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November 03, 2006

Sandia's cheap electromagnetic launcher

The prior article on a sunshade discussed the Sandia's electromagnetic launcher as being vital to bringing the cost down.

In 1994, there was an announcement that aHYPERVELOCITY LAUNCHER (gas gun) has accelerated a quarter-inch disk of metal to a velocity of 15.8 km/sec, or about 36,000 miles per hour, a record for a macroscopic object. For comparison, the Space Shuttle's orbit velocity is 17,500 mph, while the velocity for total escape from the Earth is 25,000 mph. The tremendous acceleration ensues from the following sequence: a gun fires a piston, which compresses a column of hydrogen gas, which moves a specially- sculpted impactor down a barrel where it strikes the projectile.

In 1996, there was a paper on a ground-based electrically-powered launcher. It could significantly reduce the complexity and cost of space launches for moderate-weight payloads. The electromagnetic launch complex could greatly reduce the amount of fuels handling, reduce the turn-around time between launches, allow more concurrence in launch preparation, reduce the manpower requirements for launch vehicle preparation and increase the reliability of launch by using more standardized vehicle preparations. The launch requires high acceleration, so the satellite package must be hardened.

The launcher energy and power requirements fall in the range of 40-260 GJ and 20-400 GW electric. Parametric evaluations have been conducted with a launcher length of 1-2 km, exit velocity of 1-6 km/s, and payloads to low earth orbit of 100-1000 kg.

So it sounds like an update of the 1996 electical launcher is what could launch for $20/pound.

More reading:
Here is a pdf from the lifeboat foundation on gun and electromagnetic launchers

More on an emergency sunshade to counter global warming

Roger Angel's plan would be to launch a constellation of trillions of small free-flying spacecraft a million miles above Earth into an orbit aligned with the sun, called the L-1 orbit.


Picture of some of the small flyers.

The spacecraft would form a long, cylindrical cloud with a diameter about half that of Earth, and about 10 times longer. About 10 percent of the sunlight passing through the 60,000-mile length of the cloud, pointing lengthwise between the Earth and the sun, would be diverted away from our planet. The effect would be to uniformly reduce sunlight by about 2 percent over the entire planet, enough to balance the heating of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.

The lightweight flyers designed by Angel would be made of a transparent film pierced with small holes. Each flyer would be two feet in diameter, 1/5000 of an inch thick and weigh about a gram, the same as a large butterfly. It would use "MEMS" technology mirrors as tiny sails that tilt to hold the flyers position in the orbiting constellation. The flyer's transparency and steering mechanism prevent it from being blown away by radiation pressure. Radiation pressure is the pressure from the sun's light itself.

The total mass of all the fliers making up the space sunshade structure would be 20 million tons. At $10,000 a pound, conventional chemical rocket launch is prohibitively expensive. Angel proposes using a cheaper way developed by Sandia National Laboratories for electromagnetic space launchers, which could bring cost down to as little as $20 a pound.

The sunshade could be deployed by total 20 electromagnetic launchers launching a stack of flyers every 5 minutes for 10 years.

Lower body temperature could lengthen lives

Mice that were genetically engineered to have body temperature 0.6 degrees lower than normal lived 12-20% longer. In the future people might be able to take a drug that specifically targets the preoptic “thermostat” area in their brains to trick the body into cooling down slightly. Coming up with such a drug “will be very challenging”, but he hopes it would allow people to live longer without cutting back on the calories.

Mundane spy gear

This is just reviewing what is currently available for mundane spying. The point is that nanotechnology is not needed for perfectly adequate spying on the average person.

More useful surveillance information can come from:
your phone records, online activity, credit cards and financial info. All of which can be easily tracked. Plus there are a billion camera phones and digital cameras already.

Below are some sites for commercially available spy gear.
These are covert listening devices or detection devices. Professional grade gear can cost $10,000. More expensive gear has higher quality microphones, more channels for recording, a writable optical drive for the recordings etc...

Brick house security
Spy associates blog
Buzzle editorial
Higher end audio surveillance gear is described
More from spy techs

Detection devices
Spy detection spy nyc


Other reading:
Satellite surveillance and the soon to be common gigapixel cameras

City wide blimp monitoring

Military surveillance

Government monitoring of cities

Super high resolution Lidar

November 02, 2006

Will anti-carbon rules start to kill coal?

Businessweek magazine and Vinod Khosla are talking down coal power Vinod Khosla is a major venture capitalist and has made several big green energy bets. Solar thermal power and biofuels.

Here's Khosla's argument: Much of the developed world has already imposed curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and the U.S. is likely to follow suit. The European experience suggests that the cost of emitting a ton of CO2 is about $20 to $25. Since coal-fired power plants emit more than twice as much CO2 for the same amount of electricity as natural-gas-fired plants, coal gets hit hardest by the curbs. The effective price of coal could leap as much as sixfold, raising the cost of producing electricity by about 50%.

Khosla's grand vision is to repower the U.S. via solar plants in the American Southwest. The idea: Use thousands of acres of mirrors to focus solar energy, heating water to drive turbines. An analysis of new Australian solar technology suggests that it is cost-competitive even with today's coal plants.

Solar thermal will still take time to scale up even if it is cost competitive. If coal electricity is 50% more expensive that could also help shift things to nuclear power. Almost every power generation method except coal (natural gas and oil could take smaller hits) would win.

Diamond Mechanosynthesis may need cooling to 80K

From the Lifeboat Foundation and Robert Freitas is a proposal for grant to study if free roaming grey goo is impossible because of problems operating at room temperature. Any working grey goo may need to supply its own refridgeration.

Recent research by Freitas (using the methods of computational chemistry including Density Functional Theory) examining specific reaction pathways for diamond mechanosynthesis (DMS) has hinted at the possibility that this assumption might be unwarranted. DMS appears to be extremely reliable at liquid nitrogen temperatures (~80 K).

However, there appear to be a number of competing reactions for several of the critical steps in building diamond structures that might become accessible to the tooltip chemistry at room temperature (~300 K) - the temperature at which ecophages would be expected to operate. If any of these competing pathways were taken during a DMS reaction sequence, the result would be the creation of a pathological molecular structure in the partially-completed product object (i.e., the daughter ecophage). That is, an irreversible structural error would be created during fabrication that could not be corrected, thus ruining the product object.


The research is an early release of information from this paper which is in preparation.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, A Minimal Toolset for Positional Diamond Mechanosynthesis, J. Comput. Theor. Nanosci. 4(2007). In preparation.

NOTE: if DMS is made to work at liquid nitrogen temperatures that would still be huge in terms of being able to build the large scale and world changing things that we hope to make.

NOTE: Also even if the initial difficulties at room temperature prove to be non-trivial, it does not mean that they cannot be overcome with more work or creative approaches.

This is early but important work.

Conditions could become ripe for better choices

Hopefully Wired magazine is correct and the political situation could shift to better science and technology R&D funding and deal for caps on emissions and new nuclear power

From the article:
With the Bush administration pushing for a new generation of nuclear plants (the current ones account for around 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation), the opportunity exists for what Bledsoe calls "a grand deal," in which conservatives agree to mandatory emissions limits and liberals sign off on new nuclear power."

A major report by the National Academies of Science called "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" recommended that the United States focus not only on improving math and science education in schools but also on increasing the federal investment in science and engineering research by 10 percent annually over the next seven years. The report called for specific attention to be paid to physical sciences, advocating for a Darpa-like research group in the Energy Department.

Healthcare havens for lower casts and faster development

Here is an article about outsourcing healthcare With an estimated 45 million uninsured Americans, some 500,000 trekked overseas last year for medical treatment, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. Asian hospitals in Thailand, India and Singapore have long been swarmed by medical tourists looking for tummy tucks and face lifts, but many glitzy, marble-floored facilities are now gaining reputations for big-ticket procedures including heart surgery, knee and back operations.

This could also be a means of circumventing the Food and Drug Administrations 19 year drug approval process. A country could work with global drug and insurance companies to create a system of more advanced healthcare without restrictions from using newly discovered effective or promising approaches. Stem cells and regenerative treatments as well as life extension could be developed overseas with lower costs and fewer unnecessary delays. There would still be incentives to not apply treatments in a reckless fashion (too many people with bad results would be bad for future business).

Just as several small countries and states became tax and business havens with highly streamlined corporate laws and rules were created by lawyers and accountants, healthcare companies could create advanced healthcare havens.

Some of these locations might also be used to advanced transhuman and life extension medicine.

Breakthrough in focusing terahertz radiation

T-ray applications are presently limited by the relatively poor ability to focus the rays, which is achieved using the conventional means of lenses and mirrors to focus the radiation. This limits the spot size of focused T-rays to a substantial fraction of a millimetre and this has made studies of small objects such as biological cells with high resolution are virtually impossible.

Making a simple meta-material wire with grooves help focus the t-rays. The researchers found that although ordinary metal wire would not guide T-rays very well, if a series of tiny grooves was cut into the wire, it would do so much more effectively. If such a corrugated metal wire is then tapered to a point it becomes possible to very efficiently transport radiation to a point as small as a few millionths of a metre across.

This might, for example, lead to breakthroughs in examining very small objects such as the interior of biological cells where it might be possible to detect diseases or abnormalities. T-rays could also be directed to the interior of objects which could be useful in applications like endoscopic probing for cancerous cells or explosive detection.

Metal wire ordinarily has a limited ability to allow T-rays to flow along it, but this is overcome by corrugating its surface with a series of grooves, in effect creating an artificial material or ‘metamaterial’ as far as the T-rays are concerned.

November 01, 2006

solar power comparable to nuclear power in 2030

Japan's Sharp Corp. the world's biggest maker of solar cells, expects the cost of generating solar power to halve by 2010 and to be comparable with that of nuclear power by 2030, Sharp's president said.

Solar electricity currently costs about $0.50 per kilowatt hour to produce, more than eight times as much as that produced from fossil fuel.

The market is growing at a rate of more than 30 percent per year but solar power still produces just a small fraction of one percent of the world's energy.

The solar industry in general expects the cost of producing solar power to fall by about 5 percent per year, on average.

Machida said he expected that a shortage of solar-grade silicon, the raw material from which solar panels that harness the sun's energy are made, would ease by 2008 as silicon makers step up production to catch up with soaring demand.

Muscle wasting can be prevented

Muscle wasting due to age is prevented by protein blocker Plus mice muscles were made twice as strong.

More than 10% wind power causes power reliability issues

If you have more than 10% of overall power from wind then there are issues keeping power supply stable

Mr. Frost, of the Alberta system operator, said European countries such as Denmark and Germany have been able to maintain a high proportion of wind power in their electricity systems mainly because they have multiple connections to other countries' power grids. That gives them substantial flexibility to import or export power to compensate for wind fluctuation.

Germany, for example, has 39 international interconnections, he said, making variable wind conditions much easier to manage.

Underground electical grid connections cost from $500,000 to $3 million per mile. $120,000 per mile for the erection of overhead lines. Connecting countries and states is very costly.

Wind power the problems scaling up

China alone is spending 45billion on wind power over the next 15 years. They are targeting 30GW of power. Part of a 180 billion clean energy program. Some analyst doubt the 30GW target will be met.

China will need 950-1230GW of power by 2020.
Even if China was able to double its wind target. That is still only about 5% of their total power needs.

What do they have to do to get that much power.
20,000 of the current latest 1.5MW turbines
6,000 of the prototype 5MW turbines.
The turbines weigh over 300 tons. Standing about 40-50 stories tall. They are larger than the superjumbo jets. You need large numbers of big factories, transportation to the site, construction crews, site preparation (foundations or anchoring offshore). You need time to get the larger turbines tested. Project timelines, logistics, supply chains (whole companies and industries must be set up), property rights, local building permits takes time.

Wind, solar, nuclear all have somewhat different supply chains and bottlenecks. Which is why they can be scaled up somewhat independently.

The wind power guys (GE being one of the main ones) are not being held back. GE is no small abused company.

The most aggressive targets for a credible global plan for wind power that I have seen is here.

10% of total power by 2020
20% by 2040.

Spending 720 billion by 2020.

This plan which has not been adopted would still mean massive dependence on coal until 2080.

Just because you hope something will happen does not mean that it has a chance to do it. There is no evil conspiracy against wind power. GE, Mitsubishi and the other giant companies providing wind power can hold their own against big coal and oil. They are able to swing subsidies and influence politicians.

October 31, 2006

Calorie Restriction mimicking drugs

From Fighting Aging, there is a list of several companies that are making drugs that mimick caloric restriction. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, MA, has begun testing a resveratrol-based drug in diabetic patients. It has raised $82 million from venture capitalists, a hefty sum for an early-stage biotech.

It faces competition from Elixir Pharmaceuticals Inc., also based in Cambridge, which Dr. Sinclair's former mentor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Leonard Guarente, co-founded in 1999 to develop drugs based on gene variants that slow aging. The niche also includes BioMarker Pharmaceuticals of Campbell, CA, and LifeGen Technologies of Madison, WI, both of which focus on mimicking CR with drugs.


The FDA does not recognize aging as a problem. So all of the drugs are for the treatment of specific diseases. Over regulation is slowing the battle against aging and cancer Companies must run a 19 year $897 million gauntlet to get drugs to market.

October 30, 2006

Lunar lander competitor confident of victory in 2007

Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas flew but crashed in the recent 2006 competition Armadillo is confident of success and victory in 2007. Another group, Masten Space Systems of Santa Clara, California is the closest to being flight qualified for 2007. They need to fly their very first test vehicle, then design, build, and test a more potent vehicle to even be able to compete for the Level One prize.

Lunar resource utilization challenges

May 2007, the Regolith Excavation Challenge promotes the development of new technologies to excavate lunar regolith. The total purse of $250,000 will go to the winning teams excavating the most regolith above 150 kilograms. The mass of the system cannot exceed 40 kilograms and 30 Watts of DC power will be provided to the system.

The mining work would be a lot simpler and more productive if we can deliver and build more power generation on the moon. Here is an analysis for producing solar cells from lunar material Actual experiments have been performed by Alex Freundlich to make lunar glass and 1% efficient solar cells This is examination of large scale lunar solar power

Another $250,000 challenge is the moon ROx challenge. The goal is to produce 5 kilograms of oxygen from simulated lunar soil in continous process within 8 hours.

More reading:
A study from 2000, on what it would take to make self-sufficient lunar colonies

October 29, 2006

Kistler, Spacex, Tspace and others

In the timeframe from 2009 to 2011 we will know whether the new efforts to lower launch costs has been successful. Spacex plans to get costs down to $3000/kg to Low earth orbit (LEO) and $8000/kg to Geosynchronous orbit

China is developing the Long March 5 rocket which should be able to put 25 tons into LEO in 2010-2012. The current Long March 4 rockets cost about $110million to launch. The Long March 2E booster can place 12,000kg into LEO. China's launch costs are about $1000/kg.

How the US political system is rigged

Computerized political and racial gerrymandering places all of the voters who would tend to oppose an incumbent into as few districts as possible. The incumbent also tends to have a fund raising advantage since they can give favors to supporters who will provide them with campaign funds.

Incumbents win over 98% of the time

The congressional franking privilege allows incumbents to flood their districts with mail that often is little more than taxpayer-funded campaign literature. Large administrative and political staffs on Capitol Hill and in district offices attend to the needs of voters, all the while stressing the qualities of their bosses. Incumbents also receive taxpayer-subsidized travel, easy access to the media and, most recently, Web sites to communicate with the electorate. And they have the power to deliver pork barrel spending to their districts. The limits on all of those advantages are set by their beneficiaries -- the Congress members themselves.

Record 85 Tesla magnet

After 10 years of work, lab officials announced Tuesday that the world's most powerful pulsed, non-destructive magnet is ready for use at 85 tesla. The magnet, which has achieved 87.8 tesla and is expected to reach 100 tesla in time, is the most powerful of its kind in the world. Researchers can combine very low temperatures with a powerful magnetic field to examine materials at a nanometer scale, a billionth of a meter. Expected applications include studying large organic molecules, such as drugs.

Here is more info from the lab directly.