Tag: Science & Technology

Electronic Skin Bridges The Gap Between You and Iron Man

Human skin contains sensitive nerve cells that detect pressure, temperature and other sensations that allow tactile interactions with the environment. To help robots and prosthetic devices attain these abilities, scientists are trying to develop electronic skins.

Now researchers report a new method in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces that creates an ultrathin, stretchable electronic skin, which could be used for a variety of human-machine interactions. See a video of the e-skin here.

Electronic skin could be used for many applications, including prosthetic devices, wearable health monitors, robotics and virtual reality. A major challenge is transferring ultrathin electrical circuits onto complex 3D surfaces and then having the electronics be bendable and stretchable enough to allow movement.

Some scientists have developed flexible “electronic tattoos” for this purpose, but their production is typically slow, expensive and requires clean-room fabrication methods such as photolithography. Mahmoud Tavakoli, Carmel Majidi and colleagues wanted to develop a fast, simple and inexpensive method for producing thin-film circuits with integrated microelectronics.

In the new approach, the researchers patterned a circuit template onto a sheet of transfer tattoo paper with an ordinary desktop laser printer. They then coated the template with silver paste, which adhered only to the printed toner ink. On top of the silver paste, the team deposited a gallium-indium liquid metal alloy

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Lockheed Martin To Develop New Missle Defense Laser System

The Missile Defense Agency, a part of the Department of Defense, awarded Lockheed Martin a nine month, $25.5 million contract extension to continue development of its Low Power Laser Demonstrator (LPLD) missile interceptor concept. This program, awarded Aug. 31, builds on a 2017 contract to develop an initial LPLD concept.

Lockheed Martin’s LPLD concept consists of a fiber laser system on a high-performing, high-altitude airborne platform. LPLD is designed to engage missiles during their boost phase – the short window after launch – which is the ideal time to destroy the threat, before it can deploy multiple warheads and decoys.

Over the course of this contract, Lockheed Martin will mature its LPLD concept to a tailored critical design review phase, which will bring the design to a level that can support full-scale fabrication.

“We have made great progress on our LPLD design, and in this stage we are particularly focused on maturing our technology for beam control – the ability to keep the laser beam stable and focused at operationally relevant ranges,” said Sarah Reeves, vice president for Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin Space.

“LPLD is one of many breakthrough capabilities the Missile Defense Agency is pursuing to stay ahead of rapidly-evolving threats, and we’re committed to bringing together Lockheed Martin’s full expertise in directed energy for this important program.”

Lockheed Martin expands on advanced technology through its laser device, beam control capabilities, and platform integration – ranging from internal research and development investments in systems like ATHENA to programs such as LANCE for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Continued LPLD development will take place at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California campus through July 2019.

As a proven world leader in systems integration and development of air and missile defense systems and technologies, Lockheed Martin has already delivered the U.S.  several high-quality missile defense solutions that protect citizens, critical assets and deployed forces from current and future threats.

The company’s experience spans directed energy systems development, missile design and production, hit-to-kill capabilities, infrared seekers, command and control/battle management, and communications, precision pointing and tracking optics, radar and signal processing, as well as threat-representative targets for missile defense tests.

Russia Implies Americans Sabotaged International Space Station

Russian investigators looking into the origin of a hole that caused an oxygen leak on the International Space Station have said it was caused deliberately, the space agency chief said.

A first commission had delivered its report, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, said in televised remarks late Monday.

“It concluded that a manufacturing defect had been ruled out which is important to establish the truth.”

Rogozin said the commission’s main line of inquiry was that the hole had been drilled deliberately, a position that has been voiced in the past.

“Where it was made will be established by a second commission, which is at work now,” he said.

The small hole in the wall of a Russian-made Soyuz space capsule docked onto the ISS was located in August and quickly sealed up.

Officials have suggested a number of possible reasons for the appearance of the hole.

A top government official has denied a Russian media report that the investigation looked at the possibility that US astronauts had drilled the hole in order to get a sick colleague sent back to Earth.

The current ISS commander, US astronaut Drew Feustel, called the suggestion that the crew was somehow involved “embarrassing”.

Rogozin — who previously oversaw the Russian space industry as deputy prime minister — was appointed head of Roskosmos last May, in a move analysts said would spell trouble for the embattled sector.

The official, who was placed under US sanctions over the Ukraine crisis in 2014, admitted it had become difficult to work with NASA.

“Problems with NASA have certainly appeared but not through the fault of NASA,” he said, blaming unnamed American officials for telling the US space agency what to do.

He also claimed that SpaceX founder Elon Musk sought to squeeze Russia out of the space launch services market and complained about the US military drone X-37.

“Americans have this thing, the X-37,” Rogozin said. “We don’t understand its purposes. Rather, we do understand, but we have not received an official explanation.

“Essentially, this thing can be used as a weapons carrier.”

What this has to do with the investigation into a hole in the ISS is unknown, and the question remains: Could anyone take a drill to the ISS, a small contained environment with less internal area than many houses, with external cameras, and go unnoticed?

NASA representatives assure us that space walks are all carefully monitored in real time to assure astronaut safety.

The Sentinel believes that if the hole was drilled deliberately, the mostly likely explanation is that it must have been done before the capsule left  Earth. That means Russia.

Brighter Future For Us All: High-Fidelity Images of Sun’s Atmosphere Tell The Tale

A Southwest Research Institute-led team discovered never-before-detected, fine-grained structures in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. The team imaged this critical region in detail using sophisticated software techniques and longer exposures from the COR-2 camera onboard NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory-A (STEREO-A).

The Sun’s outer corona is the source of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles that flow outward from the Sun in all directions. Measured near Earth, the magnetic fields embedded within the solar wind are intertwined and complex.

“Previous images showed the outer corona as a smooth structure, but in deep space, the solar wind is turbulent and gusty,” said SwRI’s Dr. Craig DeForest, a solar physicist and lead author of “The Highly Structured Outer Corona,” an article published by Astrophysical Journal July 18, 2018.

“Using new techniques to improve image fidelity, we realized that the corona is not smooth, but structured and dynamic. Every structure that we thought we understood turns out to be made of smaller ones and to be more dynamic than we thought.”

To understand the corona, DeForest and his colleagues started with extended exposures of STEREO-A’s coronagraph images – pictures of the Sun’s atmosphere produced by a special telescope that blocks out light from the bright solar disk.

The coronagraph is sensitive enough to image the corona in great detail, but in practice its measurements are polluted by noise both from the space environment and the instrument itself. The team’s key innovation was identifying and separating out that noise, boosting the signal-to-noise ratio and revealing the outer corona in unprecedented detail.

“We couldn’t tinker with the instrument itself, so we took a software approach, squeezing out the highest quality data possible by improving the data’s signal-to-noise ratio,” DeForest said. “We developed new filtering algorithms, designed and tested to delineate the true corona from the noisy measurements.”

The algorithms filtered out light and adjusted brightness. But the most challenging obstacle is inherent: blur due to the motion of the solar wind. “This technique adjusted images not just in space, not just in time, but in a moving coordinate system,” DeForest said.

“That allowed us to correct motion blur not just by the speed of the wind, but by how rapidly features changed in the wind.”

With the resulting unprecedented view of the corona, the team made several groundbreaking discoveries. For example, coronal streamers – magnetic loops that can erupt into coronal mass ejections that send blobs of solar material into space – are far more structured than previously thought.

“What we found is that there is no such thing as a single streamer,” DeForest said. “The streamers themselves are composed of myriad fine strands that, together, average to produce a brighter feature.”

Then there’s the theoretical Alfven surface – a proposed surface, or sheet-like layer where the gradually accelerating solar wind reaches a critical speed. But that’s not what DeForest’s team observed.

“What we found is that there isn’t a clean Alfven surface,” DeForest said. “There’s a wide ‘no-man’s land’ or `Alfven zone’ where the solar wind gradually disconnects from the Sun, rather than a single clear boundary.”

And the close look at the coronal structure also raised new questions. Techniques used to estimate the speed of the solar wind revealed that the wind suddenly changes its character at a distance of around 10 solar radii, well within the conventional boundary of the corona itself.

“Some interesting physics is happening around there,” DeForest said. “We don’t know what it is yet, but we do know that it is going to be interesting.”

These first observations will provide key insight for NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe, the first-ever mission to gather measurements from within the outer solar corona.

First Space Tourist Flights Could Come In 2019

The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.

– Moments of weightlessness –

Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.

Having paid for a much cheaper ticket — costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin — the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet.

The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins — either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.

At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.

– Virgin Galactic –

With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.

The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft — the WhiteKnightTwo — from which it will then detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.) Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.

Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.

The descent is slowed down by a “feathering” system that sees the spacecraft’s tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin’s “spaceport” in the New Mexico desert.

In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.

In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.

The company has now also reached a deal to open a second “spaceport” at Italy’s Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.

Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin told AFP.

– Blue Origin –

Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.

On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.

After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.

From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.

Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.

Company officials were recently quoted as saying the first tests with Blue Origin astronauts would take place “at the end of this year,” with tickets for the public expected to go on sale in 2019.

But in comments to AFP Friday, the company struck a more cautious note.

“We have not set ticket pricing and have had no serious discussions inside of Blue on the topic,” the firm said. “We have a flight test schedule and schedules of those types always have uncertainties and contingencies. Anyone predicting dates is guessing.”

– What’s next? –

SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport NASA astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays — a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.

“If you’re looking to go to space, you’ll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before,” Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, told AFP.

Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years — but the project is still in its early stages.