Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

#1,252 – SEXTANT

This may be one of the most ingenious ideas I’ve ever heard of.  Making use of space itself to help us in our efforts to navigate through it.

As Futurism puts it, “NASA may have just improved our potential for deep space exploration by inventing a new type of autonomous space navigation. Known as Station Explorer for X-Ray Timing and Navigation Technology, or SEXTANT, the technology uses pulsars — rotating neutron stars that emit electromagnetic radiation — to determine the location of objects in space.

The way SEXTANT uses pulsars has been compared to how GPS navigation can provide drivers with positioning and accurate navigation using satellites orbiting around Earth. The pulsars SEXTANT uses are best observed in the X-ray spectrum, in which their beams of radiation essentially turn them into lighthouses.”

This work is especially important when you consider just how unlikely it is that we’ll be able to send manned probes to explore the outer reaches of the solar system and what lies beyond.  Instead, what we’ll have to do is send autonomous probes to do our exploring for us and now thanks to this SEXTANT system those probes will have lighthouses in place to guide them.  Secrets of the Universe here we come!

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Is the SEXTANT system the Greatest Idea Ever?


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#1,224 – Spaceworks 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Sci-Fi it’s that stasis i.e. hibernating is the only way to travel through space.  Which means that right now a bear is our best chance of making contact with an alien species.  And that’s probably not going to go over well.  Although, come to think of it, bears leading an alien invasion on another planet would probably make for a good movie.  The elevator pitch could be, “Sharknado in space!”  Quick! Somebody call Michael Bay!

All kidding aside, the issue of how to get humans to safely travel through space is a big one.  If we assume that the speed of light is really the limit to how fast we can travel then it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to travel to distant worlds within a human lifespan.  Maybe it’ll turn out that the speed of light isn’t really the limit.  Or maybe we’ll be able to invent a technology that can skirt past those limitations by bending space-time instead of traveling through it, like the Impossible EM Drive is hoping to do.  Or perhaps we’ll be able to take shortcuts through wormholes.  But in all likelihood, at least to start out, we’ll probably have to plod along slowly like we’re doing now.  The spaceship equivalent of a horse and buggy.  Which means that if we want to travel far we’re going to have to figure out a way to slow down the aging process.  Thankfully, Spaceworks has got us covered.

According to Futurism:

“Spaceworks, led by John A. Bradford, is proposing to use a method they refer to as ‘therapeutic hypothermia.’ The process involves cooling the body a little below the normal body temperature (37 C), to slow down heart rate and blood pressure. This process is already being used in the medical world. By bringing the body temperature of patients undergoing treatment for cardiac arrest or traumatic brain injuries down to 32 and 34 degrees Celsius, doctors have more time to address the issues.

The method normally allows patients to stay in stasis for about 2-4 days, but has worked for as long as two weeks. Spaceworks not only believes they can extend this for months, but also that they can create the technology needed to automate the process and apply it for deep-space missions.”

I love this idea and I love the fact that Spaceworks exists to work on it, as well as other initiatives geared towards space exploration.  As they state on their website, “SpaceWorks delivers advanced products and services to the space community. From hypersonic flight test systems and small spacecraft to aerospace software development and engineering services, SpaceWorks is focused on future flight and space exploration technologies.”

The kind of technologies that we’ll need if we’re ever going to explore the solar system, mine asteroids, terraform Mars, travel to habitable exoplanets, build lunar space stations, and unlock the secrets of the Universe.  Hopefully, their therapeutic hypothermia research will continue to advance and we’ll one day be able to fulfill our space manifest destiny.  Until then, I’ll be working on my bears in space screenplay.  Coming soon to a theater near you: Dare Bears – daring to go where no man has gone before!

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Is Spaceworks’ stasis breakthrough the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A lot of people, including Elon Musk, believe that we could be living inside of a computer simulation.  While that does sound far-fetched, it is at least a possibility.  Especially when you consider that we may soon have the ability to create a Universe in a lab.  After all, if we can do that, couldn’t a more advanced civilization have created the universe as we know it inside one of their computers?

Before we go down that rabbit hole though let’s focus on the issue at hand: the idea that we could actually create a Universe in a lab.  It sounds cool but how would this even work?

As Futurism explains:

“The kind of cosmogenesis envisioned by [Andrei] Linde, in contrast, would require physicists to cook up their cosmos in a highly technical laboratory, using a far more powerful cousin of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. It would also require a seed particle called a ‘monopole’ (which is hypothesized to exist by some models of physics, but has yet to be found).

The idea goes that if we could impart enough energy to a monopole, it will start to inflate. Rather than growing in size within our Universe, the expanding monopole would bend space-time within the accelerator to create a tiny wormhole tunnel leading to a separate region of space. From within our lab we would see only the mouth of the wormhole; it would appear to us as a mini black hole, so small as to be utterly harmless. But if we could travel into that wormhole, we would pass through a gateway into a rapidly expanding baby universe that we had created.”

What would be the point of creating a Universe in a lab?  Well, for starters it may help us understand how our own Universe is expanding.  As time goes on we could study the inner workings of a cosmos that may be utterly different than our own or remarkably similar.  It could also help us ponder philosophical questions about creation, religion, and our place in the Universe.  And if nothing else, it’ll probably be fun to play God.  Just like the aliens who created the computer simulation that we’re living in.

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Is a Universe in a Lab the Greatest Idea Ever?

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You’ve got to love the United Arab Emirates when it comes to architecture, real estate, and outside the box thinking.  From man-made islands to towering skyscrapers to fully automated cities of the future, the opulent UAE has it all.  And now there’s one more toy we can add to their proverbial and literal sandbox: a Martian space colony.

According to Futurism: “The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is about to embark on a major undertaking, announcing today that they plan to build a simulated Mars colony in the Emirati desert. The $136 million (Dh500 million) facility will cover nearly 177,000 square meters (1.9 million square feet) of the desert.”

The article added that, “The goal of the project, dubbed Mars Science City, is to simulate conditions for human settlers on the Red Planet. According to the press release, ‘The project encompasses laboratories for food, energy, and water, as well as agricultural testing and studies about food security in the future.’  The campus will also contain a museum dedicated to humanity’s greatest achievements in space exploration. The hope is that the museum will inspire younger generations to pursue education in science and mathematics, ensuring continued innovation in the future.”

The big question with this project is just how likely it is to coming close to simulating life on Mars as there are an untold number of challenges that future settlers of the Red Planet would have to deal with.

As Science Alert puts it:

“There are a few limitations on what the city can do. Oxygen will not need to be generated, nor will the citizens be subjected to the radiation conditions of Mars, which does not have a magnetic field to shield the planet from harmful UV radioactivity.  Mars’s surface gravity is also only about 38 percent of the surface gravity on Earth, too, and on average its temperatures are much lower than those on Earth.”

Which means that if the UAE is going to be successful in this endeavor to create a realistic Martian environment, they are, in the words of Matt Damon, going to have to science the shit out of it.  As a big fan of space exploration and projects that inspire people to innovate I absolutely love this idea and hope that they are able to do just that.

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Is the UAE’s Mars Science Center the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Lately, it seems that there’s been an uptick in the number of bat shit crazy transportation ideas out there, from the Antipode and the Hyperloop to China’s Flying Train.  This shouldn’t really come as a surprise.  Mankind has always been driven to travel faster and faster.  It’s what drives innovation and enables us to go from riding horses to walking on the Moon in a relatively short period of time.

It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that when it comes to high speed travel that Elon Musk would want to top all other prior efforts and achieve a feat that would have been previously unimaginable: traversing the entire planet in a manner of minutes.  Something that he may just do with his latest plan to use SpaceX’s rockets for commercial flight travel right here on Earth.

According to the Verge:

“SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled revised plans to travel to the Moon and Mars at a space industry conference today, but he ended his talk with a pretty incredible promise: using that same interplanetary rocket system for long-distance travel on Earth. Musk showed a demonstration of the idea onstage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take ‘most long-distance trips’ in just 30 minutes, and go ‘anywhere on Earth in under an hour’ for around the same price as an economy airline ticket.”

The Big Fucking Rocket or BFR for short, would leave the Earth’s atmosphere and then settle back down on a floating landing pad near one of the major cities that you could travel to.  In theory, this would enable you to travel from New York to London in 29 minutes or from Singapore to Hong Kong in just 22 minutes.

Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to use this technology to travel everywhere.  There may only be a few major cities that would be connected.  But, even still, this new method of high speed travel could be a real game-changer, enabling us to stay connected with people and business opportunities on opposite ends of the planet.  For example, if it’s that quick and affordable to travel from New York to London perhaps it’s no longer a long-shot that a NFL team would re-locate across the pond.

With the BFR in our arsenal there’s really no telling that we could accomplish.  And when we’re talking about Elon Musk there’s really no telling what he might dream up next.  The BFR is just the start.

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Is the BFR the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The Big Four, as they are commonly referred to, have come to dominate modern life as we know it.  The phone in our pocket or tablet in our hand that we use to stay connected with friends on Facebook was made by Apple.  The online searches that we conduct are powered by Google.  The groceries and supplies that we have delivered are ordered through Amazon.  Other companies like Microsoft dabble in relevancy.  But for now, and the immediate future, it’s all about the Big Four.

To secure this narrative Apple is launching the iPhone X and taking the lead on integrating Augmented Reality into their devices.  Previously, Facebook bought Oculus to lead the charge into Virtual Reality.  Meanwhile, Amazon’s Echo gave them a head start on dominating the Internet of Things and connected home markets.  All the while Google presses ahead with their moonshots from driverless cars to curing age related diseases.  The Big Four isn’t going anywhere.  Far from it.  They’re core businesses are all doing well as they transition to mobile computing and their big bets are well diversified across a myriad of industries from AI and drones to telecommunications and content creation.

The question that I like to grabble with is what comes next?  How long can the Big Four stay on top?  Will a massive conglomerate supplant them all?  Will a fifth company ever join their ranks, and if so, who will it be?  No matter how you slice it, there’s only one possible answer.  What comes next is whatever Elon Musk has planned.

And according to Futurism, what’s next, is a global network of satellites capable of providing low cost Internet access.

“SpaceX seems to be taking a step forward in its plan to provide low-cost global internet access via a network of satellites. According to a report from GeekWire, SpaceX has filed to trademark the name ‘Starlink’ for the network. CEO Elon Musk first announced his intention to begin the project back in 2015. More detailed plans were laid out in May, including the intention to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit between 2019 and 2024.  Musk estimated that the network could cost upward of $10 billion to get started, but foresees it as a major source of revenue for the company once it is up and running.”

So let’s say that this initiative is vastly successful and does indeed become a major revenue stream for SpaceX.  Now, let’s say that their reusable rocket business continues to take off, pun intended, and they get into sub-orbital shipping and even space tourism as well and so at the end of the day you’re talking about this major company that’s just absolutely crushing it.  Now let’s say that Tesla with their driverless cars and trucks and their energy powerpacks and powerwalls is also absolutely crushing it.  Now, here’s where things get interesting.  What if Elon Musk combines those two companies with all of his other initiatives (Solar City, the Boring Company, the Hyperloop, Neuralink, plus whatever else he dreams up the next time he’s bored) and creates one major company.  What would that look like? Would this entity, with its focus on transportation/shipping/energy/access to the Internet, etc. be powerful enough to compete with the Big Four?!?! Could it supplant them all on its own?

Obviously, only time will tell, but it is worth speculating about now.  For when Elon Musk announces something new, in this case Starlink, it’s not necessarily just a stand-alone announcement.  For all we know it’s the latest step in his master plan to join the Big Four.  Which begs the question: what does he have planned next?!!?

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Is Starlink the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A quick look at everything that caught my eye this past week:

Personalized Exo-Skeletons: In the future we may all have robotic exo-skeletons that help us out, making it easier for us to get around and haul heavy loads of equipment along the way.  Perfect for hikers, campers, little old ladies, or anyone who wants to go grocery shopping.  And now those exo-skeletons will be matched to our specific gaits.

According to Science Alert, “Scientists have developed special algorithms that enable body scaffolds called exoskeletons to adjust to the walk of the person wearing them, making these robotic aids more efficient and personalized.  The enhanced mechanics are able to tweak their behavior based on feedback from the wearer’s metabolism and other measurements, and the team behind the system is calling it human-in-the-loop optimization.”

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The Frame: Don’t like the fact that your television set is a giant eye sore in your living room?  Samsung has got you covered.

As Wired puts it, “The Frame, a clever mashup of a television and digital art display. One click on the remote toggles between the TV and “art mode,” a high-res display for digital paintings, drawings, and photographs. You can import your own images, order them from Samsung at $20 a pop, or subscribe to unlimited art for $4.99 a month.  The Frame mounts flush against the wall, like a painting in a gallery. That clever design trick, coupled with the wood or metal bezel and translucent cable linking it to the Samsung One Connect, disguise the fact the Frame also streams all your favorite shows.”

Personally, I’m a big fan of this concept.  It’s great for hosting company as you not only get to hide your TV, you also get to add in a conversation piece as you either discuss the art itself or the fact that your TV is hidden.  As a fan of great design it’s also worth appreciating for its great utilization of otherwise dead space.  And, who knows, if you like you might even find yourself spending more time staring at your TV than actually watching it.  If know I would if I could get to display my epic Instagram pictures.

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Concrete breakthrough: Scientists have finally figured out the key to why Roman concrete has survived for thousands of years while more modern day advanced concrete crumbles much more quickly than that.

As Pionic puts it, “Around A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become ‘a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.’

He wasn’t exaggerating. While modern marine concrete structures crumble within decades, 2,000-year-old Roman piers and breakwaters endure to this day, and are stronger now than when they were first constructed. University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson studies the minerals and microscale structures of Roman concrete as she would a volcanic rock. She and her colleagues have found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion.”

Further understanding of how the sea affects concrete could lead to improving the performance of modern day concrete.  Something that will definitely come in handy as the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise around the world.

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Sprites successfully launched: Breakthrough Starshot, a joint effort by some of the world’s leading minds to launch tiny gram sized spacecraft capable of making their way to our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, has successfully completed its first launch of tiny craft called “sprites”.

As The Guardian puts it:

“The smallest spacecraft ever launched are successfully travelling in low Earth orbit and communicating with systems on Earth, scientists have announced.  Known as ‘Sprites’, the miniature satellites are just 3.5cm x 3.5cm and carry radios, sensors and computers, with each device powered by sunlight and weighing just four grams…Scientists say the latest development is an important precursor to an ambitious attempt to send space probes to planets beyond our solar system…”

Hopefully the sprites will continue to be operational and the next phase of the plan can begin in earnest.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?


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