Saturday, January 09, 2016

In The Tech News (2)

Forget Rocket Fuel: This Spaceplane Will Use Microwave Beams to Reach Orbit
We probably shouldn’t be shocked when a giant column of highly combustible material accelerates to thousands of miles an hour and explodes. ..... Escape Dynamics .. an “external propulsion” spaceplane that separates energy from propellant. Instead of volatile liquid or solid rocket fuel, the craft runs on pressurized hydrogen. A ground antenna array aims a beam of microwaves at a heat exchanger in the plane’s belly, superheats the hydrogen to 2,000 degrees kelvin, and forces it out of an exhaust nozzle to provide enough thrust to reach orbit. ......

Ultimately, they hope to build a reusable single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane that would slash launch costs for small satellite payloads and remove combustion from the equation entirely.

.... In tests, their lab-scale prototype thruster achieved efficiency higher than anything possible using chemical rockets. ..... The idea of external propulsion is by no means new. It was proposed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky nearly a century ago, and NASA and Caltech have since toyed with the concept. ..... there is growing demand for small payloads. With powerful, miniature sensors and chips, we’re now able to pack quite a bit more tech into much lighter satellites ...... Startups like Planet Labs (the company assembling a constellation of Earth observing satellites) or Google (building out global internet infrastructure) stand to benefit from the cost savings Escape Dynamics would offer if successful...... because a spaceplane glides back to Earth, instead of the hard-to-control freefall of a rocket stage, reusability may prove an easier nut to crack. .... a lot more affordable. .... launch costs are in the ballpark of $25,000 to $50,000 per kilogram. He’s a fan of the alternative approach: “Escape Dynamics is pursuing a radical technology—one I fundamentally think is a good idea—which could massively reduce the costs for small satellite payloads.” ....... Once they start regularly flying payloads, Tseliakhovich estimates costs could eventually fall by two orders of magnitude—perhaps reaching as low as around

$150 per kilogram

. ..... Tseliakhovich hopes his company will begin flight tests of a small-scale thruster in 2017 and launch their first payload to orbit at the turn of the decade. ..... Tseliakhovich believes it will likely work alongside heavy-lifting chemical rockets and is a huge fan of current efforts to improve them by the likes of Elon Musk and SpaceX. ("One of the most remarkable efforts pursued by our civilization today.")

Scientists Connect Brain to a Basic Tablet—Paralyzed Patient Googles With Ease
eye- or head-tracking devices have allowed eye movement to act as an output system to control mouse cursors on computer screens. In some cases, the user could also perform the click function by staring intently at a single spot, known in the field as “dwell time.” .....

In contrast to eye-trackers, neural prostheses directly interface the brain with computers, in essence cutting out the middleman — the sensory organs that we normally use to interact with our environment.

..... had a 100-channel electrode array implanted into the left side of her brain in regions responsible for movement. ...... “This is a first step towards developing a fully-capable brain-controlled communication and computer interface for restoring function for people with paralysis.”
Our Solar System’s 9 Extraterrestrial Oceans in One Surprising Infographic
Not too long ago, we only suspected one ocean of liquid water beyond Earth (on Europa). Now, thanks to robotic explorers, like NASA's Dawn and Cassini missions, we're finding evidence of oceans throughout the solar system. ...... water (especially liquid water) and life go hand in hand ..... life, at least the simplest forms, may survive in more environments than once believed. Indeed, even on Earth, life is ubiquitous, from scalding volcanic vents to frozen wastes. And we may not, as it turns out, need to travel light years to find extraterrestrial oceans or observe our first alien life forms ...... news of even a few nearby alien microbes would expand the number of nooks and crannies life might inhabit throughout the galaxy.

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