Collisions with birds are a serious problem for commercial aircraft, costing the industry billions of dollars and killing thousands of animals every year. New research shows that a robotic imitation of a peregrine falcon could be an effective way to keep them out of flight paths.
Worldwide, so-called birdstrikes are estimated to cost the civil aviation industry almost US $1.4 billion annually. Nearby habitats are often deliberately made unattractive to birds, but airports also rely on a variety of deterrents designed to scare them away, such as loud pyrotechnics or speakers that play distress calls from common species.
However, the effectiveness of these approaches tends to decrease over time, as the birds get desensitized by repeated exposure, says Charlotte Hemelrijk, a professor on the faculty of science and engineering at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. Live hawks or blinding lasers are also sometimes used to disperse flocks, she says, but this is controversial as it can harm the animals, and keeping and training falcons is not cheap.
“The birds don’t distinguish [RobotFalcon] from a real falcon, it seems.” —Charlotte Hemelrijk, University of Groningen
In an effort to find a more practical and lasting solution, Hemelrijk and colleagues designed a robotic peregrine falcon that can be used to chase flocks away from airports. The device is the same size and shape as a real hawk, and its fiberglass and carbon-fiber body has been painted to mimic the markings of its real-life counterpart.
Rather than flapping like a bird, the RobotFalcon relies on two small battery-powered propellers on its wings, which allows it to travel at around 30 miles per hour for up to 15 minutes at a time. A human operator controls the machine remotely from a hawk’s-eye perspective via a camera perched above the robot’s head.
To see how effective the RobotFalcon was at scaring away birds, the researchers tested it against a conventional quadcopter drone over three months of field testing, near the Dutch city of Workum. They also compared their results to 15 years of data collected by the Royal Netherlands Air Force that assessed the effectiveness of conventional deterrence methods such as pyrotechnics and distress calls.
In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the team showed that the RobotFalcon cleared fields of birds faster and more effectively than the drone. It also kept birds away from fields longer than distress calls, the most effective of the conventional approaches.
There was no evidence of birds getting habituated to the RobotFalcon over three months of testing, says Hemelrijk, and the researchers also found that the birds exhibited behavior patterns associated with escaping from predators much more frequently with the robot than with the drone. “The way of reacting to the RobotFalcon is very similar to the real falcon,” says Hemelrijk. “The birds don’t distinguish it from a real falcon, it seems.”
Other attempts to use hawk-imitating robots to disperse birds have had less promising results, though. Morgan Drabik-Hamshare, a research wildlife biologist at the DoA, and her colleagues published a paper in Scientific Reports last year that described how they pitted a robotic peregrine falcon with flapping wings against a quadcopter and a fixed-wing remote-controlled aircraft.
They found the robotic falcon was the least effective of the three at scaring away turkey vultures, with the quadcopter scaring the most birds off and the remote-controlled plane eliciting the quickest response. “Despite the predator silhouette, the vultures did not perceive the predator UAS [unmanned aircraft system] as a threat,” Drabik-Hamshare wrote in an email.
Zihao Wang, an associate lecturer at the University of Sydney, in Australia, who develops UAS for bird deterrence, says the RobotFalcon does seem to be effective at dispersing flocks. But he points out that its wingspan is nearly twice the diagonal length of the quadcopter it was compared with, which means it creates a much larger silhouette when viewed from the birds’ perspective. This means the birds could be reacting more to its size than its shape, and he would like to see the RobotFalcon compared with a similar size drone in the future.
The unique design also means the robot requires an experienced and specially trained operator, Wang adds, which could make it difficult to roll out widely. A potential solution could be to make the system autonomous, he says, but it’s unclear how easy this would be.
Hemelrijk says automating the RobotFalcon is probably not feasible, both due to strict regulations around the use of autonomous drones near airports as well as the sheer technical complexity. Their current operator is a falconer with significant experience in how hawks target their prey, she says, and creating an autonomous system that could recognize and target bird flocks in a similar way would be highly challenging.
But while the need for skilled operators is a limitation, Hemelrijk points out that most airports already have full-time staff dedicated to bird deterrence, who could be trained. And given the apparent lack of habituation and the ability to chase birds in a specific direction—so that they head away from runways—she thinks the robotic falcon could be a useful addition to their arsenal.
This article appears in the February 2023 print issue as “Robotic Falcon Is the Scarecrow of the Skies.”
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The House voted along party lines as it ousted Democratic representative Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee while Democrats defended her.
The vote was divided 218 to 211, CBS reports. One GOP member voted “present.”
“This debate today, it’s about who gets to be an American? What opinions do we get to have, do we have to have to be counted as American?… That is what this debate is about, Madam Speaker. There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant. Or if you are from a certain part of the world, of a certain skin tone or a Muslim.
Well, I am Muslim. I am an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I’m being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?” she said.
“A blatant double standard is being applied here. Something just doesn’t add up. And what is the difference between Rep. Omar and these members? Could it be the way that she looks? Could it be her religious practices?” he said.
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U.S. Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Ken Buck, R-Colo., on Thursday announced the formation of a Congressional Antitrust Caucus, designed for "holding Big Tech and monopolies accountable, promoting healthy competition in the economy, and advocating for hardworking and law-abiding consumers and business owners." The bipartisan caucus said it intends to focus on hearings with American innovators harmed by Big Tech, and a continued push for
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Minnesota Democrat accuses Republicans of trying to silence her because she is Muslim and vows to ‘advocate for a better world’
Republicans voted to expel Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar from the House foreign affairs committee on Thursday as punishment for her past remarks on Israel. Democrats objected, saying the move was about revenge after Democrats removed far-right extremists in the last Congress.
A majority of 218 GOP lawmakers supported Omar’s expulsion from the committee, which is tasked with handling legislation and holding hearings affecting America’s diplomatic relations. One Republican lawmaker voted “present”.
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Some observers say the metaverse is an expanded set of digital worlds that will grow out of the online environments that people are already familiar with, such as enhancing the extended-reality (XR) experience used in online gaming. The world they imagine is expected to offer new features and capabilities that accelerate society’s digital transformation and enhance sustainability by reducing the need for people to travel to meetings and perform resource-intensive activities.
Others say the metaverse will usher in a decentralized ecosystem that empowers users to create digital assets of their own choosing and engage in digital commerce. Because the architecture would be open, decentralized, and without gatekeepers, this version is expected to democratize the Internet by making it transparent, accessible, and interoperable to everyone.
However the metaverse evolves, one thing is certain: It has tremendous potential to fundamentally transform the ways we work, learn, play, and live. But there will be issues to deal with along the way.
That is why the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) is working to help define, develop, and deploy the technologies, applications, and governance practices needed to help turn metaverse concepts into practical realities, and to drive new markets.
Technical and societal challenges
The technical and societal challenges that come with designing and building metaverse environments include:
Better user interfaces.
Lower system latency.
More tightly integrated, interoperable XR technologies.
Better 3D modeling and volumetric video rendering.
Improved ways to acquire, render, store, and protect geospatial data.
Lower power consumption.
Interacting with the Internet.
Consensus is needed to address the wide variety of views held on technosocial issues such as user identity, credentialing, privacy, openness, ethics, accessibility, and user safety.
New technical standards
IEEE SA recently formed its metaverse standards committee, the first committee of a major worldwide standards development organization designed to advance metaverse-related technologies and applications. It will do so by developing and maintaining technical standards, creating recommended practices, and writing guides.
In addition, technical standards and activities are incubating new ideas on topics that are expected to be of great interest to industry.
The IEEE P7016 Standard for Ethically Aligned Design and Operation of Metaverse Systems will provide a high-level overview of the technosocial aspects of metaverse systems and specify an ethical assessment methodology for use in their design and operation. The standard will include guidance to developers on how to adapt their processes to prioritize ethically aligned design. In addition, IEEE P7016 will help define ethical system content on accessibility and functional safety. Also included will be guidance on how to promote ethically aligned values and robust public engagement in the research, implementation, and proliferation of metaverse systems to increase human well-being and environmental sustainability.
Two industry-focused initiatives
IEEE SA also recently launched two Industry Connections activities specifically for the metaverse. The IC program facilitates collaboration and consensus-building among participants. It also provides IEEE resources to help produce standards proposals; white papers and other reports; events; software tools; and Web services.
The Decentralized Metaverse Initiative has identified a goal of developing and providing guidelines for implementing decentralized metaverses, which not only could capitalize on intellectual property and virtual assets in decentralized ways but also could benefit from other potential features of decentralized architectures.
The Persistent Computing for Metaverse Initiative will focus on the technologies needed to build, operate, and upgrade metaverse experiences. It includes computation, storage, communications, data structures, and artificial intelligence. This group will facilitate discussions and collaborations on persistent computing, steer and give advice on research and development, and provide technical guidelines and references.
Webinars with experts
The IEEE Metaverse Congress offers a series of webinars that provide a comprehensive, global view from experts who are involved with the technology’s development, design, and governance.
Senator says he was asked to get justice to make compromising comments on tape as Bolsonaro ‘sat in silence’
A close ally of Jair Bolsonaro has turned against Brazil’s former president, claiming that an aide to the far-right leader tried to “coerce” him into joining a conspiracy to annul the October elections and keep Bolsonaro in power.
Senator Marcos do Val claimed at a news conference on Thursday that he was invited to a meeting on 9 December with the then president by a fellow member of congress, Daniel Silveira, to discuss a plan to “save Brazil” .
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Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the veteran San Francisco Democrat who was speaker of the U.S. House till Republicans secured narrow control of the chamber last month, said she'll back fellow House Democrat Adam Schiff in his recently declared Senate run, on the condition that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, opts not to seek re-election next year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Pelosi, 82, late last year gave up her spot among Democratic leadership in the House and was tapped as speaker emerita. Rep. Katie Porter, who like Schiff represents a congressional district in Southern California, has also declared her candidacy for the Senate seat.
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How the US Could Ban TikTok in 7 Not-So-Easy Steps Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:00:00 +0000 Former president Trump tried and failed to ban the app. Now US lawmakers from both parties are preparing legislation they say can finish the job. Match ID: 12 Score: 10.00 source: www.wired.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 10.00 congress
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VP Awards Former NASA Astronauts Congressional Space Medal of Honor Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:03 EST On behalf of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris awarded former NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken the Congressional Space Medal of Honor Tuesday for their bravery in NASA’s SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2) to the International Space Station in 2020. Match ID: 15 Score: 10.00 source: www.nasa.gov age: 2 days qualifiers: 10.00 congress
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Former NASA Astronauts to Receive Congressional Space Medal of Honor Mon, 30 Jan 2023 15:13 EST Vice President Kamala Harris will award former NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken the Congressional Space Medal of Honor at 4:25 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Hurley and Behnken will receive the award for bravery in NASA’s SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2) to the International Space Station in 2020. Match ID: 17 Score: 8.57 source: www.nasa.gov age: 3 days qualifiers: 8.57 congress
There are two major reasons for this: first, EVs are not going to reach the numbers required by 2050 to hit their needed contribution to net zero goals, and even if they did, a host of other personal, social and economic activities must be modified to reach the total net zero mark.
For instance, Alexandre Milovanoff at the University of Toronto and his colleagues’ research (which is described in depth in a recent Spectrum article) demonstrates the U.S. must have 90 percent of its vehicles, or some 350 million EVs, on the road by 2050 in order to hit its emission targets. The likelihood of this occurring is infinitesimal. Some estimates indicate that about 40 percent of vehicles on US roads will be ICE vehicles in 2050, while others are less than half that figure.
For the U.S. to hit the 90 percent EV target, sales of all new ICE vehicles across the U.S. must cease by 2038 at the latest, according to research company BloombergNEF (BNEF). Greenpeace, on the other hand, argues that sales of all diesel and petrol vehicles, including hybrids, must end by 2030 to meet such a target. However, achieving either goal would likely require governments offering hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, in EV subsidies to ICE owners over the next decade, not to mention significant investments in EV charging infrastructure and the electrical grid. ICE vehicle households would also have to be convinced that they would not be giving activities up by becoming EV-only households.
As a reality check, current estimates for the number of ICE vehicles still on the road worldwide in 2050 range from a low of 1.25 billion to more than 2 billion.
Even assuming that the required EV targets were met in the U.S. and elsewhere, it still will not be sufficient to meet net zero 2050 emission targets. Transportation accounts for only 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the U.S.; the sources of the other 73 percent of GHG emissions must be reduced as well. Even in the transportation sector, more than 15 percent of the GHG emissions are created by air and rail travel and shipping. These will also have to be decarbonized.
Nevertheless, for EVs themselves to become true zero emission vehicles, everything in their supply chain from mining to electricity production must be nearly net-zero emission as well. Today, depending on the EV model, where it charges, and assuming it is a battery electric and not a hybrid vehicle, it may need to be driven anywhere from 8,400 to 13,500 miles, or controversially, significantly more to generate less GHG emissions than an ICE vehicle. This is due to the 30 to 40 percent increase in emissions EVs create in comparison to manufacturing an ICE vehicle, mainly from its battery production.
In states (or countries) with a high proportion of coal-generated electricity, the miles needed to break-even climb more. In Poland and China, for example, an EV would need to be driven 78,700 miles to break-even. Just accounting for miles driven, however, BEVs cars and trucks appear cleaner than ICE equivalents nearly everywhere in the U.S. today. As electricity increasingly comes from renewables, total electric vehicle GHG emissions will continue downward, but that will take at least a decade or more to happen everywhere across the U.S. (assuming policy roadblocks disappear), and even longer elsewhere.
If EVs aren’t enough, what else is needed?
Given that EVs, let alone the rest of the transportation sector, likely won’t hit net zero 2050 targets, what additional actions are being advanced to reduce GHG emissions?
A high priority, says IEA’s Birol, is investment in across-the-board energy-related technology research and development and their placement into practice. According to Birol, “IEA analysis shows that about half the reductions to get to net zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for market.”
Many of these new technologies will be aimed at improving the efficient use of fossil fuels, which will not be disappearing anytime soon. The IEA expects that energy efficiency improvement, such as the increased use of variable speed electric motors, will lead to a 40 percent reduction in energy-related GHG emissions over the next twenty years.
But even if these hoped for technological improvements arrive, and most certainly if they do not, the public and businesses are expected to take more energy conscious decisions to close what the United Nations says is the expected 2050 “emissions gap.” Environmental groups foresee the public needing to use electrified mass transit, reduce long-haul flights for business as well as pleasure), increase telework, walk and cycle to work or stores, change their diet to eat more vegetables, or if absolutely needed, drive only small EVs. Another expectation is that homeowners and businesses will become “fully electrified” by replacing oil, propane and gas furnaces with heat pumps along with gas fired stoves as well as installing solar power and battery systems.
Dronning Louise’s Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) connects inner Copenhagen and Nørrebro and is frequented by many cyclists and pedestrians every day.Frédéric Soltan/Corbis/Getty Images
Underpinning the behavioral changes being urged (or encouraged by legislation) is the notion of rejecting the current car-centric culture and completely rethinking what personal mobility means. For example, researchers at University of Oxford in the U.K. argue that, “Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions.” Their studyfound “emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.” If just one out of five urban residents in Europe permanently changed from driving to cycling, emissions from automobiles would be cut by 8 percent, the study reports.
Even then, Oxford researchers concede, breaking the car’s mental grip on people is not going to be easy, given the generally poor state of public transportation across much of the globe.
Behavioral change is hard
How willing are people to break their car dependency and other energy-related behaviors to address climate change? The answer is perhaps some, but maybe not too much. A Pew Research Centersurvey taken in late 2021 of seventeen countries with advanced economies indicated that 80 percent of those surveyed were willing to alter how then live and work to combat climate change.
However, a Kanter Publicsurvey of ten of the same countries taken at about the same time gives a less positive view, with only 51 percent of those polled stating they would alter their lifestyles. In fact, some 74 percent of those polled indicated they were already “proud of what [they are] currently doing” to combat climate change.
What both polls failed to explore are what behaviors specifically would respondents being willing to permanently change or give up in their lives to combat climate change?
For instance, how many urban dwellers, if told that they must forever give up their cars and instead walk, cycle or take public transportation, would willingly agree to doing so? And how many of those who agreed, would also consent to go vegetarian, telework, and forsake trips abroad for vacation?
It is one thing to answer a poll indicating a willingness to change, and quite another to “walk the talk” especially if there are personal, social or economic inconveniences or costs involved. For instance, recent U.S. survey information shows that while 22 percent of new car buyers expressed interest in a battery electric vehicle (BEV), only 5 percent actually bought one.
The world’s largest bike parking facility, Stationsplein Bicycle Parking near Utrecht Central Station in Utrecht, Netherlands has 12,500 parking places.Abdullah Asiran/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
However, in countless other urban areas, especially across most of the U.S., even those wishing to forsake owning a car would find it very difficult to do so without a massive influx of investment into all forms of public transport and personal mobility to eliminate the scores of US transit deserts.
As Tony Dutzik of the environmental advocacy group Frontier Group has written that in the U.S. “the price of admission to jobs, education and recreation is owning a car.” That’s especially true if you are a poor urbanite. Owning a reliable automobile has long been one of the only successful means of getting out of poverty.
Massive investment in new public transportation in the U.S. in unlikely, given its unpopularity with politicians and the public alike. This unpopularity has translated into aging and poorly-maintained bus, train and transit systems that few look forward to using. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the current state of American public transportation a grade of D- and says today’s $176 billion investment backlog is expected to grow to $250 billion through 2029.
While the $89 billion targeted to public transportation in the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help, it also contains more than $351 billion for highways over the next five years. Hundreds of billions in annual investment are needed not only to fix the current public transport system but to build new ones to significantly reduce car dependency in America. Doing so would still take decades to complete.
Yet, even if such an investment were made in public transportation, unless its service is competitive with an EV or ICE vehicle in terms of cost, reliability and convenience, it will not be used. With EVs costing less to operate than ICE vehicles, the competitive hurdle will increase, despite the moves to offer free transit rides. Then there is the social stigma attached riding public transportation that needs to be overcome as well.
A few experts proclaim that ride-sharing using autonomous vehicles will separate people from their cars. Some even claim such AV sharing signals the both the end of individual car ownership as well as the need to invest in public transportation. Both outcomes are far from likely.
Other suggestions include redesigning cities to be more compact and more electrified, which would eliminate most of the need for personal vehicles to meet basic transportation needs. Again, this would take decades and untold billions of dollars to do so at the scale needed. The San Diego, California region has decided to spend $160 billion as a way to meet California’s net zero objectives to create “a collection of walkable villages serviced by bustling (fee-free) train stations and on-demand shuttles” by 2050. However, there has been public pushback over how to pay for the plan and its push to decrease personal driving by imposing a mileage tax.
According to University of Michigan public policy expert John Leslie King, the challenge of getting to net zero by 2050 is that each decarbonization proposal being made is only part of the overall solution. He notes, “You must achieve all the goals, or you don’t win. The cost of doing each is daunting, and the total cost goes up as you concatenate them.”
Concatenated costs also include changing multiple personal behaviors. It is unlikely that automakers, having committed more than a trillion dollars so far to EVs and charging infrastructure, are going to support depriving the public of the activities they enjoy today as a price they pay to shift to EVs. A war on EVs will be hard fought.
The number of Massachusetts households that can afford or are willing to buy an EV and or convert their homes to a heat pump system in the next eight years, even with a current state median household income of $89,000 and subsidies, is likely significantly smaller than the targets set. So, what happens if by 2030, the numbers are well below target, not only in Massachusetts, but other states like California, New York, or Illinois that also have aggressive GHG emission reduction targets?
Will governments move from encouraging behavioral changes to combat climate change or, in frustration or desperation, begin mandating them? And if they do, will there be a tipping point that spurs massive social resistance?
For example, dairy farmers in the Netherlands have been protesting plans by the government to force them to cut their nitrogen emissions. This will require dairy farms to reduce their livestock, which will make it difficult or impossible to stay in business. The Dutch government estimates 11,200 farms must close, and another 17,600 to reduce their livestock numbers. The government says farmers who do not comply will have their farms taken away by forced buyouts starting in 2023.
California admits getting to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045 means car owners must travel 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and even more by 2045. If drivers fail to do so, will California impose weekly or monthly driving quotas, or punitive per mile driving taxes, along with mandating mileage data from vehicles ever-more connected to the Internet? The San Diego backlash over a mileage tax may be just the beginning.
“EVs,” notes King, “pull an invisible trailer filled with required major lifestyle changes that the public is not yet aware of.”
When it does, do not expect the public to acquiesce quietly.
In the final article of the series, we explore potential unanticipated consequences of transitioning to EVs at scale.
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NASA’s Artemis I mission launched early in the predawn hours this morning, at 1:04 a.m. eastern time, carrying with it the hopes of a space program aiming now to land American astronauts back on the moon. The Orion spacecraft now on its way to the moon also carries with it a lot of CubeSat-size science. (As of press time, some satellites have even begun to tweet.)
And while the objective of Artemis I is to show that the launch system and spacecraft can make a trip to the moon and return safely to Earth, the mission is also a unique opportunity to send a whole spacecraft-load of science into deep space. In addition to the interior of the Orion capsule itself, there are enough nooks and crannies to handle a fair number of CubeSats, and NASA has packed as many experiments as it can into the mission. From radiation phantoms to solar sails to algae to a lunar surface payload, Artemis I has a lot going on.
Most of the variety of the science on Artemis I comes in the form of CubeSats, little satellites that are each the size of a large shoebox. The CubeSats are tucked snugly into berths inside the Orion stage adapter, which is the bit that connects the interim cryogenic propulsion stage to the ESA service module and Orion. Once the propulsion stage lifts Orion out of Earth orbit and pushes it toward the moon, the stage and adapter will separate from Orion, and the CubeSats will launch themselves.
Ten CubeSats rest inside the Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.NASA KSC
While the CubeSats look identical when packed up, each one is totally unique in both hardware and software, with different destinations and mission objectives. There are 10 in total (three weren’t ready in time for launch, which is why there are a couple of empty slots in the image above).
Here is what each one is and does:
While the CubeSats head off to do their own thing, inside the Orion capsule itself will be the temporary home of a trio of mannequins. The first, a male-bodied version provided by NASA, is named Commander Moonikin Campos, after NASA electrical engineer Arturo Campos, who was the guy who wrote the procedures that allowed the Apollo 13 command module to steal power from the lunar module’s batteries, one of many actions that saved the Apollo 13 crew.
Moonikin Campos prepares for placement in the Orion capsule.NASA
Moonikin Campos will spend the mission in the Orion commander’s seat, wearing an Orion crew survival system suit. Essentially itself a spacecraft, the suit is able to sustain its occupant for up to six days if necessary. Moonikin Campos’s job will be to pretend to be an astronaut, and sensors inside him will measure radiation, acceleration, and vibration to help NASA prepare to launch human astronauts in the next Artemis mission.
Helga and Zohar in place on the flight deck of the Orion spacecraft.NASA/DLR
Accompanying Moonikin Campos are two female-bodied mannequins, named Helga and Zohar, developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) along with the Israel Space Agency. These are more accurately called “anthropomorphic phantoms,” and their job is to provide a detailed recording of the radiation environment inside the capsule over the course of the mission. The phantoms are female because women have more radiation-sensitive tissue than men. Both Helga and Zohar have over 6,000 tiny radiation detectors placed throughout their artificial bodies, but Zohar will be wearing an AstroRad radiation protection vest to measure how effective it is.
NASA’s Biology Experiment-1 is transferred to the Orion team.NASA/KSC
The final science experiment to fly onboard Orion is NASA’s Biology Experiment-1. The experiment is really just seeing what time in deep space does to some specific kinds of biology, so all that has to happen is for Orion to successfully haul some packages of sample tubes around the moon and back. Samples include:
Plant seeds to characterize how spaceflight affects nutrient stores
Photosynthetic algae to identify genes that contribute to its survival in deep space
Aspergillus fungus to investigate radioprotective effects of melanin and DNA damage response
Yeast used as a model organism to identify genes that enable adaptations to conditions in both low Earth orbit and deep space
There is some concern that because of the extensive delays with the Artemis launch, the CubeSats have been sitting so long that their batteries may have run down. Some of the CubeSats could be recharged, but for others, recharging was judged to be so risky that they were left alone. Even for CubeSats that don’t start right up, though, it’s possible that after deployment, their solar panels will be able to get them going. But at this point, there’s still a lot of uncertainty, and the CubeSats’ earthbound science teams are now pinning their hopes on everything going well after launch.
For the rest of the science payloads, success mostly means Orion returning to Earth safe and sound, which will also be a success for the Artemis I mission as a whole. And assuming it does so, there will be a lot more science to come.
Match ID: 24 Score: 2.14 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 78 days qualifiers: 2.14 judge
This is the tenth in a
series of articles exploring the major technological and social challenges that must be addressed as we move from vehicles with internal-combustion engines to electric vehicles at scale. In reviewing each article, readers should bear in mind Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman’s admonition: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
Perhaps, but getting the vast majority of 111 million
US households who own one or more light duty internal combustion vehicles to switch to EVs is going to take time. Even if interest in purchasing an EV is increasing, close to 70 percent of Americans are still leaning towards buying an ICE vehicles as their next purchase. In the UK, only 14 percent of drivers plan to purchase an EV as their next car.
Even when there is an expressed interest in purchasing a battery electric or hybrid vehicle, it often did not turn into an actual purchase. A
2022 CarGurus survey found that 35 percent of new car buyers expressed an interest in purchasing a hybrid, but only 13 percent eventually did. Similarly, 22 percent expressed interest in a battery electric vehicle (BEV), but only 5 percent bought one.
Each potential EV buyer assesses their individual needs against the benefits and risks an EV offers. However, until mainstream public confidence reaches the point where the perceived combination of risks of a battery electric vehicle purchase (range, affordability, reliability and behavioral changes) match that of an ICE vehicle, then EV purchases are going to be the exception rather than the norm.
Arguments over how much range is needed are contentious. There are some who argue that because
95 percent of American car trips are 30 miles or less, a battery range of 250 miles or less is all that is needed. They also point out that this would reduce the price of the EV, since batteries account for about 30 percent of an EVs total cost. In addition, using smaller batteries would allow more EVs to be built, and potentially relieve pressure on the battery supply chain. If longer trips are needed, well, “bring some patience and enjoy the charging experience” seems to be the general advice.
While perhaps logical, these arguments are not going to influence typical buying decisions much. The first question potential EV buyers are going to ask themselves is, “Am I going to be paying more for a compromised version of mobility?” says Alexander Edwards, President of
Strategic Vision, a research-based consultancy that aims to understand human behavior and decision-making.
Driver’s side view of 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV 3LT.Chevrolet
Edwards explains potential customers do not have
range anxietyper se: If they believe they require a vehicle that must go 400 miles before stopping, “even if once a month, once a quarter, or once a year,” all vehicles that cannot meet that criteria will be excluded from their buying decision. Range anxiety, therefore, is more a concern for EV owners. Edwards points out that regarding range, most BEV owners own at least one ICE vehicle to meet their long-distance driving needs.
What exactly is the “range” of a BEV is itself becoming a heated point of contention. While ICE vehicles driving ranges are affected by weather and driving conditions, the effects are well-understood after decades of experience. This experience is lacking with non-EV owners. Extreme heat and cold negatively
affect EV battery ranges and charging time, as do driving speeds and terrain.
Peter Rawlinson serves as the CEO and CTO of Lucid.Lucid
Some automakers are reticent to say how much range is affected under differing conditions. Others, like Ford’s CEO Jim Farley, freely admits, “If you’re pulling 10,000 pounds, an electric truck is not the right solution. And 95 percent of our customers tow more than 10,000 pounds.” GM, though, is promising it will meet heavier towing requirements with its 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV. However, Lucid Group CEO Peter Rawlinson in a non-too subtle dig at both Ford and GM said, “The correct solution for an affordable pickup truck today is the internal combustion engine.”
Ford’s Farley foresees that the heavy-duty truck segment will be sticking with ICE trucks for a while, as “it will probably go hydrogen fuel cell before it goes pure electric.” Many in the auto industry are warning that realistic BEV range numbers under varying conditions
need to be widely published, else risk creating a backlash against EVs in general.
Price is another EV purchase risk that is comparable to EV range. Buying a new car is the second most expensive purchase a consumer makes behind buying a house. Spending nearly
100 percent of an annual US median household income on an unfamiliar technology is not a minor financial ask.
That is one reason why legacy automakers and EV start-ups are attempting to follow
Tesla’s success in the luxury vehicle segment, spending much of their effort producing vehicles that are “above the median average annual US household income, let alone buyer in new car market,” Strategic Vision’s Edwards says. On top of the twenty or so luxury EVs already or soon to be on the market, Sony and Honda recently announced that they would be introducing yet another luxury EV in 2026.
It is true that there are some EVs that will soon appear in the competitive price range of ICE vehicles like the low-end
GM EV Equinox SUV presently priced around $30,000 with a 280-mile range. How long GM will be able to keep that price in the face of battery cost increases and inflationary pressure, is anyone’s guess. It has already started to increase the cost of its Chevrolet Bolt EVs, which it had slashed last year, “due to ongoing industry-related pricing pressures.”
The Lucid Air’s price ranges from $90,000 to $200,000 depending on options.Lucid.
Analysts believe Tesla intends to
spark an EV price war before its competitors are ready for one. This could benefit consumers in the short-term, but could also have long-term downside consequences for the EV industry as a whole. Tesla fired its first shot over its competitors’ bows with a recently announced price cut from $65,990 to $52,990 for its basic Model Y, with a range of 330 miles. That makes the Model Y cost-competitive with Hyundai’s $45,500 IONIQ 5 e-SUV with 304 miles of range.
Tesla’s pricing power could be hard to counter, at least in the short term. Ford’s cheapest F-150 Lightning Pro is now $57,869 compared to $41,769 a year ago due to what Ford
says are “ongoing supply chain constraints, rising material costs and other market factors.” The entry level F-150 XL with an internal combustion engine has risen in the past year from about $29,990 to $33,695 currently.
Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis.Stellantis
Automakers like Stellantis, freely acknowledge that EVs are too expensive for most buyers, with
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares even warning that if average consumers can’t afford EVs as ICE vehicle sales are banned, “There is potential for social unrest.” However, other automakers like BMW are quite unabashed about going after the luxury market which it terms “white hot.” BMW’s CEO Oliver Zipse does say the company will not leave the “lower market segment,” which includes the battery electric iX1 xDrive30 that retails for A$82,900 in Australia and slightly lower elsewhere. It is not available in the United States.
The fact that luxury EVs are
more profitable no doubt helps keep automakers focused on that market. Ford’s very popular Mustang Mach-E is having trouble maintaining profitability, for instance, which has forced Ford to raise its base price from $43,895 to $46,895. Even in the Chinese market where smaller EV sales are booming, profits are not. Strains on profitability for automakers and their suppliers may increase further as battery metals prices increase, warns data analysis company S&P Global Mobility.
Jim Rowan, Volvo Cars’ CEO and President.Volvo Cars
Interestingly, a 2019
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study predicted that as EVs became more widespread, battery prices would climb because the demand for lithium and other battery metals would rise sharply. As a result, the study indicated EV/ICE price parity was likely closer to 2030 with the expectation that new battery chemistries would be introduced by then.
Many argue, however, that
total cost of ownership (TCO) should be used as the EV purchase decision criterion rather than sticker price. Total cost of ownership of EVs is generally less than an ICE vehicle over its expected life since they have lower maintenance costs and electricity is less expensive per mile than gasoline, and tax incentives and rebates help a lot as well.
However, how long it takes to hit the break-even point
depends on many factors, like the cost differential of a comparable ICE vehicle, depreciation, taxes, insurance costs, the cost of electricity/petrol in a region, whether charging takes place at home, etc. And TCO rapidly loses it selling point appeal if electricity prices go up, however, as is happening in the UK and in Germany.
Even if the total cost of ownership is lower for an EV, a potential EV customer may not be interested if meeting today’s monthly auto payments is difficult. Extra costs like needing to install a fast charger at home, which can add
several thousand dollars more, or higher insurance costs, which could add an extra $500-$600 a year, may also be seen as buying impediment and can change the TCO equation.
Reliability and other major tech risks
To perhaps distract wary EV buyers from range and affordability issues, the automakers have focused their efforts on highlighting EV performance.
Raymond Roth, a director at financial advisory firm Stout Risius Ross, observes among automakers, “There’s this arms race right now of best in class performance” being the dominant selling point.
This “wow” experience is being pursued by every EV automaker.
Mercedes CEO Kallenius, for example, says to convince its current luxury vehicle owners to an EV, “the experience for the customer in terms of the torque, the performance, everything [must be] fantastic.” Nissan, which seeks a more mass market buyer, runs commercials exclaiming, “Don’t get an EV for the ‘E’, but because it will pin you in your seat, sparks your imagination and takes your breath away.”
Ford believes it will earn $20 billion, Stellantis some $22.5 billion and GM $20 to $25 billion from paid software-enabled vehicle features by 2030.
EV reliability issues may also take one’s breath away. Reliability is “extremely important” to new-car buyers,
according to a 2022 report from Consumer Reports (CR). Currently, EV reliability is nothing to brag about. CR’s report says that “On average, EVs have significantly higher problem rates than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles across model years 2019 and 2020.” BEVs dwell at the bottom of the rankings.
Reliability may prove to be an Achilles heel to automakers like GM and Ford. GM CEO Mary Barra has very publicly promised that GM would no longer build “
crappy cars.” The ongoing problems with the Chevy Bolt undercuts that promise, and if its new Equinox EV has issues, it could hurt sales. Ford has reliability problems of its own, paying $4 billion in warranty costs last year alone. Its e-Mustang has been subject to several recalls over the past year. Even perceived quality-leader Toyota has been embarrassed by wheels falling off weeks after the introduction of its electric bZ4X SUV, the first in a new series “bZ”—beyond zero—electric vehicles.
A Tesla caught up in a mudslide in Silverado Canyon, Calif., on March 10, 2021. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
Another reliability risk-related issue is getting an EV repaired when something goes awry, or there is an accident. Right now, there is a dearth of EV-certified mechanics and repair shops. The
UK Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) needs 90,000 EV-trained technicians by 2030. The IMI estimates that less than 7 percent of the country’s automotive service workforce of 200,000 vehicle technicians is EV qualified. In the US, the situation is not better. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which certifies auto repair technicians, says the US has 229,000 ASE-certified technicians. However, there are only some 3,100 certified for electric vehicles. With many automakers moving to reduce their dealership networks, resolving problems that over-the-air (OTA) software updates cannot fix might be troublesome.
Furthermore, the costs and time needed to repair an EV are higher than for ICE vehicles,
according to the data analytics company CCC. Reasons include a greater need to use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts and the cost of scans/recalibration of the advanced driver assistance systems, which have been rising for ICE vehicles as well. Furthermore, technicians need to ensure battery integrity to prevent potential fires.
And some of batteries along with their battery management systems need work. Two examples: Recalls involving the GM Bolt and Hyundai Kona, with the former likely to cost GM $1.8 billion and Hyundai $800 million to fix, according to
Stout’s 2021 Automotive Defect and Recall Report. Furthermore, the battery defect data compiled by Stout indicates “incident rates are rising as production is increasing and incidents commonly occur across global platforms,” with both design and manufacturing defects starting to appear.
For a time in New York City, one had to be a licensed engineer to drive a steam-powered auto. In some aspects, EV drivers return to these roots. This might change over time, but for now it is a serious issue.” —John Leslie King
CCC data indicate that when damaged, battery packs do need replacement after a crash, and more than 50 percent of such vehicles were deemed a total loss by the insurance companies. EVs also need to revisit the repair center more times after they’ve been repaired than ICE vehicles, hinting at the increased difficulty in repairing them. Additionally, EV tire tread wear
needs closer inspection than on ICE vehicles. Lastly, as auto repair centers need to invest in new equipment to handle EVs, these costs will be passed along to customers for some time.
The risk has reached the attention of the
US Office of the National Cyber Director, which recently held a forum of government and automaker, suppliers and EV charging manufacturers focusing on “cybersecurity issues in the electric vehicle (EV) and electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) ecosystem.” The concern is that EV uptake could falter if EV charging networks are not perceived as being secure.
A sleeper risk that may explode into a massive problem is an EV owner’s right-to-repair their vehicle. In 2020, Massachusetts passed a law that allows a vehicle owner to take it to whatever repair shop they wish and gave independent repair shops the right to access the real-time vehicle data for diagnosis purposes. Auto dealers have sued to overturn the law, and some auto makers like Subaru and Kia have
disabled the advanced telematic systems in cars sold in Massachusetts, often without telling new customers about it. GM and Stellantis have also said they cannot comply with the Massachusetts law, and are not planning to do so because it would compromise their vehicles’ safety and cybersecurity. The Federal Trade Commission is looking into the right-to-repair issue, and President Biden has come out in support of it.
You expect me to do what, exactly?
Failure to change consumer behavior poses another major risk to the EV transition. Take charging. It requires a new consumer behavior in terms of
understanding how and when to charge, and what to do to keep an EV battery healthy. The information on the care and feeding of a battery as well as how to maximize vehicle range can resemble a manual for owning a new, exotic pet. It does not help when an automaker like Ford tells its F-150 Lightning owners they can extend their driving range by relying on the heated seats to stay warm instead of the vehicle’s climate control system.
Keeping in mind such issues, and how one might work around them, increases a driver’s cognitive load—things that must be remembered in case they must be acted on. “Automakers spent decades reducing cognitive load with dash lights instead of gauges, or automatic instead of manual transmissions,” says
University of Michigan professor emeritus John Leslie King, who has long studied human interactions with machines.
King notes, “In the early days of automobiles, drivers and chauffeurs had to monitor and be able to fix their vehicles. They were like engineers. For a time in New York City, one had to be a licensed engineer to drive a steam-powered auto. In some aspects, EV drivers return to these roots. This might change over time, but for now it is a serious issue.”
The first-ever BMW iX1 xDrive30, Mineral White metallic, 20“ BMW Individual Styling 869i BMW AG
This cognitive load keeps changing as well. For instance, “common knowledge” about when EV owners should charge is not set in concrete. The long-standing mantra for charging EV batteries has been do so at home from at night when electricity rates were low and stress on the electric grid was low. Recent research from Stanford University says this is wrong, at least for Western states.
research shows that electricity rates should encourage EV charging during the day at work or at public chargers to prevent evening grid peak demand problems, which could increase by as much as 25 percent in a decade. The Wall Street Journal quotes the study’s lead author Siobhan Powell as saying if everyone were charging their EVs at night all at once, “it would cause really big problems.”
Asking EV owners to refrain from charging their vehicles at home during the night is going to be difficult, since EVs are being sold on the convenience of charging at home.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized this very point when describing how great EVs are to own, “And the main charging infrastructure that we count on is just a plug in the wall.”
Another behavior change risk relates to automakers’ desired EV owner post-purchase buying behavior. Automakers see EV (and ICE vehicle) advanced software and connectivity as a gateway to a
software-as-a-service model to generate new, recurring revenue streams across the life of the vehicle. Automakers seem to view EVs as razors through which they can sell software as the razor blades. Monetizing vehicle data and subscriptions could generate $1.5 trillion by 2030, according to McKinsey.
VW thinks that it will generate “triple-digit-millions” in future sales through selling customized subscription 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. Ford believes it will earn $20 billion, Stellantis some $22.5 billion and GM $20 to $25 billion from paid software-enabled vehicle features by 2030.
Already for ICE vehicles, BMW is reportedly
offering an $18 a month subscription (or $415 for “unlimited” access) for heated front seats in multiple countries, but not the U.S. as of yet. GM has started charging $1,500 for a three-year “optional” OnStar subscription on all Buick and GMC vehicles as well as the Cadillac Escalade SUV whether the owner uses it or not. And Sony and Honda have announced their luxury EV will be subscription-based, although they have not defined exactly what this means in terms of standard versus paid-for features. It would not be surprising to see it follow Mercedes’ lead. The automaker will increase the acceleration of its EQ series if an owner pays a $1,200 a year subscription fee.
Essentially, automakers are trying to normalize paying for what used to be offered as standard or even an upgrade option. Whether they will be successful is debatable, especially in the U.S. “No one is going to pay for subscriptions,” says Strategic Vision’s Edwards, who points out that
microtransactions are absolutely hated in the gaming community. Automakers risk a major consumer backlash by using them.
To get to EV at scale, each of the EV-related range, affordability, reliability and behavioral changes risks will need to be addressed by automakers and
policy makers alike. With dozens of new battery electric vehicles becoming available for sale in the next two years, potential EV buyers now have a much great range of options than previously. The automakers who manage EV risks best— along with offering compelling overall platform performance—will be the ones starting to claw back some of their hefty EV investments.
No single risk may be a deal breaker for an early EV adopter, but for skeptical ICE vehicle owners, each risk is another reason not to buy, regardless of perceived benefits offered. If EV-only families are going to be the norm, the benefits of purchasing EVs will need to be above—and the risks associated with owning will need to match or be below—those of today’s and future ICE vehicles.
In the next articles of this series, we’ll explore the changes that may be necessary to personal lifestyles to achieve 2050 climate goals.
Match ID: 25 Score: 1.43 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 10 days qualifiers: 1.43 congress
Three days before astronauts left on Apollo 8, the first-ever flight around the moon, NASA’s safety chief, Jerome Lederer, gave a speech that was at once reassuring and chilling. Yes, he said, the United States’ moon program was safe and well-planned—but even so, “Apollo 8 has 5,600,000 parts and one and one half million systems, subsystems, and assemblies. Even if all functioned with 99.9 percent reliability, we could expect 5,600 defects.”
The mission, in December 1968, was nearly flawless—a prelude to the Apollo 11 landing the next summer. But even today, half a century later, engineers wrestle with the sheer complexity of the machines they build to go to space. NASA’s Artemis I, its Space Launch System rocket mandated by Congress in 2010, endured a host of delays before it finally launched in November 2022. And Elon Musk’sSpaceX may be lauded for its engineering acumen, but it struggled for six years before its first successful flight into orbit.
Relativity envisions 3D-printing facilities someday on the Martian surface, fabricating much of what people from Earth would need to live there.
Is there a better way? An upstart company called Relativity Space is about to try one. Its Terran 1 rocket, the company says, has about a tenth as many parts as comparable launch vehicles do, because it is made through 3D printing. Instead of bending metal and milling and welding, engineers program a robot to deposit layers of metal alloy in place.
Relativity’s first rocket, the company says, is ready to go from launch complex 16 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. When it happens, possibly later this month, the company says it will stream the liftoff on YouTube.
Artist’s concept of Relativity’s planned Terran R rocket. The company says it should be able to carry a 20,000-kilogram payload into low Earth orbit.Relativity
“Over 85 percent of the rocket by mass is 3D printed,” said Scott Van Vliet, Relativity’s head of software engineering. “And what’s really cool is not only are we reducing the amount of parts and labor that go into building one of these vehicles over time, but we’re also reducing the complexity, we’re reducing the chance of failure when you reduce the part count, and you streamline the build process.”
Relativity says it can put together a Terran rocket in two months, compared to two years for some conventionally built ones. The speed and cost of making a prototype—say, for wind-tunnel testing—are reduced because you tell the printer to make a scaled-down model. There is less waste because the process is additive. And if something needs to be modified, you reprogram the 3D printer instead of slow, expensive retooling.
“If you walk into any rocket factory today other than ours,” said Josh Brost, the company’s head of business development, “you still will see hundreds of thousands of parts coming from thousands of vendors, and still being assembled using lots of touch labor and lots of big-fix tools.”
Terran 1, rated as capable of putting a 1,250-kilogram payload in low Earth orbit, is mainly intended as a test bed. Relativity has signed up a variety of future customers for satellite launches, but the first Terran 1 (“Terran” means “earthling”) will not carry a paying customer’s satellite. The first flight has been given the playful name “Good Luck, Have Fun”—GLHF for short. Eventually, if things are going well, Relativity will build a larger booster, called Terran R, which the company hopes will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9 for launches of up to 20,000 kg. Relativity says the Terran R should be fully reusable, including the upper stage—something that other commercial launch companies have not accomplished. In current renderings, the rocket is, as the company puts it, “inspired by nature,” shaped to slice through the atmosphere as it ascends and comes back for recovery.
A number of Relativity’s top people came from Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin, and, like Musk, they say their vision is a permanent presence on Mars. Brost calls it “the long-term North Star for us.” They say they can envision 3D-printing facilities someday on the Martian surface, fabricating much of what people from Earth would need to live there. “For that to happen,” says Brost, “you need to have manufacturing capabilities that are autonomous and incredibly flexible.”
Relativity’s fourth-generation Stargate 3D printer.Relativity
Just how Relativity will do all these things is a work in progress. The company says its 3D technology will help it work iteratively—finding mistakes as it goes, then correcting them as it prints the next rocket, and the next, and so on.
“In traditional manufacturing, you have to do a ton of work up front and have a lot of the design features done well ahead of time,” says Van Vliet. “You have to invest in fixed tooling that can often take years to build before you’ve actually developed an article for your launch vehicle. With 3D printing, additive manufacturing, we get to building something very, very quickly.”
The next step is to get the first rocket off the pad. Will it succeed? Brost says a key test will be getting through max q—the point of maximum dynamic pressure on the rocket as it accelerates through the atmosphere before the air around it thins out.
“If you look at history, at new space companies doing large rockets, there’s not a single one that’s done their first rocket on their first try. It would be quite an achievement if we were able to achieve orbit on our inaugural launch,” says Brost.
“I’ve been to many launches in my career,” he says, “and it never gets less exciting or nerve wracking to me.”
Match ID: 26 Score: 1.43 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 20 days qualifiers: 1.43 congress
Armageddon ruined everything. Armageddon—the 1998 movie, not the mythical battlefield—told the story of an asteroid headed straight for Earth, and a bunch of swaggering roughnecks sent in space shuttles to blow it up with a nuclear weapon.
“Armageddon is big and noisy and stupid and shameless, and it’s going to be huge at the box office,” wrote Jay Carr of the Boston Globe.
Carr was right—the film was the year’s second biggest hit (after Titanic)—and ever since, scientists have had to explain, patiently, that cluttering space with radioactive debris may not be the best way to protect ourselves. NASA is now trying a slightly less dramatic approach with a robotic mission called DART—short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. On Monday at 7:14 p.m. EDT, if all goes well, the little spacecraft will crash into an asteroid called Dimorphos, about 11 million kilometers from Earth. Dimorphos is about 160 meters across, and orbits a 780-meter asteroid, 65803 Didymos. NASA TV plans to cover it live.
DART’s end will be violent, but not blockbuster-movie-violent. Music won’t swell and girlfriends back on Earth won’t swoon. Mission managers hope the spacecraft, with a mass of about 600 kilograms, hitting at 22,000 km/h, will nudge the asteroid slightly in its orbit, just enough to prove that it’s technologically possible in case a future asteroid has Earth in its crosshairs.
“Maybe once a century or so, there’ll be an asteroid sizeable enough that we’d like to certainly know, ahead of time, if it was going to impact,” says Lindley Johnson, who has the title of planetary defense officer at NASA.
“If you just take a hair off the orbital velocity, you’ve changed the orbit of the asteroid so that what would have been impact three or four years down the road is now a complete miss.”
So take that, Hollywood! If DART succeeds, it will show there are better fuels to protect Earth than testosterone.
The risk of a comet or asteroid that wipes out civilization is really very small, but large enough that policymakers take it seriously. NASA, ordered by the U.S. Congress in 2005 to scan the inner solar system for hazards, has found nearly 900 so-called NEOs—near-Earth objects—at least a kilometer across, more than 95 percent of all in that size range that probably exist. It has plotted their orbits far into the future, and none of them stand more than a fraction of a percent chance of hitting Earth in this millennium.
The DART spacecraft should crash into the asteroid Dimorphos and slow it in its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos. The LICIACube cubesat will fly in formation to take images of the impact.Johns Hopkins APL/NASA
But there are smaller NEOs, perhaps 140 meters or more in diameter, too small to end civilization but large enough to cause mass destruction if they hit a populated area. There may be 25,000 that come within 50 million km of Earth’s orbit, and NASA estimates telescopes have only found about 40 percent of them. That’s why scientists want to expand the search for them and have good ways to deal with them if necessary. DART is the first test.
NASA takes pains to say this is a low-risk mission. Didymos and Dimorphos never cross Earth’s orbit, and computer simulations show that no matter where or how hard DART hits, it cannot possibly divert either one enough to put Earth in danger. Scientists want to see if DART can alter Dimorphos’s speed by perhaps a few centimeters per second.
The DART spacecraft, a 1-meter cube with two long solar panels, is elegantly simple, equipped with a telescope called DRACO, hydrazine maneuvering thrusters, a xenon-fueled ion engine and a navigation system called SMART Nav. It was launched by a SpaceX rocket in November. About 4 hours and 90,000 km before the hoped-for impact, SMART Nav will take over control of the spacecraft, using optical images from the telescope. Didymos, the larger object, should be a point of light by then; Dimorphos, the intended target, will probably not appear as more than one pixel until about 50 minutes before impact. DART will send one image per second back to Earth, but the spacecraft is autonomous; signals from the ground, 38 light-seconds away, would be useless for steering as the ship races in.
The DART spacecraft separated from its SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, 55 minutes after liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California, 24 November 2021. In this image from the rocket, the spacecraft had not yet unfurled its solar panels.NASA
What’s more, nobody knows the shape or consistency of little Dimorphos. Is it a solid boulder or a loose cluster of rubble? Is it smooth or craggy, round or elongated? “We’re trying to hit the center,” says Evan Smith, the deputy mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is running DART. “We don’t want to overcorrect for some mountain or crater on one side that’s throwing an odd shadow or something.”
So on final approach, DART will cover 800 km without any steering. Thruster firings could blur the last images of Dimorphos’s surface, which scientists want to study. Impact should be imaged from about 50 km away by an Italian-made minisatellite, called LICIACube, which DART released two weeks ago.
“In the minutes following impact, I know everybody is going be high fiving on the engineering side,” said Tom Statler, DART’s program scientist at NASA, “but I’m going be imagining all the cool stuff that is actually going on on the asteroid, with a crater being dug and ejecta being blasted off.”
There is, of course, a possibility that DART will miss, in which case there should be enough fuel on board to allow engineers to go after a backup target. But an advantage of the Didymos-Dimorphos pair is that it should help in calculating how much effect the impact had. Telescopes on Earth (plus the Hubble and Webb space telescopes) may struggle to measure infinitesimal changes in the orbit of Dimorphos around the sun; it should be easier to see how much its orbit around Didymos is affected. The simplest measurement may be of the changing brightness of the double asteroid, as Dimorphos moves in front of or behind its partner, perhaps more quickly or slowly than it did before impact.
“We are moving an asteroid,” said Statler. “We are changing the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Humanity’s never done that before.”
Match ID: 27 Score: 1.43 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 132 days qualifiers: 1.43 congress
Each contender is taking a different approach to space-based cellular service. The Apple offering uses the existing satellite bandwidth Globalstar once used for messaging offerings, but without the need for a satellite-specific handset. The AST project and another company, Lynk Global, would use a dedicated network of satellites with larger-than-normal antennas to produce a 4G, 5G, and someday 6G cellular signal compatible with any existing 4G-compatible phone (as detailed in other recent IEEESpectrum coverage of space-based 5G offerings). Assuming regulatory approval is forthcoming, the technology would work first in equatorial regions and then across more of the planet as these providers expand their satellite constellations. T-Mobile and Starlink’s offering would work in the former PCS band in the United States. SpaceX, like AST and Lynk, would need to negotiate access to spectrum on a country-by-country basis.
Apple’s competitors are unlikely to see commercial operations before 2024.
“Regulators have not decided on the power limits from space, what concerns there are about interference, especially across national borders. There’s a whole bunch of regulatory issues that simply haven’t been thought about to date.” —Tim Farrar, telecommunications consultant
The T-Mobile–Starlink announcement is “in some ways an endorsement” of AST and Lynk’s proposition, and “in other ways a great threat,” says telecommunications consultant Tim Farrar of Tim Farrar Associates in Menlo Park, Calif. AST and Lynk have so far told investors they expect their national mobile network operator partners to charge per use or per day, but T-Mobile announced that they plan to include satellite messaging in the 1,900-megahertz range in their existing services. Apple said their Emergency SOS via Satellite service would be free the first two years for U.S. and Canadian iPhone 14 buyers, but did not say what it would cost after that. For now, the Globalstar satellites it is using cannot offer the kind of broadband bandwidth AST has promised, but Globalstar has reported to investors orders for new satellites that might offer new capabilities, including new gateways.
Even under the best conditions—a clear view of the sky—users will need 15 seconds to send a message via Apple’s service. They will also have to follow onscreen guidance to keep the device pointed at the satellites they are using. Light foliage can cause the same message to take more than a minute to send. Ashley Williams, a satellite engineer at Apple who recorded the service’s announcement, also mentioned a data-compression algorithm and a series of rescue-related suggested auto-replies intended to minimize the amount of data that users would need to send during a rescue.
Meanwhile, AST SpaceMobile says it aims to launch an experimental satellite Saturday, 10 September, to test its cellular broadband offering.
Last month’s T-Mobile-SpaceX announcement “helped the world focus attention on the huge market opportunity for SpaceMobile, the only planned space-based cellular broadband network. BlueWalker 3, which has a 693 sq ft array, is scheduled for launch within weeks!” tweeted AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan on 25 August. The size of the array matters because AST SpaceMobile has so far indicated in its applications for experimental satellite licenses that it intends to use lower radio frequencies (700–900 MHz) with less propagation loss but that require antennas much larger than conventional satellites carry.
So far government agencies have issued licenses for thousands of low-Earth-orbiting satellites, which have the biggest impact on astronomers. Even with the constellations starting to form, satellite-cellular telecommunications companies are still open to big regulatory risks. “Regulators have not decided on the power limits from space, what concerns there are about interference, especially across national borders. There’s a whole bunch of regulatory issues that simply haven’t been thought about to date,” Farrar says.
Update 5 Sept.: For now, NASA’s giant Artemis I remains on the ground after two launch attempts scrubbed by a hydrogen leak and a balky engine sensor. Mission managers say Artemis will fly when everything's ready—but haven't yet specified whether that might be in late September or in mid-October.
“When you look at the rocket, it looks almost retro,” said Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA. “Looks like we’re looking back toward the Saturn V. But it’s a totally different, new, highly sophisticated—more sophisticated—rocket, and spacecraft.”
Artemis, powered by the Space Launch System rocket, is America’s first attempt to send astronauts to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972, and technology has taken giant leaps since then. On Artemis I, the first test flight, mission managers say they are taking the SLS, with its uncrewed Orion spacecraft up top, and “stressing it beyond what it is designed for”—the better to ensure safe flights when astronauts make their first landings, currently targeted to begin with Artemis III in 2025.
But Nelson is right: The rocket is retro in many ways, borrowing heavily from the space shuttles America flew for 30 years, and from the Apollo-Saturn V.
Much of Artemis’s hardware is refurbished: Its four main engines, and parts of its two strap-on boosters, all flew before on shuttle missions. The rocket’s apricot color comes from spray-on insulation much like the foam on the shuttle’s external tank. And the large maneuvering engine in Orion’s service module is actually 40 years old—used on 19 space shuttle flights between 1984 and 1992.
“I have a name for missions that use too much new technology—failures.” —John Casani, NASA
Perhaps more important, the project inherits basic engineering from half a century of spaceflight. Just look at Orion’s crew capsule—a truncated cone, somewhat larger than the Apollo Command Module but conceptually very similar.
Old, of course, does not mean bad. NASA says there is no need to reinvent things engineers got right the first time.
“There are certain fundamental aspects of deep-space exploration that are really independent of money,” says Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle-integration manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The laws of physics haven’t changed since the 1960s. And capsule shapes happen to be really good for coming back into the atmosphere at Mach 32.”
Roger Launius, who served as NASA’s chief historian from 1990 to 2002 and as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution from then until 2017, tells of a conversation he had with John Casani, a veteran NASA engineer who managed the Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini probes to the outer planets.
“I have a name for missions that use too much new technology,” he recalls Casani saying. “Failures.”
The Artemis I flight is slated for about six weeks. (Apollo 11 lasted eight days.) The ship roughly follows Apollo’s path to the moon’s vicinity, but then puts itself in what NASA calls a distant retrograde orbit. It swoops within 110 kilometers of the lunar surface for a gravity assist, then heads 64,000 km out—taking more than a month but using less fuel than it would in closer orbits. Finally, it comes home, reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at 11 km per second, slowing itself with a heatshield and parachutes, and splashing down in the Pacific not far from San Diego.
If all four, quadruply redundant flight computer modules fail, there is a fifth, entirely separate computer onboard, running different code to get the spacecraft home.
“That extra time in space,” says Geffre, “allows us to operate the systems, give more time in deep space, and all those things that stress it, like radiation and micrometeoroids, thermal environments.”
There are, of course, newer technologies on board. Orion is controlled by two vehicle-management computers, each composed of two flight computer modules (FCMs) to handle guidance, navigation, propulsion, communications, and other systems. The flight control system, Geffre points out, is quad-redundant; if at any point one of the four FCMs disagrees with the others, it will take itself offline and, in a 22-second process, reset itself to make sure its outputs are consistent with the others’. If all four FCMs fail, there is a fifth, entirely separate computer running different code to get the spacecraft home.
Guidance and navigation, too, have advanced since the sextant used on Apollo. Orion uses a star tracker to determine its attitude, imaging stars and comparing them to an onboard database. And an optical navigation camera shoots Earth and the moon so that guidance software can determine their distance and position and keep the spacecraft on course. NASA says it’s there as backup, able to get Orion to a safe splashdown even if all communication with Earth has been lost.
But even those systems aren’t entirely new. Geffre points out that the guidance system’s architecture is derived from the Boeing 787. Computing power in deep space is limited by cosmic radiation, which can corrupt the output of microprocessors beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
Beyond that is the inevitable issue of cost. Artemis is a giant project, years behind schedule, started long before NASA began to buy other launches from companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab. NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin, testified to Congressin March that the first four Artemis missions would cost US $4.1 billion each—“a price tag that strikes us as unsustainable.”
Launius, for one, rejects the argument that government is inherently wasteful. “Yes, NASA’s had problems in managing programs in the past. Who hasn’t?” he says. He points out that Blue Origin and SpaceX have had plenty of setbacks of their own—they’re just not obliged to be public about them. “I could go on and on. It’s not a government thing per se and it’s not a NASA thing per se.”
So why return to the moon with—please forgive the pun—such a retro rocket? Partly, say those who watch Artemis closely, because it’s become too big to fail, with so much American money and brainpower invested in it. Partly because it turns NASA’s astronauts outward again, exploring instead of maintaining a space station. Partly because new perspectives could come of it. And partly because China and Russia have ambitions in space that threaten America’s.
“Apollo was a demonstration of technological verisimilitude—to the whole world,” says Launius. “And the whole world knew then, as they know today, that the future belongs to the civilization that can master science and technology.”
Update 7 Sept.: Artemis I has been on launchpad 39B, not 39A as previously reported, at Kennedy Space Center.
Match ID: 29 Score: 1.43 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 158 days qualifiers: 1.43 congress
NASA Administrator Statement on Agency Authorization Bill Thu, 28 Jul 2022 15:22 EDT NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released this statement Thursday following approval by the U.S. Congress for the NASA Authorization Act of 2022, which is part of the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act of 2022. Match ID: 30 Score: 1.43 source: www.nasa.gov age: 189 days qualifiers: 1.43 congress
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