February 11, 2017

Scientists Recreated The Sun In A Lab

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 2:41 pm

And it could generate free, clean energy forever.

Scientists recently took a step toward generating cheap, unlimited power forever.

The process uses fusion, which binds together the nuclei of lighter atoms into heavier atoms. The byproduct of fusion is huge amounts of energy—with no dangerous radioactive waste. And it gets better: Fusion utilizes hydrogen, something that’s in abundant supply in water.


The fusion of lighter atoms is achieved by heating hydrogen to a plasma state — around 80 million degrees Celsius. The problem? That’s so hot, the plasma would burn any container built for it.

So, scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics didn’t build a physical container. Instead, their Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device generated a magnetic field to contain the plasma. (I’m going to call it a “force field,” and you’re not going to stop me.) The force field keeps the superheated hydrogen from even touching the sides of its container. It’s called a stellerator, or “star in a jar,” because it works like our sun does. The scientists said in December that the containment system works as planned. Now they can proceed to the next step in their experiment.

Fusion is superior to fission, the nuclear power we’ve used since 1954, in lots of ways. Fission splits atoms of heavy, radioactive elements like uranium and plutonium, releasing huge amounts of energy.

Fusion generates four times as much power from an equal mass of fuel as fission does. It generates 4 million times as much energy as burning coal, oil or gas, all of which create pollution. Fission generates radioactive waste, which remains deadly for thousands of years and can’t be stored safely anywhere on Earth.

Fission uses expensive, rare uranium or plutonium as its fuel. Fusion uses hydrogen, which is free, because there is basically an unlimited supply of it in water.

W7-X’s interior plasma chamber. | Sean Gallup/Getty

“The fuel source is found in seawater in quantities sufficient to last tens of thousands of years,” physicist David Gates told Fusion’s byproduct is helium, an inert, nontoxic gas. And unlike plutonium and uranium, the fuel for and byproducts of fusion can’t be used to make nuclear weapons.

One of the worst things about fission plants is that they can melt down, like the one at Chernobyl, Ukraine that spread radiation all over Europe in 1986. Or the one at Fukushima, Japan that irradiated much of that country in March 2011. A meltdown happens when a fission reaction goes out of control, creating a chain reaction.

It’s hard enough to create the conditions for fusion in the first place. Any disturbance simply ends the reaction, and there’s only a tiny amount of fuel in the reactor vessel at any given time.

Fusion, once we perfect it, is expected to be cheaper than fission. The best part is that scientists from all over the world are collaborating on the W7-X project. They seek to create a clean, cheap and virtually limitless energy source for everyone on earth. That’s a goal we can all be proud of.


April 12, 2016

A Visionary Project Aims for Alpha Centauri, a Star 4.37 Light-Years Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 1:49 pm

Can you fly an iPhone to the stars?

In an attempt to leapfrog the planets and vault into the interstellar age, a bevy of scientists and other luminaries from Silicon Valley and beyond, led by Yuri Milner, the Russian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur, announced a plan on Tuesday to send a fleet of robots no bigger than iPhones to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, 4.37 light-years away.

If it all worked out — a cosmically big “if” that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now — a rocket would deliver a “mother ship” carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the probes would unfold thin sails and then, propelled by powerful laser beams fromEarth, set off one by one like a flock of migrating butterflies across the universe.

Within two minutes, the probes would be more than 600,000 miles from home — as far as the lasers can maintain a tight beam — and moving at a fifth of the speed of light. But it would still take 20 years for them to get to Alpha Centauri. Those that survived would zip past the stars, making measurements and beaming pictures back to Earth.

Much of this plan is probably half a lifetime away. Mr. Milner and his colleagues estimate that it could take 20 years to get the mission off the ground and into the heavens, 20 years to get to Alpha Centauri and another four years for the word from outer space to come home. And there is still the matter of attracting billions of dollars to pay for it.

Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth’s solar system. An effort led by the billionaire Yuri Milner aims to send a fleet of small probes there. (European Southern Observatory)

Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth’s solar system. An effort led by the billionaire Yuri Milner aims to send a fleet of small probes there. (European Southern Observatory)

“I think you and I will be happy to see the launch,” Mr. Milner, 54, said in an interview, adding that progress in medicine and longevity would determine whether he would live to see the results.

“We came to the conclusion it can be done: interstellar travel,” Mr. Milner said. He announced the project, called Breakthrough Starshot, in a news conference in New York on Tuesday, 55 years after Yuri Gagarin — for whom Mr. Milner is named — became the first human in space.

In a statement released by Breakthrough Starshot, the English cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking said: “Earth is a beautiful place, but it might not last forever. Sooner or later we must look to the stars.”

Dr. Hawking is one of three members of the board of directors for the mission, along with Mr. Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder.

The project will be directed by Pete Worden, a former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and the chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which Mr. Milner founded and of which the new venture is an offshoot. He has a prominent cast of advisers, including the Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb as chairman; the British astronomer royal Martin Rees; the Nobel Prize-winning astronomer Saul Perlmutter, of the University of California, Berkeley; Ann Druyan, producer of the TV show “Cosmos” and widow of Carl Sagan; and the mathematician and author Freeman Dyson, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

“There are about 20 key challenges we are asking the world’s scientific experts to help us with — and we are willing to financially support their work,” Dr. Worden said in an email.

A detailed technical description of the project will appear on the project’s website.

Estimating that the project could cost $5 billion to $10 billion, Mr. Milner is initially investing $100 million for research and development. He said he was hoping to lure other investors, especially from international sources.

Most of that money would go toward a giant laser array, which could be used to repeatedly send probes toward any star (as long as the senders were not looking for return mail anytime soon) or around the solar system, perhaps to fly through the ice plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which might contain microbes — tiny forms of life.

In a sense, the start of this space project reflects the make-it-break-it mode of Silicon Valley. Rather than send one big, expensive spacecraft on a journey of years, send thousands of cheap ones. If some break or collide with space junk, others can take their place.

Interstellar travel is a daunting and humbling notion. Alpha Centauri is an alluring target for such a trip: It is the closest star system to our own, and there might be planets in the system. The system consists of three stars: Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, sunlike stars that circle each other, and Proxima Centauri, which may be circling the other two. In recent years, astronomers have amassed data suggesting the possibility of an Earth-size planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B.

It would take Voyager 1, humanity’s most distant space probe, more than 70,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri if it were headed in that direction, which it is not.

Over the years, a variety of propulsion schemes have been hatched to cross the void more quickly. In 1962, shortly after lasers had been invented, Robert Forward, a physicist and science fiction author, suggested that they could be used to push sails in space.

In 2011, Darpa, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, got into the act with 100 Year Starship, a contest to develop a business plan for interstellar travel.

By all accounts, Mr. Milner was initially skeptical of an interstellar probe.

But three trends seemingly unrelated to space travel — advances in nanotechnology and lasers and the relentless march of Moore’s Law, making circuits ever smaller and more powerful — have converged in a surprising way.

It is now possible to fit the entire probe with computers, cameras and electrical power, a package with a mass of only one gram, a thirtieth of an ounce.

That, Dr. Loeb said, is about what the guts of an iPhone, stripped of its packaging and displays, amount to.

April 11, 2016

NASA races to save planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 10:29 am

Image:  NASA's Kepler spacecraftNASA is trying to resuscitate its planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, in a state of emergency nearly 75 million miles away.

The treasured spacecraft — responsible for detecting nearly 5,000 planets outside our solar system — slipped into emergency mode sometime last week. The last regular contact was April 4; everything seemed normal then.

Ground controllers discovered the problem Thursday, right before they were going to point Kepler toward the center of the Milky Way as part of a new kind of planetary survey. Kepler was going to join ground observatories in surveying millions of stars in the heart of our galaxy, in hopes of finding planets far from their suns, like our own outer planets, as well as stray planets that might be wandering between stars.

This is the latest crisis in the life of Kepler.

Launched in 2009, the spacecraft completed its primary mission in 2012. Despite repeated breakdowns, Kepler kept going on an extended mission dubbed K2 — until now. The vast 75 million-mile distance between Kepler and Earth make it all the harder to fix.

“Even at the speed of light, it takes 13 minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back,” mission manager Charlie Sobeck said in a weekend web update from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Recovering from this emergency condition “is the team’s priority at this time,” Sobeck said.

More than 1,000 of Kepler’s detected 5,000 exoplanets have been confirmed to date, according to NASA.

Kepler is named after the 17th century German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler.


November 16, 2015

Hypersonic rocket engine could ‘revolutionize’ air travel

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Military, Space Ships, Uncategorized — bferrari @ 6:08 pm


British aerospace giant BAE Systems is betting big on hypersonic travel — something its potential new partner says could be a reality within two decades.

BAE is planning to invest £20.6 million ($31.8 million) in a 20% stake of Reaction Engines, a UK-based engineering firm which has developed what it calls “breakthrough” aerospace engine technology, which could potentially be used for a new generation of reusable space vehicles and, as a commercial offshoot, could revolutionize air travel.

An announcement on BAE’s website states that the partnership will allow collaboration on Reaction Engines’ SABRE technology — “a new aerospace engine class that combines both jet and rocket technologies with the potential to revolutionize hypersonic flight and the economics of space access.”

Along with hypersonic air travel, Mark Thomas, Reaction Engines’ managing director, told CNN’s Richard Quest that a reusable space plane that takes off and lands like an aircraft is “one of the concepts that could be made possible by this engine.”


Five times the speed of sound
SABRE, which stands for Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine, is an air-breathing engine, which uses ultra-lightweight heat exchangers to cool very hot air streams — such as those encountered at hypersonic speeds.

The technology will “enable aircraft to operate easily at speeds of up to five times the speed of sound or fly directly into Earth orbit,” Reaction Engines says in a press release on its website.

Through its ability to use atmospheric oxygen for propulsion, the engine’s design negates the need for heavy fuel reserves on board, drastically reducing the weight of a SABRE-powered vehicle.

BAE’s statement says that SABRE can also “transition” to a rocket mode, allowing spaceflight at speeds up to orbital velocity — or 25 times the speed of sound.

Thomas describes the design as an “absolutely revolutionary… visionary concept.”

He explains that SABRE is, at heart, a rocket engine but can breathe air when in the atmosphere “so you don’t need to carry so much liquid oxygen on board your vehicle, it massively reduces the weight, and you can put that into vehicle design capability or payload.”

The company’s advanced heat exchanger, which can reduce hypersonic air temperature by over a thousand degrees in a hundredth of a second, is fundamental to the engine’s design.

“If you’re doing hypersonic speed the air is around 1000˚C (1832˚F) which is more typical of the air coming out the back of the engine than goes in the front,” he explains. “So you have to be able to cool that down really quickly.”

Breaking boundaries

The company is focusing on developing the engine and Thomas says BAE will help translate its potential into a range of workable applications.

“I think we’re two decades away from a passenger carrying vehicle but a (reusable) space access vehicle within ten to 15 years.”

BAE’s proposed 20% investment is pending the approval of Reaction Engines’ shareholders.

November 16, 2014

First comet drilling ever confirmed: 100% successful mission, says ESA

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 8:24 pm

Against all odds, Philae has confirmed that the first ever drilling of a comet has happened! ESA has received telemetry data indicating that the drill worked. They also managed to send ALL data before going into sleep mode. What is Philae going to find? Perhaps the building blocks of life?

September 22, 2014

NASA confirms ‘impossible’ thruster actually works, could revolutionize space travel

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 11:56 am

“Impossible” microwave engine !

When Roger Shawyer first unveiled his EmDrive thruster back around 2003, the scientific community laughed at him. They said it was impossible, that it was based on a flawed concept, and couldn’t work because it goes against the laws of conservation of momentum. But somehow, despite all of the reasons it shouldn’t work, it does.

Scientists at NASA just confirmed it.

Shawyer’s engine provides thrust by “bouncing microwaves around in a closed chamber.” That’s it. There’s no need for a propellant of any kind like rocket fuel. When filled with resonating microwaves, the conical chamber of the thruster experiences a net thrust toward the wide end. These microwaves can be  generated using electricity, which can be provided by solar energy. In theory, this means that the thruster can work forever, or at least until its hardware fails.

Initially, the idea was met with criticism because it flies in the face of Newtonian physics, which dictate that no closed system can have this kind of net thrust. Shawyer, however, says that net thrust occurs because the microwaves have a group velocity that’s greater in one direction when Einstein’s relativity comes into play. But can it really?

Apparently, yes. The idea was first confirmed by a group of Chinese scientists back in 2009. They built their own version of Shawyer’s thruster and were able to produce 720 milinewtons of force — but even then, nobody really believed it.

Related: NASA offering $35,000 to ‘”citizen scientist” asteroid hunters

Now, American scientists at NASA have given the EmDrive a go, and once again confirmed that it actually works. The test results were presented on July 30 at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, and astonishingly enough, they are positive. The team behind the drive still doesn’t know why it works, just that it does.

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma,” the report reads.

Therefore, we’ve still got a long road ahead of us before we’ve got energy-harvesting, self-propelled intergalactic spacecraft, but these studies (assuming they’re not flawed) suggest we’ve made a major breakthrough in space propulsion systems. With further refinement, microwave thrusters could drastically cut the cost of satellites and space stations, and potentially even make it possible to travel to distant planets, like Mars, in weeks rather than months or years.


September 15, 2014

Space Shuttle at the International Space Station. Cool Photo !

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 8:56 am

September 3, 2014

Manufacturing Begins For Fusion Reactor Parts

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 11:58 am

The first components of what will become the world’s largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor are now being manufactured around the world. Once it starts operating in 2020, the multinational ITER demonstration power plant will help scientists understand how to fuse hydrogen nuclei together to make energy, the same phenomenon that powers the sun.

At the heart of the project is the 25,400-ton tokamak, a machine that uses magnetic fields to confine a plasma that burns at 150 million degrees Celsius. The giant magnets used to corral the plasma are now being manufactured at a facility in La Spezia, Italy, as seen in the gifs above and video below.


Inside the plasma, hydrogen nuclei will slam together with enough force to turn some of their mass into energy. This demonstration of Einstein’s E=mc2 will produce a huge amount of energy from a small amount of matter—the U.S. ITER office says one gram of hydrogen fuel will generate as much power as eight tons of oil. The trick that still needs to be figured out is how to get more energy out of the fusion reaction than what needs to be put in to start it. Researchers are making significant strides toward that goal.

The project is being run cooperatively between Europe, the U.S., Russia, Japan, China, Korea and India. The tokamak is expected to generate 500 megawatts of power once it is running at full power. The first plasma is expected to be generated in 2020 and fusion might be seen in 2027.


August 25, 2014

Space plane tech could power hypersonic aircraft for US military

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 6:13 am
This artist's illustration depicts the Skylon concept vehicle. (Adrian Mann)

This artist’s illustration depicts the Skylon concept vehicle. (Adrian Mann)

Engine technology being developed for a British space plane could also find its way into hypersonic aircraft built by the U.S. military.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is studying hypersonic vehicles that would use the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which the English company Reaction Engines Ltd. is working on to power the Skylon space plane, AFRL officials said.

“AFRL is formulating plans to look at advanced vehicle concepts based on Reaction Engine’s heat-exchanger technology and SABRE engine concept,” officials with AFRL, which is based in Ohio, told via email last month. [The Skylon Space Plane (Images)]

A bold British space plane concept

SABRE and Skylon were invented by Alan Bond and his team of engineers at the Abingdon, England-based Reaction Engines.

SABRE burns hydrogen and oxygen. It acts like a jet engine in Earth’s thick lower atmosphere, taking in oxygen to combust with onboard liquid hydrogen. When SABRE reaches an altitude of 16 miles and five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), however, it switches over to Skylon’s onboard liquid oxygen tank to reach orbit. (Hypersonic flight is generally defined as anything that reaches at least Mach 5.)

Two SABREs will power the Skylon space plane — a privately funded, single-stage-to-orbit concept vehicle t-hat is 276 feet long. At takeoff, the plane will weigh about 303 tons.

The SABRE heat exchanger is also known as a pre-cooler. It will cool the air entering Skylon’s engines from more than 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit down to minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit in one one-hundredth of a second. The oxygen in the chilled air will become liquid in the process. [Skylon’s Many Possible Missions (Video)]

“The [pre-cooler] performance has always been pretty much what we predicted,” Bond explained in an interview with at the Farnborough International Airshow in England on July 16. “We’ve now done over 700 actual tests. It’s now done as much service as a pre-cooler would in a real engine.”

Bond’s team has also successfully tested the pre-cooler for a problem aviation jet engines have to deal with: foreign objects being sucked in.

“We know it [the pre-cooler] can take debris, insects, leaves,” Bond said.

Working with the U.S. military

Bond estimates that the pre-cooler is now at a technology readiness level (TRL) of about 5. NASA and AFRL use a 1-to-9 TRL scale to describe a technology’s stage of development. According to NASA’s TRL descriptions, 5 represents “thorough testing” of a prototype in a “representative environment.”

The AFRL work is being carried out under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Reaction Engines that was announced in January. AFRL officials told that they are using computers to model SABRE.

“The Air Force research laboratories in the States have carried out some modeling to verify that the SABRE does actually work, that it is a real engine, and so I am hoping they are going to confirm that very soon,” Bond said.

“This is obviously opening doors in the United States, and again, I can’t say a great deal about that, but we have very good dialogue going across the Atlantic,” he added. “In the next couple of years, it’s going to be quite exciting.”

Bond declined to confirm rumors of organized support within the U.S. aerospace community that involves former senior program managers of the U.S. military’s most high-profile defense projects.

Bond sees Skylon as an international project that would include the U.S. and Europe.

“We’re in dialogue with people across Europe in regard to supplying [rocket engine components]. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel; we’d like to be the engine integrator and put it on our test facilities and run it,” he explained.

Milestones approaching

Two SABRE engines are expected to be tested in 2019. “Hopefully, the earlier part of 2019,” Bond said. “I’d like to feel we can test them on Westcott. That is where the rocket propulsion establishment used to be.” (In the 1950s and 1960s, the United Kingdom had its own space program; the nation launched a satellite called Prospero with its last rocket, Black Arrow, in 1971. Westcott is about a one-hour drive from Reaction Engines’ headquarters).

The SABRE development program is expected to cost 360 million British pounds ($600 million at current exchange rates). “We’ve got 80 million [British pounds] of the 360 million lined up. We’re well on our way to that,” Bond said.

Of the 80 million pounds, 60 million is from the U.K. government. As with thecommercial ventures NASA supports, Reaction Engines has to meet milestones to acquire those government funds.

“We have to meet milestones, but those are programmatic issues,” Bond said. “There is nothing contentious about that; it is just a matter of getting the work done to get there. I think of it as an R&D program, and we’ve done the ‘R’ bit, and this part forward is the ‘D’ bit. We’ve spent years making sure the technology actually works.”

In January, this R&D program reached its third phase, which is split into four sections, known as 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D. Sections 3A and 3B are being carried out in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Section 3A began in January and will last until April 2015. It involves the engine’s system design, revising the engine’s layout and studying the impact on Skylon’s performance. This work will cost 8 million euros ($10.7 million, or 6.4 million British pounds), half of which will come from the U.K. government and ESA and the other half from Reaction Engines’ private investment.

“This is it for real now; this isn’t studies anymore,” Bond said. Section 3A will continue until spring 2015, and section 3B is due to start in January 2015, he added. “That is the preliminary design phase,.” Bond said.”

Section 3B will last until the end of 2015. During this section, the characteristics of the engine components will be defined and technical specifications produced.

Section 3C, which starts from mid-2015, will see 10 million euros ($13.37 million, or 8 million British pounds) from the U.K. government spent. The section 3C work with suppliers overlaps section 3B. This is because some of the components will get specifications during 3B before other parts of the engine are fully defined. Those detailed components with specifications can then be given to prospective suppliers during the first few months of section 3C.

“In 3C, we start to do detailed design — what the bearings will look like, who is the supplier going to be, that sort of stuff. This is really exciting stuff. We’re starting to pull the real engine together during the course of next year,” Bond said.

He explained that for section 3C, his company will spend “some of the U.K. government money alongside some of our own private investment.” The government money has “enabled us to raise quite a few millions of private investment to go alongside that, and we’re continuing that [fund-raising] activity,” Bond said.


June 10, 2014

Problem Solved !

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 9:59 am

At least, this ad agency promoting Carlsberg beer seems to think so …

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