Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Space technology and future, 10. 2009

First a link to some of the freakiest inventions of Nature. The third one is especially horrible, but still quite fascinating - after all the two creatures live well together even if it is somewhat creepy.
And one good idea - sending water bears to Mars to see how they will survive. I love this little things. They are so weird.
Today:

  1. A Polymer Solar Cell with Near-Perfect Internal Efficiency
  2. Europe's Mars mission scaled back
  3. Workers to break ground on New Mexico spaceport
  4. Firms team up for ISS supply ship
  5. A new approach to engineering for extreme environments (w/ Video)
  6. Scientists Observe Liquid Water Below Freezing

A Polymer Solar Cell with Near-Perfect Internal
Efficiency

June 17th, 2009 by Laura Mgrdichian

An international group of scientists has developed a polymer-based solar cell with an ability not yet seen in similar cells: almost every single photon it absorbs is converted into a pair of electric-charge carriers, and every one of those pairs is collected at the cell's electrodes.

The overall efficiency of the cell is six percent, meaning a total of six percent of the absorbed energy is converted into usable electricity when illuminated in the lab with similated solar light. This may seem low, but polymer solar cells to date have not yielded efficiencies better than five percent.

The group's work is a good sign that it is possible to produce polymer solar cells with efficiencies good enough for commercial production. As alternative-energy media, polymer solar cells are already promising because they would be much cheaper to produce and far more lightweight than conventional solar cells or cells made using other materials. They would also be highly portable and physically flexible, making it possible to place them in locations that standard solar cells cannot go.

The solar cell is made of a “copolymer,” a polymer consisting of two different alternating polymer chains. Its role is to release when hit by sunlight; the electrons are accepted by a fullerene derivative, a material based on a form of carbon that tends to form large spherical molecules known as fullerenes. When the two materials are combined into a composite “active layer,” regions form that separating the positive and negative charge - the positively charged “holes” left by electrons as they leave the copolymer and, of course, the electrons themselves. The regions are known as bulk heterojunctions, or BHJs.

source

My comment: One thing in the resume, quite another in the text. In anyway, without much comments, I'm following the progress of solar cells with great interest. The reason for this is quite obvious. If you think about it, most of the energy we have on Earth, in any of its forms comes from the Sun. The only reason why I'm not saying "all" is because I exclude nuclear energy and the energy coming from Earth itself - thermal, seismic and gravity itself , though, it's indirectly still connected to the Sun in one way or another. It's hard to imagine how correct ancient people were when they worshiped the Sun as a God. It really provides us with everything and solar panels are one of the most direct ways to gather this energy and turn it into something useful for us. That is why, every percent counts.

Europe's Mars mission scaled back

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Le Bourget

The European Space Agency says its flagship Mars mission will lose a major instrument package to contain costs.

The Exomars venture will launch a rover to the Red Planet in 2016, to search for signs of past or present life.

It was hoped a static science payload called Humboldt could also be put on the surface to study the weather and, for example, listen for "Marsquakes".

But agency officials announced at the Paris air show that financial constraints now made this impossible.

Esa director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain said de-scoping ExoMars would also give extra margin to engineers who were concerned that the rover's design was pushing the limit of the maximum possible mass for the mission.

Mr Dordain said the loss of Humboldt was inevitable given the promise he had made to European governments in November last year to keep the cost of the project as close as possible to 850m euros.

He told the BBC he had given the Esa ExoMars development team three objectives: "To stay within the calendar; to try and stay within the money we have collected in November; and to keep the technology which I wish to demonstrate on Mars, which is landing, because we have never landed on Mars; moving on the surface; and drilling, because nobody has done that."

He said it was also likely now that the US would play a significant role in the endeavour, further limiting the financial burden on European taxpayers.

The American space agency (Nasa) has its own money worries and is keen to share the cost of Mars exploration with Europe.

This would mean all future Red Planet missions being badged Nasa/Esa projects.

On ExoMars, the US is now set to provide the launcher - an Atlas rocket. It will also probably build the carrier spacecraft that delivers the rover to Red Planet; and the orbiter which will circle above Mars and relay its data back to Earth. It is possible, though, the US could source many elements from European industry.

The US offer represents a considerable investment, but the quid pro quo is that European money will then be put into future US-led missions.

Humboldt's omission from ExoMars will be a bitter blow to its scientists. It was intended to study the surface environment and the geophysics of the deep interior.

Its sensors were being designed to undertake - among other things - meteorological investigations and an assessment of the radiation conditions on Mars. Seismometers would have revealed remarkable new insights into the nature of Mars' geological structure.

Changes are necessary also to Esa's Bepi-Colombo mission to Mercury, which, like ExoMars, is due to leave Earth next decade.

Engineers are grappling with various technical problems as they try to design a spacecraft capable of withstanding the high heat and radiation experienced near the innermost planet.

The mission is going to be much heavier than planned, which will require a bigger, more expensive rocket.

The cost at completion - the full and final cost of the mission - is currently looking to be 904m euros, at 2007 prices.

The director general also announced that the first Soyuz rocket launch from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana would now take place in the "first few weeks" of 2010. The timeline had slipped because of delays in the construction of the new launch facilities in Guiana.

In addition, there is a delay of "several months" in the schedule leading to the maiden flight of Europe's small Vega rocket. The testing of all the launcher's new systems is taking longer than planned. source

My comment: Many news but most of them bad. I'm so sorry to see the Humboldt instrument will be left behind. It's a very nice tool and I'm extremely interested in Mars seismology - what better way to look what's inside the planet. I hope that something nice will happen in meantime that will allow ESA/NASA to take that instrument on board. And yeah, the other thing that I hope is that in this mission, ESA will be the leader. I mean, after reading about the bad attitude toward the European astronauts, it's really pity to see such things happening in the greatest endeavors of human-kind.

Workers to break ground on New Mexico spaceport


UPHAM, N.M. – The wide-open desert of southern New Mexico has long been a key passageway: Spanish conquistadors used it to settle North America, and wagon trains and railroads rattled through on their way to California.

Today, New Mexico is hoping the forgotten stretch of cattle ranches and mountain ranges will become a gateway to space.

Gov. Bill Richardson and others are preparing to break ground Friday on construction of a terminal and hangar facility at the world's first commercial spaceport built with the idea of launching private citizens into space for profit. Some 250 people are lining up to pay $200,000 each to take the trip as early as next year.

It's called Spaceport America, a $200 million taxpayer-funded project where the sky is not the limit. From the 10,000-foot runway, spacecraft will take flight attached to an airplane, then break free and rocket 62 miles into space before returning to the facility. The flights will last about two hours and include five minutes of weightlessness.

The spaceport will operate like an airport, offering a location where aerospace companies can lease building and hangar space. Virgin Galactic, a company owned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, will be the spaceport's anchor tenant.

Competitors such as XCOR Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace are developing spacecraft for $95,000 flights. And as flights become more routine, costs should drop.

Similar spaceport ventures are proposed in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and elsewhere. Besides New Mexico, Virgin Galactic also hopes to ferry tourists to space from northern Sweden.

Virgin Galactic and American aerospace designer Burt Rutan are building a craft that will take passengers on the thrill ride from New Mexico's spaceport. In 2004, Rutan's SpaceShipOne became the first privately built manned craft to reach space.

SpaceShipTwo, under development at Rutan's facility in California, will be carried aloft by a mothership called White Knight Two, unveiled last summer. The smaller craft will separate and rocket into space.

Spaceport America's runway is slated for completion next summer. The terminal and hangar should be ready for tenants in December 2010, when Virgin Galactic hopes to begin taking tourists aloft.

Five miles from the terminal is a launching pad for 20-foot rockets used mostly for science experiments. It's been operational for the past two years. source

My comment: What I completely don't understand is why the thing is built with tax-payers money. Yeah, if we make the analogy with airport, ok, but still, there is something I completely dislike. Maybe I'm way too used to the way we build here - give it to a private company and then let it take the incomes for couple of years. Maybe they see strategic meaning to the spaceport, but still, it's weird that in the home of capitalism and crazy liberals, the spaceport is built by the country. Apart from this, I love the idea and I have said it many times. Space should become private so that the cost finally drops. Because obviously, in government stuctures everything is in the balance between too much money for the project to get funding and too little money, so that you can't feed the family.

Firms team up for ISS supply ship

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Le Bourget

US and Italian companies are teaming up to build a private re-supply ship for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Orbital Sciences Corporation has engaged Thales Alenia Space to build a pressurised module for its forthcoming cargo vessel, Cygnus.

The spacecraft is expected to carry almost three tonnes of food and equipment to the platform.

The agreement between Orbital and Thales signed at the Paris air show covers nine Cygnus ships in total.

The first is a demonstration flight that must prove to the US space agency (Nasa) that the commercial freighter design is up to the task, and that the robot vehicle poses no danger to the crew of the station.

"Cygnus has built into it all the critical safety features that are required for being in the vicinity of the space station," said Bob Richards, who leads the project at Orbital.

The maiden mission is scheduled to be launched in March 2011 on a Taurus II rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia.

The Taurus will park the freighter in a low-Earth orbit from where it must make its own way to the station.

The Cygnus will then manoeuvre itself to within 10m of the front of the platform. There, it will be grabbed by a robotic arm and berthed to the station's underside, at the central connecting hub known as the Harmony node.

Astronauts will then be free to go in and out at will, to remove bags of fresh supplies and replace their volume with rubbish.

"We are going to develop nine modules," explained Roberto Provera from Thales.

"The first is for the demonstration mission. Then we will supply eight others, two in what we call a 'standard configuration' and six in an 'enhanced configuration'.

"Cargo carrying capability for the standard module is two tonnes; and for the enhanced version, we will have the capability to go up to 2.7 tonnes."

The eventual fate of a Cygnus freighter is to undock and take a controlled dive to fiery destruction in the atmosphere over the Pacific - the same way that the Russian and European space agencies dispense with their robotic space trucks.

Orbital is one of two US companies that have won big Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts with Nasa, to help the agency fulfill its commitments at the station while it builds a replacement for the space shuttle.

Orbital is an established force in satellite and rocket manufacturing and produces - among many different space products - the mid-air Pegasus launcher.

Thales is one of the biggest space companies in Europe and has been a key supplier to the space station project. More than 50% of the pressurised volume of the platform has been produced by the French-Italian company, principally in its Turin plant.
The deal signed here at Le Bourget is valued at 180m euros ($250m). Thales expects to deliver the first pressurised module to Orbital at the end of 2010. Orbital will then integrate it with its own service and propulsion unit - that part of the Cygnus spacecraft which contains the computers, navigation and orientation systems and thrusters. source

My comment: Click here to read about the contract on Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle given to Thales Alenia. As for me, I'm of course veery happy about this contract. Mostly because I think space was kind of abandoned for way too long. Yes we have the ISS, but that's all! And that's so little! And if governments can't be convinced to invest in such projects, then private companies should be left to do it. Because let's face it, we can do it, the only problems is in our desire and commitment to do it. And while it's hard to justify ISS to angry farmers, private companies take the money and do the job. Or do the job and figure out how to get the money. But there are not moral dilemmas and no idiotic justification why we need to wast precious taxpayers money to explore space when we can give them to military or some fun corporation. Sure thing, if there wasn't the risk some giant and deadly rock could hit us, some solar flare could fry us or just bunch of aliens could laugh their asses off on our pathetic farmer land.

Scientists Observe Liquid Water Below Freezing

June 24th, 2009 by Lisa Zyga
(PhysOrg.com) -- Below 0 °C, water turns to ice. But beyond that, or below about -75 °C, the ice may turn back into liquid water. While scientists have previously predicted this phase transition with computer simulations, recent experiments may have finally demonstrated the existence of this ultra-cold water.

In a their study, Dino Leporini of the University of Pisa in Italy and his colleagues at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore say they have seen two new phases of when the water is cooled to low temperatures and squeezed to high pressures. In low-density liquid (LDL) water, form an open network, while in high-density liquid (HDL) water, the molecules are close together and break some . These observations confirm the prediction of scientist Gene Stanley in 1992, who first suggested the two new phases.

Studying new phases of liquid water could have interesting implications for life. As Leporini explains, pockets of supercooled water in could host life in cold regions or on other planets where life has not previously been thought to exist. source
My comment: Yes, precisely my point from the previous comment. Life can be everywhere. And we even don't have a decent definition of life so far. I'm telling you, they are laughing their asses off!

A new approach to engineering for extreme environments (w/ Video)

June 24th, 2009 by Anne Trafton

(PhysOrg.com) -- Composite materials such as fiberglass, which take on a mix of properties of their constituent compounds, have been around for decades. Now, an MIT materials scientist is taking composites to the nanoscale, where entirely new properties, not found in any of the original compounds, can emerge.

Michael Demkowicz, an assistant professor in MIT's Department of Science and Engineering, is part of a team based at Los Alamos National Laboratory that recently received a federal Energy Frontier Research Centers grant to develop nanocomposite materials that can endure , radiation and extreme mechanical loading. The ultimate goal is to use these materials in energy applications including nuclear power, fuel cells, solar energy and .

His model tackles what materials scientists call "the inverse problem" -- specifying a desired set of properties and then predicting which structures will deliver them -- and could dramatically speed up the design process.

Demkowicz' first target is radiation-resistant materials, which could improve the efficiency and safety of nuclear power plants.

Normally, when metals are exposed to radiation, high-energy particles such as neutrons bump into individual atoms and knock them out of their . Like billiard balls, the displaced atoms bump into neighboring atoms, spreading damage in the form of "vacancies" (holes where an atom is missing), and "interstitials" (an extra atom squeezed in where it shouldn't be). Clusters of these defects can make the material brittle and weak.

The key to making nanocomposite materials resistant to lies in the interfaces between layers of different materials. As the layers become thinner, the interfaces play a more dominant role in the material properties because the ratio of interface area to the material's total volume becomes larger. These interfaces give rise to novel properties not found in the original materials.

In some nanocomposites, vacancies and interstitials can get trapped at interfaces, where they have a higher likelihood of meeting. When that happens, the extra atom fills in the hole and the crystal structure is restored. Under some conditions it can appear as if there was no radiation damage remaining at all, says Demkowicz.

Materials resistant to radiation damage could eventually be used to line nuclear reactors, a function now performed by stainless steel. That could extend the lifetime of nuclear reactors and allow them to operate under higher radiation doses. Whereas current reactors consume only about one percent of their fuel, these improved reactors could burn a higher percentage of nuclear fuel and leave behind less waste. source

My comment: And that is so cool! I like this way of doing science. First define what you need and then find a way to obtain it. Visions first, physics later. So to say :)

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