New Thruster Built With Aim to Propel Humans to Mars

New Thruster Built With Aim to Propel Humans to Mars

An engineer from University of Michigan has developed a prototype of a thruster that may form the basis for a propulsion system to take a manned spacecraft to Mars in the 2020s.

Nasa has funded a spaceflight propulsion system to be built around a tabletop-sized thruster developed by Alec Gallimore, the Richard F and Eleanor A Towner professor of engineering.

The US space agency awarded $6.5 million (roughly Rs. 44.5 crores) over the next three years to Aerojet Rocketdyne for the development of the propulsion system, dubbed the XR-100.

Gallimore’s thruster, called X3, is central to this system and his team will receive $1 million (roughly Rs. 6.8 crores) of the award for work on the thruster.

The XR-100 is up against two competing designs. All three of them rely on ejecting plasma – an energetic state of matter in which electrons and charged atoms called ions coexist – out of the back of the thruster.

But the X3 has a bit of a head start. For thrusters of its design power, 200 kilowatts, it is relatively small and light.

The core technology – the Hall thruster – is already in use for maneuvering satellites in orbit around Earth.

“For comparison, the most powerful Hall thruster in orbit right now is 4.5 kilowatts,” Gallimore said.

That’s sufficient to adjust the orbit or orientation of a satellite but it’s too little power to move the massive amounts of cargo needed to support human exploration of deep space.

Scott Hall, a doctoral student in Gallimore’s lab, will use the funding to put the X3 through a battery of tests, running it up to 60 kilowatts and then up to 200 kilowatts.

Doctoral student Sarah Cusson will investigate a tweak that could allow the X3 to remain operational for five-to-10 times longer than its current lifetime of a little over a year.

“If we do our jobs over the next three years, we can deliver both projects. If I had to predict, I would say this thruster would be the basis for sending humans to Mars,” Gallimore added.

The US space agency selected the thruster as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) programme.

NextSTEP encompasses a set of projects aimed at improving small satellites, propulsion and human living quarters in space.

These are milestones toward sending humans into orbit between Earth and the moon in the 2020s and to Mars the following decade.

‘Smart’ Robotic Limb Turns Musicians Into 3-Armed Drummers

'Smart' Robotic Limb Turns Musicians Into 3-Armed Drummers

Scientists have developed a ‘smart’ wearable robotic limb that responds to human gestures and the music it hears, allowing drummers to play with three arms.

The two-foot long robotic arm can be attached to a musician’s shoulder, and knows what to play by listening to the music in the room. It improvises based on the beat and rhythm.

For instance, if the musician plays slowly, the arm slows the tempo. If the drummer speeds up, it plays faster.

Another aspect of its intelligence is knowing where it is located at all times, where the drums are, and the direction and proximity of the human arms.

“When the drummer moves to play the high hat cymbal, for example, the robotic arm manoeuvres to play the ride cymbal.

As the drummer switches to the snare, the mechanical arm shifts to the tom,” said researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in US.

When the robot approaches an instrument, it uses built-in accelerometers to sense the distance and proximity. On-board motors make sure the stick is always parallel to the playing surface, allowing it to rise, lower or twist to ensure solid contact with the drum or cymbal.

“The third arm provides a much richer and more creative experience, allowing the human to play many drums simultaneously with virtuosity and sophistication that are not otherwise possible,” said Gil Weinberg, director of the Centre for Music Technology at Georgia.

The arm moves naturally with intuitive gestures because it was programmed using human motion capture technology.

Researchers built the arm after creating a robotic prosthesis for an Atlanta drummer. That device had two sticks, one with a mind of its own.

The prosthetic arm allowed the man to continue his musical passion after losing an arm in an accident, while also making him the fastest drummer in the world.

Its success led Weinberg to create the “third arm” robot, something that anyone can wear and become a cyborg drummer.

“If you have a robotic device that is part of your body, it’s a completely different feeling from working alongside a regular robot,” said Weinberg.

“The machine learns how your body moves and can augment and complement your activity,” he said.

There could be other applications for the technology, researchers said.

“Imagine if doctors could use a third arm to bring them tools, supplies or even participate in surgeries. Technicians could use an extra hand to help with repairs and experiments,” Weinberg added.

Nasa Invites Isro to US for Possible Collaboration on Mars Mission

Nasa Invites Isro to US for Possible Collaboration on Mars Mission

As American space agency Nasa looks forward to sending astronauts to Mars, it has invited the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) for a possible international collaboration.

Several space agencies of different countries are also expected to attend the meeting in Washington next month.

“We are looking to send astronauts to Mars. In order to do that, you need certain robotic missions to begin with.

Early next month, there will be a meeting in Washington. The Isro has also been invited for the meeting to discuss the future collaborations for the mission to Mars. We think it will be more of an international consortium.

“There are potential opportunities to collaborate in future,” said Jakob van Zyl, Associate Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Nasa scientist was delivering a lecture on its Mars mission and its finding on the Red Planet at American Centre in New Delhi.

There is also a Isro-Nasa Mars Working Group in place, which has been looking into opportunities for enhanced cooperation in Mars exploration including potential coordinated observations and analysis between Isro’s Mars Orbiter Mission and Nasa’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN).

The UAE has also signed a cooperation agreement with the Isro for its Mars Mission, the first to be undertaken by any Gulf nation.

China Unveils 3 Gravitational Waves Projects

China Unveils 3 Gravitational Waves Projects

Chinese scientists have unveiled three separate projects to investigate gravitational waves, state media said Wednesday, days after earthshaking US discoveries that confirmed Einstein’s century-old predictions.

Space officials said such research would give China – which has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme that Beijing sees as symbolising the country’s progress – an opportunity to become a “world leader” in the field.

Gravitational waves are direct evidence of ripples in the fabric of space-time, and their first-ever observation was announced by US scientists last week.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) rolled out a proposal for a space-based gravitational wave detection project, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The proposed Taiji programme, named after the “supreme ultimate” of Chinese philosophy symbolised by the yin-yang sign, would send satellites of its own into orbit or share equipment with the European Space Agency’s eLISA initiative.

Separately, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou also proposed to launch satellites into space, while the Institute of High Energy Physics at CAS suggested a land-based scheme in Tibet.

All three projects have yet to obtain government approval, state media said.

But Chinese physicist Hu Wenrui told the People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Communist party: “If we launch our own satellites, we will have a chance to be a world leader” in gravitational wave research.

Success “depends on the decision-makers’ resolution and the country’s investment”, he added.

On a verified social media account the Chinese Academy of Science said: “If we can participate in these sorts of extremely precise technological projects then in a short time it will give a huge boost to our country’s manufacturing industries.”

Last week, scientists with the US-based Large Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) said they had detected waves resulting from the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago.

The executive director of the laboratory hailed the discovery as being comparable to Galileo’s use of the telescope four centuries ago to open the era of modern astronomy.

Photoelectrode Uses Sunlight to Turn Water Into Hydrogen

Photoelectrode Uses Sunlight to Turn Water Into Hydrogen: Study

A team of South Korean researchers has developed, for the first time, a new type of multi-layered photoelectrode that boosts the ability of splitting water through sunlight to produce hydrogen.

The photoelectrode, inspired by the way plants convert sunlight into energy, is capable of absorbing visible light from the sun, and then using it to split water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen.

This photoelectrode takes the form of 2D hybrid metal-dielectric structure, which mainly consists of three layers of gold film, ultrathin TiO2 layer and gold nanoparticles.

The team reported that this promising photoelectrode shows high light absorption of about 90 percent in the absorption spectrum (380-700 nm) of pure water, as well as significant enhancement in photo-catalytic applications.


“This simple system may serve as an efficient platform for solar energy conversion, utilising the whole ultraviolet-visible range of solar spectrum based on two-dimensional plasmonic photoelectrodes,”explained professor Jeong Min Baik from School of Materials Science and Engineering, UNIST.

Moreover, according to professor Baik, this photoelectrode uses approximately 95 percent of the visible spectrum of sunlight which makes up a substantial portion (40 percent) of full sunlight.

“The developed technology is expected to improve hydrogen production efficiency,” he added in a paper appeared in the journal Nano Energy.

Japan Launches Satellite to Study Black Holes

Japan Launches Satellite to Study Black Holes

Japan successfully launched a jointly developed space observation satellite on Wednesday tasked with studying mysterious black holes, the country’s space agency said.

The ASTRO-H satellite, developed in collaboration between the agency, Nasa and other groups, is set to orbit at an altitude of about 580 kilometres (360 miles) and observe X-rays emanating mainly from black holes and galaxy clusters.

The satellite was carried out by the country’s mainstay H-IIA rocket, which soared towards the heavens from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan under mostly clear late afternoon skies.

The broadcast was nationally televised and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the satellite separated from the rocket with no difficulty.

Black holes have never been directly observed, but the announcement on the first detection of gravitational waves earlier this month indirectly added to the evidence that black holes do actually exist.

The Japanese rocket, which was initially scheduled for liftoff last Friday but was postponed due to bad weather, was launched at 5:45pm (8:45am GMT or 2:15pm IST).

Stand on Mars Without Leaving the Office: How Nasa Is Using Microsoft’s HoloLens

Stand on Mars Without Leaving the Office: How Nasa Is Using Microsoft's HoloLens

At its global unveil, Microsoft demonstrated how the HoloLens – its augmented reality headset – could significantly improve our gaming and design experience. But, of course, the application of its well-praised HoloLens isn’t limited to just these spheres. Later in the same year, Nasa partnered with Microsoft to form a joint venture called “Sidekick” to empower astronauts aboard the International Space Station and leverage on HoloLens technology. The space agency is now laying bare on more details about the collaboration.

At the Vision Summit 2016, Jeff Norris, Mission Operations Innovation Lead at Nasa JPL shared the number of fascinating things his team has been able to do using Microsoft’s HoloLens and other technologies. A scientist could now utilise a HoloLens and experience the Martian surface as if he or she was actually on Mars, Norris noted. The headset also enables a scientist at the International Space Station to collaborate with the team on Earth in a much more interactive way.


“I am inspired by the potential of virtual and augmented reality to take us to places limited only by our imagination,” Norris said. “At Nasa, we are also excited by the potential of this new medium to take us to new places that are no less fantastic. […] What if a scientist could stand on Mars without leaving his or her office? They could explore the Martian landscape using the same skills that they developed as a geologist on Earth.”

“We could bring them together with their colleagues around the world within the environment that they are exploring. What if we could put a person inside the body of a robot and let them control as naturally as they control their own body?” he asked. “We can extend our reach into hazardous environments and control our machine more effectively than ever before.”


Norris went on to explain how these technologies are allowing scientists and researchers to simulate an environment, make advancements without having to get their heads around making the required machines first. “We believe that all these applications will revolutionise space exploration. But I am sorry to say that this is not our future,” Norris said, puzzling the audience. “Because, it is happening right now.”

China’s Space Telescope to Displace Humans in Search for Aliens

China's Space Telescope to Displace Humans in Search for Aliens

China will move nearly 10,000 people to make way for the world’s largest radio telescope which promises to help humanity search for alien life, state media reported on Tuesday.

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), nestled between hills in the southwestern province of Guizhou, is due to start operation this year.

Provincial officials have vowed to relocate 9,110 residents living within five kilometres of the listening device by September, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The relocations will “create a sound electromagnetic wave environment”, it cited a top regional official named Li Yuecheng as saying.

Residents will receive CNY 12,000 ($1,800 or roughly Rs. 1,25,000) in subsidies for their troubles, with some getting extra support for housing, it said.

FAST, built at a cost of CNY 1.2 billion, will dwarf the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as the world’s largest radio telescope, which is some 300 metres in diameter.

Xinhua earlier cited Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, as saying that the telescope’s high level of sensitivity “will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy”.

In the past China has relocated hundreds of thousands of people to make way for large infrastructure projects such as dams and canals. Many complain of poor compensation.

The area surrounding the telescope is remote and relatively poor. Xinhua earlier said it was chosen because there are no major towns nearby.

As well as upping investment in astronomy, Beijing is accelerating its multi-billion-dollar space exploration programme, with plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually a manned mission to the moon.

New 3D Printing Technique Can Produce Human Tissue, Organs

New 3D Printing Technique Can Produce Human Tissue, Organs

A group of US scientists have successfully transplanted living tissue constructed by a sophisticated and improved 3D printer, according to a study released on Monday by British scientific journal Nature.

This research, developed by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, represents a breakthrough for regenerative medicine, as it suggests that these tissues could be transplanted in patients in the future, and thus overcoming a number of technical obstacles that currently hinder the process, the study noted.

The scientists managed to print “stable” cartilage, bone and muscle structures and after their transplant into rodents, they matured into functional tissue while developing a system of blood vessels.

Although the new printed tissues are not yet ready to be used in human patients, experts assert that the first results of the study suggest that they have the size, strength and functionality suitable to be used in humans.

The accuracy of this new 3D printer means that in the near future, it could perfectly replicate more complex tissues and organs of the human body.

“This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) and senior author on the study. “It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation.”

China Develops Leak Measurement System for Moon Expedition

China Develops Leak Measurement System for Moon Expedition

Chinese scientists have developed a system to measure the leak rate for a vacuum environment which will be used in the third step of the country’s moon exploration programme.

According to scientists at China Academy of Space Technology, the measurement system will help in figuring out a better way to preserve samples from the moon, which are stored in a vacuum capsule, increasing the accuracy of research, Xinhua reported.

“The third step of the lunar exploration project involves taking samples from the surface of the moon back to the Earth,” said Li Detian, chief scientist.

“The samples will be packed in a vacuum environment. The accuracy of measuring the finest leak in a vacuum capsule will have direct impact on the research result of the samples,” he said.

According to Cheng Yongjun, another scientist of the team, the system they developed will ensure a similar vacuum environment as found on the moon for the samples.

It will also make sure that the two kg samples remain uncontaminated on their way back to the Earth, preventing them from being affected by any kinds of environment changes including extremely high and low temperature.

China has a three-step moon exploration project; orbiting, landing and return.

Chang’e-5 lunar probe is expected to be launched around 2017 to finish the last chapter of the project.