June 29, 2015

Reaction Engines UK will have new tests of their Skylon Single stage to orbit Sabre Spaceplane engines prototype

Reaction Engines Ltd. have begun their latest round of rocket engine testing in Westcott, UK.

The SABRE engine requires a novel design of the rocket engine's thrust chamber and nozzle to allow operation in both air-breathing and rocket modes, as well as a smooth transition between the two. The Advanced Nozzle project is demonstrating the feasibility of this concept and represents a significant technology development effort towards the SABRE demonstrator engine.

The test engine, which has been successfully fired 15 times during its initial commissioning phase in spring 2015, incorporates several new technologies including a 3D printed, actively cooled propellant injector system. Aerodynamic data collected from the firings is being used to validate in-house computational modelling and advance the nozzle design. The test campaign is being operated by Airborne Engineering Ltd in Westcott, Buckinghamshire. Operations are planned to continue throughout 2015, including long duration burns and tests investigating the transition between air- breathing and rocket operation planned for later in the year.

Dr Helen Webber, Reaction Engines' Project Lead for the Advanced Nozzle Programme, commented:. "This experimental engine is an important step into a new era of propulsion and space access We are using it to test the aerodynamics and performance of the advanced nozzles that the SABRE engine will use, in addition to new manufacturing technologies such as our 3D-printed injection system

Hyperloop technology probably doable but would not speed up LA to SF much because of Geography and Politics

Any solution for speeding up California's high speed rail would mean acquiring new overland rights or tunneling through hundreds of miles and taking out a lot of stops between San Francisco and Los Angeles to seek the straightest and flattest possible path. With a little Chinese-style land appropriation, you could build a train closer to 300 mph through most of the rout

Eengineers trying to find the most efficient bullet-train route from Bakersfield to Palmdale encountered unexpected difficulties, including steep grades and a previously undisclosed wetlands protection requirement costing as much as $1 billion.

The rail authority's has self-imposed limit (but also practical engineering limits) of 3.5 percent average grade for sections measuring about four miles.

The Tehachapi Mountains are a tough climb, even for a train that can travel up to 220 mph. The primary alternative, the Grapevine, also has steep grades that agency officials have said would require extensive tunneling and viaducts, both of which would be very expensive.

A progress report the rail authority received from its contracted engineers in the summer of 2013, building a high-speed rail through the wetlands would require environmental remediation work costing about $100,000 per acre.

* to build California's high-speed rail with magnetic levitation or Hyperloop would make things like track sharing in the SF and LA area all but impossible. Although Hyperloop could be placed into smaller and lighter tubes which could be elevated and placed beside existing track.

* Hyperloop would need to use its technical advantages to enable a straighter route with flatter grades

* When the agency undertook a study in 2011 comparing the two alternatives' relative strengths, the city of Palmdale filed a lawsuit alleging the rail authority may not use its federal grants and state bond money to revisit an earlier announced decision to build an alignment through the Antelope Valley.

China readying deployment of synchronous traction system for high speed rail that would enable 50% faster operation starting around 2018

China has become a world leader in high-speed railway technology with its development of a cutting-edge permanent magnet synchronous traction system that will take bullet trains to an ultrafast 500 kilometers per hour (300 miles per hour).

The advanced 690-kilowatt traction system was developed by CRRC Corp, the country's train-making behemoth, at its Zhuzhou Institute in Hunan province. It will soon enter mass production, said Ding Rongjun, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering who heads the institute.

"Now we have our own permanent magnet synchronous traction system with full intellectual property rights, marking a new chapter in China's high-speed railways," he said, adding that only a handful of countries are capable of manufacturing the sophisticated apparatus, including Germany and Japan.

* new synchronous traction will allow high speed rail to go 50% faster
* new system boasts more power
* simpler configuration
* lower electrical consumption
* more reliable and efficient

June 28, 2015

Greece looks certain to default on Tuesday

Cash-strapped Greece looks certain to miss its debt repayment to the IMF on Tuesday as Greece's European partners shut the door on extending a credit lifeline after Greece's surprise move to hold a referendum on bailout terms.

Fear of an imminent default by Greece hit Greek banks, a major buyer of Greek government bills, triggering bank runs over the weekend and forcing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to announce a bank holiday and capital controls.

Some investors, however, are pinning their hopes on the possibility that Greek voters will back the creditors' bailout terms in next weekend's referendum, returning Athens to the negotiating table, despite Tsipras urging a no vote.

"Right now the surprise is that the euro is not weaker. The logic may either be that the Greek government will come back to the negotiating table or that it will not survive long, if 'Yes' prevails contrary to their recommendation," said Steven Englander, Global Head of G10 FX Strategy at CitiFX in New York.

People line up to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine (ATM) outside a National Bank branch in Iraklio on the island of Crete, Greece June 28, 2015.

Greece, which may default on an International Monetary Fund debt repayment due on Tuesday after talks with creditors broke down, owes its official lenders 242.8 billion euros ($271 billion), according to a Reuters calculation based on official data, with Germany by far the largest creditor.

Greece has a population of about 11.2 million. Greek unemployment has been about 25-30% for several years.

Greece has about $25,000 worth of debt for every man, women and child. The debt is $50,000 to 60,000 for every employed adult.

Greek per capita income is about US$22,000 on an exchange rate basis. However, if they were to fall out of the Euro then their currency could end up being half the exchange rate.

Samsung could commercialize lithium ion batteries with double the battery life by 2018

The research arm of Samsung Electronics announced on June 25 that it has developed a technology to make a silicon cathode material for coating high crystal graphene on a silicon surface to realize an energy density almost two times more than that of existing lithium batteries.

Existing lithium batteries, which were developed and commercialized by Sony in the 90’s, has been developed in a way of extending the capacity rather than increasing the life and density owing to limitations of material itself. The expansion of capacity has remained at best two times more than that of the first commercialized batteries.

Currently, the development of high-capacity battery materials has been mostly done in the United States. In particular, the research is active on silicon as a substitute material capable of raising the capacity more than 10 times that of the graphite currently used as an existing cathode material. There is, however, still the technological problem of the shortening the battery life by repeated charging and discharging.

Nature Communications - Silicon carbide-free graphene growth on silicon for lithium-ion battery with high volumetric energy density

Spacex Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission exploded during the launch

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the loss Sunday of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission.

“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system.

“A Progress vehicle is ready to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.

“SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

During a post-launch press conference on June 28, managers from SpaceX and NASA discussed the mishap following the liftoff of the SpaceX CRS-7 mission from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The mission was to deliver supplies, hardware and other important cargo to the International Space Station. SpaceX is leading the investigation of the cause of the issue.

PJMedia Rand Simberg had coverage

Today was Elon Musk’s forty-fourth birthday. I can’t know for sure, but it was probably the worst one of his life. His company had planned to fly a cargo mission to the International Space Station this morning from Florida, and then attempt to land its first stage on a ship out at sea. Instead, the Falcon 9 rocket blew up a little before two minutes into the flight, losing the cargo — including a new spacesuit for EVA’s — and the landing opportunity. It’s been confirmed that controllers did not send a “destruct” signal.

It was the nineteenth launch of the system, and its first-ever mission failure for that vehicle. It was in fact the first mission failure since 2008.

It’s too early to know the root cause, but indications are that there was a problem in the second stage as it prepared to light, but prior to separation from the first stage.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, June 28, 2015. The rocket was carrying supplies to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

June 27, 2015

Update on the leading edge of brain implant research and Kurzweils predictions for brain implants in twenty years

Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, says that in the 2030s we will have brain implants that will help us connect to the cloud, allowing us to pull information from the internet. Information will also be able to sent up over those networks, letting us back up our own brains.

As the cloud that our brains access improves, our thinking would get better and better, Kurzweil said. So while initially we would be a “hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking”, as we moved into the 2040s, most of our thinking will be non-biological.

Kurweil is describing particular kinds of brain prosthetics. There is substantial work going on with electronics that communicates with the brain.

Artificial hippocampus used for communicating memories to the brain of rats and monkeys, human trials soon

Theodore Berger and his colleagues at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have developed a working hippocampal prosthesis that passed the live tissue test in 2004. In 2011, in collaboration with Drs. Sam A. Deadwyler and Robert E. Hampson at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, a proof-of-concept hippocampal prosthesis was successfully tested in live rats. The prosthesis is in the form of multisite electrodes positioned to record from both the input and output "sides" of the damaged hippocampus, the input is gathered and analyzed by external computation chips, an appropriate feedback is computed, then used to stimulate the appropriate output pattern in the brain so that the prosthesis functions like a real hippocampus. In 2012, the team of Berger, Deadwyler and Hampson tested a further implementation in Macaques prefrontal cortex, further developing the neural prosthesis technology. In 2013, Hampson et al. successfully tested a hippocampal prosthesis on non-human primates. While the device does not yet consist of a fully implantable "chip," these tests, from rat to monkey, demonstrate the effectiveness of the device as a neural prosthetic, and the labs plan to begin human trials in a few years.

PBS Nova provides an update on the Berger and Kahana brain memory enhancing prosthetic work in 2015.

When the team watched and didn’t activate the device, the rats performed the trial correctly 80% of the time. But when they switched on the device that provided the proper CA1 signal, the accuracy rate jumped to 95%. They also found that they could interfere with the memory, too, by stimulating the CA1 neurons with an incorrect signal. Then, accuracy dropped to 75%, according to results published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

Berger worked his mathematical magic on the output from the electrodes, the researchers found that they could, once again, predict CA1 activity based on input from CA3 neurons. The researchers also found that the monkeys made mistakes in very predictable ways. When they saw an image surrounded by a circle, they sometimes selected the image in the bottom left of the screen. They made a similar error when the square was shown first, picking the matching image instead of the one in the correct location. Neural activity during these mistakes revealed the same type of encoding errors they saw in the rats.

In a follow-up experiment with the monkeys, they used the device to override the incorrect signals from the CA3 neurons. Again, they found that the device significantly improved the accuracy of the macaques in the behavioral test.

“The information that goes into the device would normally be processed by the hippocampus, but the device substitutes for that processing. We’re not putting in anything that isn’t already there, and we’re not telling the brain things like ‘remember an apple’ or ‘remember a face.’ It simply strengthens the normal memory processing that’s already there,” Hampson says.

However, it will be at least several more years until the device is ready to test in humans. For one, they have to create electrodes that can be used in humans and figure out how to insert them without damaging other parts of the brain. They also have to develop a reliable power source for the device. And before anyone can use it, researchers also have to record the activity of CA1 and CA3 neurons to be able to insert the correct signal. None of these are easy tasks.

At the University of Pennsylvania, theoretical neuroscientist Michael Kahana is developing a device that would boost the signal in the hippocampus when the brain is trying to encode a memory. When researchers stimulated a region of the hippocampus called the entorhinal cortex in individuals undergoing surgery for epilepsy, the subjects’ memories improved significantly.

It’s still not clear whether a memory prosthetic would be able to activate the whole, complex range of a memory.

While both the scientists and funding agencies envision these devices for use in individuals with brain damage from Alzheimer’s disease or a traumatic brain injury, they also have the potential to be used by healthy individuals.

Nonlinear Cognitive Signal Processing in Ultralow-Power Programmable Analog Hardware

Ted Berger and his team published in 2015 on a programmable ultralow-power analog neural signal processing system. The analog hardware implements a nonlinear model that can replicate and predict, in real time, the temporal neural codes used in complex brain functions. The transistors of the analog circuits operate in weak inversion. A digital control system is used to program model parameters and calibrate mismatches. The chip was implemented in a 130-nm complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor technology and occupies an area of 1 square millimeter. The power consumption of the system is 120 nW. The modular design allows for easy scaling to achieve large-scale hardware systems that emulate spike transformations of populations of neurons.

DARPA is spending over $100 million on brain project and brain memory prosthetics are part of it

DARPA researching brain implants to restore lost memory which is part of US $100 million human brain research project. DARPA has provided $37.5 million to fund the new Restoring Active Memory (RAM) Project.

Restoring Active Memory (RAM) - DARPA seeks new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals in order to understand how neural stimulation could be applied to facilitate recovery of memory encoding following brain injury. Ultimately, it is desired to develop a prototype implantable neural device that enables recovery of memory in a human clinical population. Additionally, the program encompasses the development of quantitative models of complex, hierarchical memories and exploration of neurobiological and behavioral distinctions between memory function using the implantable device versus natural learning and training.

The ultimate goal of the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) Program is to develop, fabricate, test, and validate a prototype device programmed to mitigate neural dysfunction in the injured brain.

The following is a nominative list of memory components that the model should distinguish:

• Attributes: Memory of sensory characteristics of objects or events or the contexts in which they occur.
• Categories: High-level semantic classification of sets of objects or events with similar characteristics.
• Associations: Two or more components (i.e., attributes or categories) linked to one another in a memory, occurring either simultaneously or across a temporal dimension (e.g., chronological order).

Neural Dust

Neural dust could make a long duration, low power brain machine interface with thousands of sensor connections at the 10-100 micron scale.

A major hurdle in brain-machine interfaces (BMI) is the lack of an implantable neural interface system that remains viable for a lifetime. This paper explores the fundamental system design trade-offs and ultimate size, power, and bandwidth scaling limits of neural recording systems built from low-power CMOS circuitry coupled with ultrasonic power delivery and backscatter communication. In particular, we propose an ultra-miniature as well as extremely compliant system that enables massive scaling in the number of neural recordings from the brain while providing a path towards truly chronic BMI.

These goals are achieved via two fundamental technology innovations:

1) thousands of 10 – 100 micron scale, free-floating, independent sensor nodes, or neural dust that detect and report local extracellular electrophysiological data, and

2) a sub-cranial interrogator that establishes power and communication links with the neural dust.

For 100 micron scale sensing nodes embedded 2 mm into the brain, ultrasonic power transmission can enable 7 % efficiency power links (-11.6 dB), resulting in a received power of 500 microwatts with a 1 square mm interrogator, which is over 10 million times more than EM transmission at similar scale (40 pW). Extreme efficiency of ultrasonic transmission and CMOS front-ends can enable the scaling of the sensing nodes down to 10’s of microns

Dr. Michel Maharbiz: Neural dust system diagram showing the placement of ultrasonic interrogator under the skull and the independent neural dust sensing nodes dispersed throughout the brain.

(dec 2014) A Minimally Invasive 64-Channel Wireless μECoG Implant

Emerging applications in brain-machine interface systems require high-resolution, chronic multisite cortical recordings, which cannot be obtained with existing technologies due to high power consumption, high invasiveness, or inability to transmit data wirelessly. In this paper, we describe a microsystem based on electrocorticography (ECoG) that overcomes these difficulties, enabling chronic recording and wireless transmission of neural signals from the surface of the cerebral cortex. The device is comprised of a highly flexible, high-density, polymer-based 64-channel electrode array and a flexible antenna, bonded to 2.4 mm × 2.4 mm CMOS integrated circuit (IC) that performs 64-channel acquisition, wireless power and data transmission. The IC digitizes the signal from each electrode at 1 kS/s with 1.2 μV input referred noise, and transmits the serialized data using a 1 Mb/s backscattering modulator. A dual-mode power-receiving rectifier reduces data-dependent supply ripple, enabling the integration of small decoupling capacitors on chip and eliminating the need for external components. Design techniques in the wireless and baseband circuits result in over 16× reduction in die area with a simultaneous 3× improvement in power efficiency over the state of the art. The IC consumes 225 μW and can be powered by an external reader transmitting 12 mW at 300 MHz, which is over 3× lower than IEEE and FCC regulations.

June 26, 2015

Satellite tracking of quadrupling of Beijing size from 2000 to 2009 and the physical merger of Shanghai with nearby cities

Beijing quadrupled in size during from 2000 to 2009. Satellite maps show the growth.

Beijing now has about 20 million people. Shanghai (greater area) is at 29 million and greater Guangzhou is 32 million.

Ring Road growth Rings

The fourth ring road was completed in 2001.

The Fifth ring road was completed between 2003-2005.

The sixth ring road was open for regular traffic in September 12, 2009.

Construction began on the seventh ring road in 2013

The ring roads and subway systems get expanded and homes and offices fill out the expanded area.

Son V. Nghiem (JPL) has a presentation

Data from NASA's QuikScat satellite show the changing extent of Beijing between 2000 and 2009 through changes to its infrastructure. Gray and black indicate buildings, with the tallest and largest buildings in the city's commercial core appearing lighter gray. Other colors show changes in areas not yet urbanized (for example, clearing land or cutting down trees), with the rate of change indicated by color. Blue-green indicates the least change, yellow-orange more change, and red the greatest change. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Journal of Geophysical Research - Ring of impact from the mega-urbanization of Beijing between 2000 and 2009

Cold Wall Chemical Vapor Deposition produces graphene at 100 times the speed and 100 times lower cost

A pioneering new technique to produce high-quality, low cost graphene could pave the way for the development of the first truly flexible ‘electronic skin’, that could be used in robots.

Researchers from the University of Exeter have discovered an innovative new method to produce the wonder material Graphene significantly cheaper, and easier, than previously possible.

The research team, led by Professor Monica Craciun, have used this new technique to create the first transparent and flexible touch-sensor that could enable the development of artificial skin for use in robot manufacturing. Professor Craciun, from Exeter’s Engineering department, believes the new discovery could pave the way for “a graphene-driven industrial revolution” to take place.

She said: “The vision for a ‘graphene-driven industrial revolution’ is motivating intensive research on the synthesis of high quality and low cost graphene. Currently, industrial graphene is produced using a technique called Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). Although there have been significant advances in recent years in this technique, it is still an expensive and time consuming process.”

The Exeter researchers have now discovered a new technique, which grows graphene in an industrial cold wall CVD system, a state-of-the-art piece of equipment recently developed by UK graphene company Moorfield.

This so-called nanoCVD system is based on a concept already used for other manufacturing purposes in the semiconductor industry. This shows to the semiconductor industry for the very first time a way to potentially mass produce graphene with present facilities rather than requiring them to build new manufacturing plants. This new technique grows graphene 100 times faster than conventional methods, reduces costs by 99 % and has enhanced electronic quality.

Advanced Materials - High Quality Monolayer Graphene Synthesized by Resistive Heating Cold Wall Chemical Vapor Deposition

Sandia use Z Machine to squeeze Deuterium into Metal

Scientists in the US (Sandia Labs) and Germany (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry) have successfully transformed liquid deuterium into a metal at pressures rivalling those at the center of our own planet. The discovery is another step along the long road to obtaining solid metallic hydrogen, a phase of matter that has eluded scientists for 80 years.

Recent efforts by a team based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, using a diamond anvil cell (DAC), where a compound is compressed between two flattened diamond tips, have revealed that it is indeed possible for hydrogen-rich compounds to adopt a metallic character.

But there are limits to what a DAC can achieve according to Marcus Knudson from the Sandia National Laboratories, US, whose team carried out the new research on deuterium. ‘DAC techniques can achieve around 200GPa pressures, but hydrogen at high pressures becomes extremely reactive,’ says Knudson. He explains that this reactivity makes it nearly impossible to conduct experiments under the diamond anvil.

Knudson and his colleagues have adopted a different approach by using shockwaves to compress liquid deuterium at the Sandia Z machine, a power generator capable of producing magnetic fields with a strength of up to 20 mega gauss – six orders of magnitude larger than the Earth’s magnetic field.

The team initially condensed deuterium gas at 20K in an aluminium cryocell. Once the liquid had been produced, a pulsed current from the Z machine was passed through an electrode, which struck the front of the cyrocell to produce a pulsed shockwave.

By exploiting these shockwaves to slowly compress the liquid, the team analysed how well the deuterium reflected light as the pressure was ramped up. At low pressures the deuterium was transparent, but it suddenly began to reflect light at about 300GPa.

This abrupt change in the hydrogen isotope’s optical properties is a typical indicator of an insulator-to-metal transition, according to Knudson. He goes on to explain that such a finding will be crucial in our understanding of the evolution of planets and stars, where hydrogen metallisation can be linked to the pressure and temperature profiles of planetary cores.

Sandia's Z machine can produce a magnetic field six order of magnitude larger than that of the Earth © Randy Montoya / Sandia Labs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Science -Direct observation of an abrupt insulator-to-metal transition in dense liquid deuterium

Spacex talks about how and why they want to land rockets

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is scheduled to resupply the International Space Station on Sunday. Previously resupply missions with an Orbital Antares rocket and Russia’s Progress 59 spacecraft failed.

SpaceX has quickly grown into one of the world’s premier space flight companies. And as Orbital ATK recovers from its failed launch, SpaceX is now the United States’ only way of sending supplies to the space station.

SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion NASA contract to fly at least 12 unmanned cargo missions to the space station. Sunday's launch will kick off the seventh such flight.

If Dragon gets off the ground as planned on Sunday — and the weather looks like it should cooperate, with a 90 percent chance of good conditions as of Thursday evening — the capsule will arrive at the station on Tuesday morning (June 30).

SpaceX will also try on Sunday, to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on their landing barge. Previously there was talk about trying to land on dry land but this will not happen yet.

Life in GoogleVille

Google is changing your urban world.

* Self driving cars
* Helper robots
* Augmented reality
* Universal wifi
* high resolution surveillance video cameras with infrared imaging and other home gadgets from Nest

The latest models of Google's self-driving cars are now cruising the streets near the Internet company's Silicon Valley headquarters as an ambitious project to transform the way people get around shifts into its next phase.

This marks the first time that the pod-like, two-seat vehicles have been allowed on public roads since Google unveiled the next generation of its self-driving fleet more than a year ago.

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