry but it has also become one of the greenest places to travel on the planet. Home to a nature-loving population, many of whom holiday domestically, it has cemented its reputation as a world leader in sustainable tourism over the past decade.
There’s no need to rush around on the Autobahn when you can hop aboard a train powered by renewable energy, or use the country’s excellent bus service. While you’re exploring the great outdoors, how about taking a leisurely, solar-powered boat on a river safari? More and more hotels are certified green, some even carbon neutral, and there are award-winning vegetarian and vegan restaurants galore so you needn’t worry about maintaining your commitment to plant-based eating on holiday either.
Get around These days you can rent electric or hybrid vehicles from most major car hire companies, and there are almost 28,000 charging points around Germany for topping up on power so you don’t have to worry about running out.
Continue reading... Match ID: 192 Score: 3.57 source: www.theguardian.com age: 18 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Beyond the great cities and idyllic Alps, Germany is home to a terrific range of destinations for the sustainable traveller. Here are four lesser-known green spots you won’t want to miss
How many German cities can you name, outside Berlin, Munich and Hamburg? What about the country’s 16 regions, or any of its 14 national parks? While many of us can discuss the merits of Puglia, Andalucía or the Algarve, we are rarely as knowledgable about Mecklenburg, Saarland or Hesse.
But it’s well worth taking the time to get to know these areas. Outside the country’s big cities and its most visited region of Bavaria, there is a lot to attract the discerning traveller, particularly those who are looking for a greener, more sustainable holiday. Visit one of these four off-the-beaten-track destinations and you’ll be very glad you did.
Saarland Bus and train travel cards for tourists now make it easier, cheaper and greener to explore regions such as the Black Forest (with the Konus card), and Northern Hesse, home and inspiration for the Brothers Grimm (MeineCardPlus). For eco-travellers, top of the list should be the central region of Saarland. It might be the smallest of the German states – apart from the city-states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen – but it was also the first to become a certified sustainable destination, with more than two-thirds of its landscape now under conservation.
The Saarland Card gives free local bus and train travel, making it easy to access its sensational countryside, as well as entry to more than 100 attractions, including saunas, animal encounters and adventure trails. The card is provided free of charge when you book certain types of accommodation. Meanwhile, the region’s latest eco scheme, Hiking with Hammocks, has hammocks for rent in its three national parks and biospheres, with designated “dangling points” – so you can soak up all the peace and quiet this little-known region has to offer.
Continue reading... Match ID: 193 Score: 3.57 source: www.theguardian.com age: 18 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Idling in a biergarten not your thing? Germany has plenty of extraordinary alternatives, from stargazing and beekeeping to culinary donkey trekking
Extreme sleepouts in Saarland The German language has some marvellous words, ranging from wegbier (“beer to drink on the way”) to hamsterkauf (“panic-buying”). Another to add to that lexicon is waldeinsamkeit: a feeling of being alone and finding inner peace in the forest. Arguably, travellers can’t get any more at one with the woods than sleeping in a portaledge tent (or cloefhänger) suspended between trees in the Saarland forest. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself into forest life: think morning mists, twit-twooing owls, mysterious nocturnal noises, and occasional bursts of “we’re up how high?!” when peering at the clouds below (the tents are perched at head-spinning heights overlooking a dramatic bend in the Saar river). The website specifies cloefhängers aren’t for people who don’t have schwindelfreiheit (“freedom from dizziness”; AKA a head-for-heights) or trittsicherheit (“tread safety”; AKA surefootedness), but there’s a less vertiginous version involving hammocks in the same forests.
Continue reading... Match ID: 194 Score: 3.57 source: www.theguardian.com age: 18 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
In Russia, Apple and Google Staff Get Muscled Up By the State Sun, 26 Sep 2021 13:00:00 +0000 When US tech companies opened offices there, it was supposed to mitigate oppression. Instead those workers are now vulnerable to threats from local authorities. Match ID: 195 Score: 3.57 source: www.wired.com age: 20 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
A female volunteer gets comfortable in her waterbed, as the dry immersion study to recreate some of the effects of spaceflight on the body kicks off this week in Toulouse, France. Called Vivaldi, or Validation of the Dry Immersion, the campaign features all female-participants in a European first.
Immersion begins when water covers the subject above the thorax, immobilised with legs and trunk covered with a cotton sheet. Only the arms and head remain free outside the tarp.
As a result, the body experiences ‘supportlessness’ – something close to what astronauts feel while floating on the International Space Station.
In weightlessness, astronauts’ bodies lose muscle and bone density, vision changes and fluids shift to the brain. Finding ways to stay healthy in orbit is a large part of human spaceflight research.
Volunteers spend almost 24 hours a day in the immersion tank, limiting their movements as much as possible. Each day starts at 7 am with urine and blood samples, followed by scientific protocols and measurements to study how the body adapts.
All activities from leisure to hygiene are done within the constraints of immersion. Only a small pillow is allowed during meals to ease eating. Showering and transfer to other experiments are done outside of the tank while lying on their backs and with their head tilted 6 degrees down to minimise fluid shifts.
The results from this type of research do not only benefit astronauts but have implications for patients on Earth with similar disorders and elderly people.
This is the only the second time a dry immersion campaign takes place with all-female participants, and it is a first for Europe. ESA decided to launch the study to address the gender gap in science data.
Match ID: 196 Score: 3.57 source: www.esa.int age: 22 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Jetpacks might sound fun, but learning how to control a pair of jet engines strapped to your back is no easy feat. Now a British startup wants to simplify things by developing a jetpack with an autopilot system that makes operating it more like controlling a high-end drone than learning how to fly.
Jetpacks made the leap from sci-fi to the real world as far back as the 1960s, but since then the they haven't found much use outside of gimmicky appearances in movies and halftime shows. In recent years though, the idea has received renewed interest. And its proponents are keen to show that the technology is no longer just for stuntmen and may even have practical applications.
Flying jetpacks can take a lot of training to master though. That's what prompted Hollywood animatronics expert Matt Denton and Royal Navy Commander Antony Quinn to found Maverick Aviation, and develop one that takes the complexities of flight control out the pilot's hands.
The Maverick Jetpack features four miniature jet turbines attached to an aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber frame, and will travel at up to 30 miles per hour. But the secret ingredient is software that automatically controls the engines to maintain a stable hover, and seamlessly convert the pilot's instructions into precise movements.
"It's going to be very much like flying a drone," says Denton. "We wanted to come up with something that anyone could fly. It's all computer-controlled and you'll just be using the joystick."
One of the key challenges, says Denton, was making the engines responsive enough to allow the rapid tweaks required for flight stabilization. This is relatively simple to achieve on a drone, whose electric motors can be adjusted in a blink of an eye, but jet turbines can take several seconds to ramp up and down between zero and full power.
To get around this, the company added servos to each turbine that let them move independently to quickly alter the direction of thrust—a process known as thrust vectoring. By shifting the alignment of the four engines the flight control software can keep the jetpack perfectly positioned using feedback from inertial measurement units, GPS, altimeters and ground distance sensors. Simple directional instructions from the pilot can also be automatically translated into the required low-level tweaks to the turbines.
It's a clever way to improve the mobility of the system, says Ben Akih-Kumgeh, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at Syracuse University. "It's not only a smart way of overcoming any lag that you may have, but it also helps with the lifespan of the engine," he adds. “[In] any mechanical system, the durability depends on how often you change the operating conditions."
The software is fairly similar to a conventional drone flight controller, says Denton, but they have had to accommodate some additional complexities. Thrust magnitude and thrust direction have to be managed by separate control loops due to their very different reaction times, but they still need to sync up seamlessly to coordinate adjustments. The entire control process is also complicated by the fact that the jetpack has a human strapped to it.
"Once you've got a shifting payload, like a person who's wobbling their arms around and moving their legs, then it does become a much more complex problem," says Denton.
In the long run, says Denton, the company hopes to add higher-level functions that could allow the jetpack to move automatically between points marked on a map. The hope is that by automating as much of the flight control as possible, users will be able to focus on the task at hand, whether that's fixing a wind turbine or inspecting a construction site.
Surrendering so much control to a computer might give some pause for thought, but Denton says there will be plenty of redundancy built in. "The idea will be that we'll have plenty of fallback modes where, if part of the system fails, it'll fall back to a more manual flight mode," he said. "The user would have training to basically tackle any of those conditions."
It might be sometime before you can start basic training, though, as the company has yet to fly their turbine-powered jetpack. Currently, flight testing is being conducted on an scaled down model powered by electric ducted fans, says Denton, though their responsiveness has been deliberately dulled so they behave like turbines. The company is hoping to conduct the first human test flights next summer.
Don't get your hopes up about commuting to work by jetpack any time soon though, says Akih-Kumgeh. The huge amount of noise these devices produce make it unlikely that they would be allowed to operate within city limits. The near term applications are more likely to be search and rescue missions where time and speed trump efficiency, he says.
Match ID: 198 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 24 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
New-home construction improves in August, driven by increase in multifamily building Tue, 21 Sep 2021 08:37:47 -0500 U.S. home builders started construction on homes at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.62 million in August, representing a 3.9% increase from the previous month, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Compared with August 2020, housing starts were up 17.4%. The pace of permitting for new housing units also increased in August. Permitting for new homes occurred at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.73 million, up 6% from July and 13.5% from a year ago. With both housing starts and building permits, the gains recorded in August were driven by an uptick in multifamily construction activity. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected housing starts to occur at a pace of 1.55 million and building permits to come in at a pace of 1.62 million.
Match ID: 199 Score: 3.57 source: feeds.marketwatch.com age: 25 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
Designed to mitigate the worst effects of fires, fire retardant materials play a particularly important role in aircraft construction. Used in aircraft, epoxies and silicones must maintain their primary role as adhesives or coatings while exhibiting resistance to heat and flame in accordance with government and industry specifications.
Master Bond's series of flame retardant epoxies and silicones comply with specifications for flame resistance and reduction of smoke density and toxic emissions.
Alphabet's enthusiasm for balloons deflated earlier this year, when it announced that its high-altitude Internet company, Loon, could not become commercially viable.
But while the stratosphere might not be a great place to put a cellphone tower, it could be the sweet spot for cameras, argue a host of high-tech startups.
The market for Earth-observation services from satellites is expected to top
US $4 billion by 2025, as orbiting cameras, radars, and other devices monitor crops, assess infrastructure, and detect greenhouse gas emissions. Low-altitude observations from drones could be worth.
Neither platform is perfect. Satellites can cover huge swaths of the planet but remain expensive to develop, launch, and operate. Their cameras are also hundreds of kilometers from the things they are trying to see, and often moving at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour.
Drones, on the other hand, can take supersharp images, but only over a relatively small area. They also need careful human piloting to coexist with planes and helicopters.
Balloons in the stratosphere, 20 kilometers above Earth (and 10 km above most jets), split the difference. They are high enough not to bother other aircraft and yet low enough to observe broad areas in plenty of detail. For a fraction of the price of a satellite, an operator can launch a balloon that lasts for weeks (even months), carrying large, capable sensors.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the U.S. military has funded development in stratospheric balloon tests
across six Midwest states to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats."
But the Pentagon is far from the only organization flying high. An
IEEE Spectrum analysis of applications filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission reveals at least six companies conducting observation experiments in the stratosphere. Some are testing the communications, navigation, and flight infrastructure required for such balloons. Others are running trials for commercial, government, and military customers.
The illustration above depicts experimental test permits granted by the FCC from January 2020 to June 2021, together covering much of the continental United States. Some tests were for only a matter of hours; others spanned days or more.
Match ID: 201 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 87 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
On the morning of 17 June, China launched the first astronauts to its Tianhe space station module, with a Long March 2F rocket sending the crewed Shenzhou-12 spacecraft into orbit.
Overlooked from this major success, however, was that downrange from its Gobi Desert launch site, empty rocket stages fell to ground. As getting to orbit is about reaching velocity high enough to overcome gravity (roughly 7.8 kilometers per second), rockets consist of stages, with tanks and engines optimized for flying through atmosphere dumped to reduce mass once empty. A video posted on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo emerged that seems to show one of these as part of the recovery process, with apparent residual, hazardous propellant leaking from the broken boosters. According to the source, road closures and evacuations allowed a safe clean up.
Stunningly, this is not unusual for Chinese space launches. China’s three main spaceports were built during the Cold War when security was paramount, with the U.S. and Soviet Union considering the possibility of preemptive strikes on facilities linked to China’s fledging nuclear weapon capabilities. Only the Wenchang launch center, established in 2016 for new rockets, is on the coast. As China has been aiming to launch as many as 40 or more times annually in the last few years, the issue is growing, with some stages falling on or near inhabited areas, including close to a school.
However where the stages fall and how they are dealt with is not as haphazard as it appears. The areas in which stages and side boosters fall are calculated to avoid major populations, and local warnings and evacuation orders are issued and implemented in advance. The array of amateur footage of falling rocket stages backs up the claim that the events are known and expected. No casualties from these events have so far been reported.
Yet this approach is costly, disruptive and not without continued risks and occasional damage.
To mitigate and eventually solve the problem, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the country’s main space contractor is developing controllable parafoils to constrain the areas in which the stages fall, most recently tested on a Long March 3B launch from Xichang, southwest China, one of China’s workhorse launchers, which most frequently threaten inhabited areas. Grid fins, the kind which help guide Falcon 9 rocket core stages to landing areas, have been tested on smaller Long March 2C and 4B launch vehicles.
The latter step is part of attempts to develop rockets that can launch, land and be reused like the Falcon 9, thus controlling the fall of large first stages.
The Long March 8, which had a debut (expendable) flight in December, is expected to be CASC’s first such launcher. Chinese commercial companies including Landspace, iSpace, Galactic Energy and Deep Blue Aerospace, are also working on reusable rockets. Low altitude hop tests are expected this year. Though, as SpaceX has demonstrated in a self-depreciating compilation, landing rockets vertically is no mean feat.
Additionally, the Long March 7A rocket, which launches from the coast, is expected to eventually replace the aging Long March 3B rocket for launches to geostationary orbit. As a bonus the 7A uses relatively clean kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant instead of the toxic fuel and oxidizer mix used by the 3B. The Long March 2F used for crewed launches could also be replaced by a Long March 7 or a low-Earth orbit version of a new-generation rocket being developed to eventually send Chinese astronauts to the moon.
China has also developed the ability to conduct launches at sea (though the most recent such launch flew directly over Taiwan). Its new Long March 5B, which launches from the coast, also has its own particular issue, namely the first stage actually (and unusually) reaching orbit, and returning to Earth wherever and whenever the atmosphere drags it back down.
Despite these measures, launching over land and population centers is fraught with risk. The debris issues and events above are when things go well; failures could bring yet greater danger. China’s space industry and activities have expanded greatly in recent decades, including lunar and planetary exploration, human spaceflight, remote sensing, spy, weather and other satellites, as well as a new commercial space sector. Some areas of space operations playing catch up.
Match ID: 202 Score: 3.57 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 114 days qualifiers: 3.57 mit
If getting flying cars to work has been a challenge, electric flying cars are an even tougher nut to crack, due to the weight of the batteries required and how quickly they must be able to pump out energy. But a new twist on lithium-ion batteries may help them become reality.
Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft have attracted increasing attention for urban air mobility services that could open sky corridors in cities for travel. By combining the convenience of helicopters when it comes to local takeoff and landing with the efficient aerodynamic flight of airplanes and the low noise and environmental impact of electric vehicles, electric flying cars might help cities reduce traffic congestion. Indeed, a 2020 report from management consultant firm Roland Berger in Munich, Germany, identified 95 ongoing eVTOL projects worldwide.
However, developing batteries for electric flying cars has been a challenge. Researchers have to worry about their weight, since they have to fly. They must deliver very high power while the vehicle moves vertically during takeoff and landing. They also need high energy densities to stay aloft a useful amount of time in the air.
In addition, since the commercial model for eVTOL aircraft will likely initially involve air taxi services, their batteries will also need to recharge quickly and often so they can earn high revenues during rush hours. They may each need to make 15 trips during the morning rush hour and another 15 during the evening rush hour to justify their cost—for example, from a city to an airport, carrying three to four people about 80 kilometers, says study senior author Chao-Yang Wang, an automotive, mechanical, chemical and materials engineer and director of the Electrochemical Engine Center at Pennsylvania State University.
A number of these desirable features work against each other, Wang notes. For example, fast charging usually reduces the number of possible recharge cycles, and high energy densities reduce charging speeds.
Now Wang and his colleagues have developed prototype battery designs they say can support 80-kilometer eVTOL trips with energy densities of 271 watt-hours per kilogram. These lithium-ion batteries can sustain more than 2,000 fast recharging cycles over their lifetimes, and recharge in just five to 10 minutes.
“The first generation of batteries for commercially viable flying cars is now available,” Wang says.
“Simplicity is our most complicated task”
The scientists relied on technology they developed for standard electric vehicles that incorporate 10-micron-thin nickel foils into batteries to help them rapidly heat to 60 degrees Celsius. Heating batteries can help them rapidly charge without forming the kinds of lithium spikes that can damage their innards and cause short circuits.
Heating can also help electric flying cars deal with a problem related to how their batteries are never allowed to completely discharge while they are in operation, as they always have to retain some charge to stay in the air and to land. When a battery is empty, its resistance to charging is low, but the higher its remaining charge, the more slowly it recharges. Heating the prototype eVTOL batteries can help them rapidly discharge their leftover energy, so they can then quickly recharge.
“Our self-heating technique has a heating speed of 1 to 5 degrees Celsius per second and consumes only 0.8 percent battery energy for every 10 degree Celsius temperature rise,” Wang says. “At the same time, the embedded nickel foil adds less than 1.5 percent weight and volume and less than 0.3 percent cost to a baseline battery.”
It took Wang and his colleagues about 10 years from stumbling upon the idea of heating batteries “to demonstrating and perfecting it to various battery prototypes today,” he says. A great challenge they faced was reducing the complexity of these self-heating structures as much as possible—“simplicity is our most complicated task,” he adds.
The researchers are now applying their strategy to battery chemistries with even greater energy densities. With the next generation of batteries they are developing, they aim to achieve 350 to 400 watt-hour per kilogram energy densities and reduce costs to US $50 per kilowatt-hour while keeping charging times of five to 10 minutes.
“This second generation will enable not only commercial fleet eVTOLs like flying taxis, but also privately owned flying cars,” Wang says. “My dream is to drive a flying car to work before I retire.”