News

Will 'Bloon' rides catch on?

This week's Question: Zero2infinity, a Spanish company, plans to launch passengers to near space using technologies called "Bloons." A maximum of four passengers will join two pilots in the Bloon cabin, which will be chained to a balloon filled with inert helium. Once fully inflated, the balloon will pull the cabin to an altitude of about 22 miles or 116,000 ft; the balloons would take between 1.5-2 hours to reach maximum altitude. The passengers would not reach space itself, but would still be able to see the Earth, as well as the sun rise. Whether passengers would still need to wear spacesuits will depend on certification from authorities. Bloon's first departures are expected to be followed by the launch of space flights from World View Enterprises, an Arizona-based ballooning company. What do you think? Will 'Bloon' rides catch on?

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Energy-Harvesting Method Shows Promise for Mars Power Stations

Northumbria and Edinburgh Universities researchers have developed an innovative, new technique to harvest energy from carbon dioxide. The method may enable the creation of future power stations on the surface of Mars.The research proposes a new kind of engine for producing energy based on the Leidenfrost effect – a phenomenon which happens when a liquid comes into near contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point. Blocks of dry ice are able to levitate above hot surfaces protected by a barrier of evaporated gas vapor. Northumbria’s research proposes using the vapor created by this effect to power an engine. The technique has implications for working in extreme and alien environments, such as outer space, where it could be used to make long-term exploration and colonization sustainable by using naturally occurring solid carbon dioxide as a resource rather than a waste product.Increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars, as suggested by the seasonal appearance of gullies on the surface of the red planet. If utilized in a Leidenfrost-based engine, the dry-ice deposits could provide the means to create future power on the Red Planet. The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine differs from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties.SourceAlso: Learn about Mars-Optimized Solar Cells.

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Are FAA drone rules too restrictive?

This week's Question: This month, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed long-awaited rules on the commercial use of small drones, requiring operators to be certified, fly only during daylight, and keep their aircraft in sight. The ruling, for now, prevents drones from being used for a range of possible other commercial uses, including crop inspection and package delivery. What do you think? Are FAA drone rules too restrictive?

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Ultra-Thin Lens Captures Perfect Colors

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researchers developed an ultra-thin, completely flat lens made of a glass substrate and tiny, light-concentrating silicon antennas. Color correction is achieved in the single, miniaturized device.Light shining on the "achromatic metasurface" lens bends instantaneously, rather than gradually, while passing through. The bending effects can be designed in advance, by an algorithm, and fine-tuned to fit specific applications.With no need to increase the lens thickness and footprint, the optical technology compensates for wavelength differences and produces a consistent effect — for example, deflecting three beams of different colors by the same angle, or focusing those colors on a single spot. The model uses a dielectric material rather than a metal for the nanoantennas, a change which greatly improves its efficiency and, combined with a new design approach, enables operation over a broad range of wavelengths.The technology could be used to create new miniature optical communications devices, compact cameras, and imaging technologies.SourceLearn about the design of a GRadient INdex (GRIN) lens.

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Propulsion Technology Could Combat Flight Pollution

A breakthrough propulsion technology to provide greener air transport could be developed after the underlying engineering was declared a success. Six universities and two research organizations from across the EU demonstrated the scientific feasibility of a novel propulsion method that overcomes the main limitations of traditional systems related to jet deflection exhausts.

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Mini Models Fire Up to Test Space Launch System

NASA is working with CUBRC Inc. of Buffalo, NY to design, build, and test 2% scale models of the Space Launch System (SLS) propulsion system. Models include two five-segment solid rocket boosters and four core stage RS-25 engines, and a 2% scale model of the entire rocket. The models are fired for short durations of about 50-150 milliseconds per test.

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UAVs to Play Critical Role in Precision Agriculture

Researchers are investigating how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used commercially in agriculture. Their size, cost and capabilities make UAVs useful for a wide range of jobs. Mississippi State University researchers are already using these vehicles, and many others are examining their potential applications, including flying a camera on a drone to get instant aerial views of research fields. A flyover could identify problem spots in extremely large fields, and then researchers, crop consultants, or farmers could go to the identified areas and examine them carefully to make proper diagnoses. The information gathered by soil-moisture sensors could be compared to the information that could be gathered by drones. Technology already exists to allow producers to make very specific chemical applications to their fields with farm equipment. UAVs can help them target these applications even more precisely. Source:

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