(University of Colorado at Boulder) Can humans drive economic growth, meet rising demand for food, energy and water, and make significant environmental progress? The short answer is 'yes,' but it comes with several big 'ifs.' New research shows that we can put the world on a path to sustainability if we make significant changes within the next 10 years.
October 17, 2018
(Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology) Unicellular diatoms are able to adapt their behavior to different external stimuli based on an evaluation of their own needs. This was discovered by scientists of the Friedrich Schiller University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, together with partners from Belgium. In experiments, Seminavis robusta diatoms directed their orientation either towards nutrient sources or mating partners, depending on the degree of starvation and the need to mate.
October 17, 2018
Paul Allen stands on the wing of the giant Stratolaunch plane during a March 2017 tour of the hangar in Mojave, Calif., where the craft was being assembled. The plane’s tail is in the background. (Paul Allen via Twitter) Seattle billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen’s death comes just as his is counting down to the first flight of the world’s biggest airplane — and lifting the veil on a wide range of space applications. Now it’s up to the Stratolaunch team to make good on the high-flyingest idea from the self-described “Idea Man,” who succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 65. Heading that team is President and CEO Jean Floyd, who spent decades as a manager and executive at Orbital Sciences Corp. (now part of Northrop Grumman) before joining the venture in 2015. Like many of the other executives in Allen’s wide-ranging operation, Floyd : “We deeply respect and admire Mr. Allen’s vision. His legacy will be honored,” Floyd wrote. Just a week earlier, Floyd was tweeting about a happier subject: that sent Stratolaunch’s 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane down Mojave’s runway at speeds as fast as 80 mph. Two more rounds of taxi tests are expected in the weeks ahead, setting the stage for the maiden flight. After 18 months to two years of flight tests, Stratolaunch expects to get the plane certified for air-launch operations. The concept is a scaled-up version of the , thanks to $28 million in backing from Allen. It calls for the plane to fly up to an altitude of about 30,000 feet, then release a rocket from its underbelly. Seconds after the drop, the rocket lights up its engine and ascends into space. “One of the unique things about Stratolaunch is that it doesn’t require a fixed launch pad,” “You can imagine systems that are very flexible for missions where you want to launch satellites at different orbits, from different angles. … Then there’s the fact that just doing an air launch gives you an advantage of probably 30 percent in performance.” Just in the past couple of months, Stratolaunch’s executives and engineers have revealed the outlines of Allen’s space vision — a grand plan that includes the development of a , a including a , a partnership to , and a . One of the big mysteries surrounding Stratolaunch has to do with its customers: The venture’s timeline for launches in the early 2020s is similar to the schedule laid out by another billionaire-backed space effort, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture. But Blue Origin has announced , while Stratolaunch hasn’t announced any. Stratolaunch’s initial target customers may still be in wait-and-see mode, in stealth mode, or in a combination of both modes. It’s worth noting that the air-launch system’s versatility could address the U.S. national security community’s need for rapid-response launches in the years ahead. That potential synergy came into the spotlight a year ago when . Floyd said he talked about “how NASA and the Department of Defense can utilize small satellites and small launch capabilities for flexible, rapid deployments and stronger resiliency in space.” “I’m encouraged by the positive response we continue to receive from our public officials,” . As Stratolaunch’s leaders follow through on Allen’s space vision, might they pay special tribute to the venture’s founder? There’s precedent for that. SpaceShipOne’s designer, Burt Rutan, had some of his mother’s ashes flown aboard the rocket plane during one of its prize-winning flights in 2004, and it’s not hard to imagine that Stratolaunch might do something similar. When Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson then licensed SpaceShipOne’s technology from Allen for the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, he named its mothership after his own mother, Eve Branson. It’s not hard to imagine that Stratolaunch might follow the model set by the VMS Eve, and call its giant plane the “MS Paul Allen.” The biggest tribute may well lie in knowing that Paul Allen blazed the trail for the personal spaceflight era in the 21st century, just as he in the 1970s. And the biggest tragedy may well be that he passed away just as the new commercial space age was finally coming into its own. “A lot of our pioneers in the commercial spaceflight industry have arisen just in the last 10 or 15 years,” Eric Stallmer, president of the , told GeekWire today. “It’s a setback. It makes you pause a little bit.”
October 16, 2018
(RUDN University) A chemist from RUDN was the first to use catalysts with ruthenium nanoparticles to obtain hydrogen under the influence of visible light and UV radiation. In the future, such catalysts may be used for large-scale production of hydrogen fuel under the influence of sunlight. The results of the study were published in Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.
October 16, 2018
NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands next to the U.S. flag on the moon with Earth hanging in the black sky above during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. (NASA Photo) WASHINGTON, D.C. — An American rivalry with China could stoke a new space race in the years ahead, a space policy official and the last American to set foot on the moon said here today at a session marking the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo missions. But it may not play out the way the U.S.-Soviet space race did, said Scott Pace, executive secretary for the White House’s National Space Council. Billionaire-backed space efforts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin could well play a leading role. “China has billionaires, too,” Pace said at the ScienceWriters2018 conference, held at George Washington University. “China has a growing commercial space sector that is not simply People’s Liberation Army guys in new suits, but a commercial industry also emerging out there. And so they are not merely national security competitors, but they’re also potential commercial competitors — as China is in many other areas.” Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who accompanied the late Gene Cernan to the lunar surface in 1972, voiced concern that America was already in “another Cold War” with China. Pace wouldn’t go that far, however. Even though U.S. military and intelligence officials have voiced concern about the potential for China and Russia to target America’s space assets, Pace said “we’re not in a Cold War environment.” “There is a global competition at stake, but it’s a much more multidimensional competition than the Cold War was in the 1960s,” Pace said. “It is happening on multiple levels.” Pace and Schmitt agreed that the U.S. space effort has suffered under repeated strategy changes in the aftermath of the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew, which led to the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2011. The space program’s objectives have shifted from a return to the moon, to a focus on near-Earth asteroids, to a renewed emphasis on Mars, to the current plan for moon missions that eventually point the way to Mars. Such shifts have left the impression through the years that the U.S. government “has not been a reliable entity in space,” said Schmitt, a Republican who served one term in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 1983. But Pace said commercial involvement in the current push to cislunar space could help make the difference this time. The White House’s current plan calls for handing over space operations in low Earth orbit to commercial ventures in the mid-2020s, freeing NASA to put the pieces in place for a moon-orbiting outpost known as the Gateway. “We’ll see humans in orbit around the moon by 2024,” Pace said.
October 16, 2018
An artist’s conception shows the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. (NASA / CXC / SAO Illustration) NASA’s 19-year-old Chandra X-ray Observatory has been returned to its normal pointing mode after a data glitch forced a five-day outage, NASA said today. The bus-sized spacecraft went into safe mode on Oct. 10, bringing science observations to a halt. The Chandra mission’s operation team determined that the outage was caused by a fault in one of the gyroscopes used by Chandra’s pointing system. That fault resulted in a three-second period of bad data, which led the onboard computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft’s momentum, . The erroneous reading triggered the safe-mode condition, which caused Chandra to swap critical hardware operations to backup units and reconfigure its mirrors and solar panels to avoid the risk of damage. Chandra’s operation team diagnosed the problem and switched gyroscopes to get the pointing system up and running again. The gyroscope that experienced the glitch has been placed in reserve. Some technical detail for those interested in Chandra's recovery from : One of the two gyros that Chandra was using at the time of the glitch briefly reported an unexpected rate. A glitch of this size has not been observed on Chandra’s gyros before. — Kim Kowal Arcand (@kimberlykowal) NASA said the team plans to apply a series of pre-tested software patches and return Chandra to full science operations by the end of the week. Since its deployment from the shuttle Columbia in 1999, Chandra has charted X-ray emissions from a wide range of astronomical sources, including black holes and supernovae. Chandra observations were crucial to last year’s detection of what appears to be the . Chandra isn’t designed to be serviced from space. The telescope was designed for a mission life of five years, but it’s on track to last four times that long. The better-known Hubble Space Telescope . Hubble’s operations team is still diagnosing the problem, and the telescope is still in safe mode.
October 16, 2018
Jeff Bezos during Wired 25 on Monday. (Twitter screen grab via Wired) Jeff Bezos loves to talk about space. And in a talk about just that on Monday, he encouraged anyone who was listening to go listen to another classic talk about space. The Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder in San Francisco. He’s the subject of the magazine’s : “Jeff Bezos Wants All of Us to Leave Earth — For Good.” His conversation with writer Steven Levy opened with the two recalling that Bezos gave Levy a homework assignment involving footage from an old TV show called “The Round Table.” RELATED: “This is an incredible short video that I would recommend all of you go find on the internet and watch,” Bezos said. (We did that for you, below.) The video featured Princeton University professor of physics Gerard O’Neill and biochemist and science fiction author Isaac Asimov. Bezos said that O’Neill promoted the idea of giant space colonies for human settlers, as opposed to the idea of settling on the surface of other planets. “For me, Gerry was very formative in my high school years,” Bezos said. “I read his book called ‘The High Frontier’ and it resonated with me and made a lot of sense to me. He was the first person to ask this very fundamental question, if we are to expand into the solar system, is a planetary surface the right place to do so.” Bezos went on to point out one of the “delightful moments” in the interview, when Asimov is asked why he thinks no one had come up with O’Neill’s idea previously — for space colonies that would be very large and hold more than 1 million people. Bezos quoted Asimov as saying, “I think I know why no one’s thought of this before. It’s because we’re planetary chauvenists.” “I believe we are,” Bezos added. “It makes sense. We kind of grew up on one.” Levy pressed Bezos and his earth view, calling him the richest person on the planet — “this planet, anyway” — and asking whether spending billions on space exploration made more sense than spending more of his Amazon fortune on critical issues at home, such as poverty. It’s a question Bezos has become familiar with, as he’s faced scrutiny over Blue Origin and the price tag associated with his exploratory pursuits. “I will not spend one minute of my life on anything I don’t think is contributing to society and civilization,” Bezos said. “You want risk-taking. You want people to have visions that most people won’t agree with. If you have a vision that everybody agrees with, you probably shouldn’t do it because someone else will do it first. All of the real needle-movers are driven by being right when most of the world is wrong.”
October 15, 2018
(DOE/Sandia National Laboratories) Sandia National Laboratories helped design the first generation of fueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars so that they're as safe as conventional gas stations. Now, Sandia is working to do the same for the next generation of hydrogen stations.
October 15, 2018
(Carnegie Mellon University) Smart devices can seem dumb if they don't understand what's happening around them. Carnegie Mellon University researchers say environmental awareness can be enhanced by analyzing sound and vibrations. The researchers report today at the Association for Computing Machinery's User Interface Software and Technology Symposium in Berlin about two approaches -- one that uses the ubiquitous microphone, and another that employs a modern-day version of eavesdropping technology once used by the KGB.
October 15, 2018