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Watch a Satellite Net a Cubesat in Awesome Space Junk Cleanup Test

The space net demonstration, which occurred Sunday (Sept. 16), is part of the European RemoveDebris mission, designed to test active debris-removal techniques in space for the first time. The target wasn’t an actual piece of space junk but a small cubesat measuring (10 x10 x 20 centimeters, or 4 x 4 x 8 inches) that was released by the main RemoveDebris spacecraft shortly before the capture experiment.

“It went very well,” said RemoveDebris mission principal investigator Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. “The net deployed nicely, and so did the structure attached to the cubesat. We are now downloading the data, which will take a few weeks, since we only can do that when we have contact with the satellite. But so far, everything looks great.”

RemoveDebris is a refrigerator-size spacecraft built by satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), which is part of the RemoveDebris consortium together with the University of Surrey, the aerospace company Airbus and other European companies. It’s designed to test space-junk-cleanup methods in orbit. In addition to the debris-catching net, the satellite is equipped with a small harpoon, a visual-tracking system and a drag sail.

This video still shows the moment the RemoveDebris spacecraft’s net captured a space-junk target in a first-of-its-kind test of debris-cleanup technology. The test occurred in orbit on Sept. 16, 2018.Credit: Surrey Nanosats

The net demonstration is the first test so far for RemoveDebris, and it began when the satellite released its cubesat target on Sunday.

Once the cubesat drifted about 19 feet (6 meters) from the chaser RemoveDebris craft, the satellite deployed a 3-foot-wide (1 m) inflatable structure that increased the object’s size to match that of a real target. Then, the chaser satellite ejected the net using a spring-loaded mechanism. The entire sequence was preprogrammed and took about 2 to 3 minutes to complete, Aglietti said.

He told that the RemoveDebris team couldn’t use an actual piece of space junk, because international laws consider even defunct satellites to be property of the entity that launched them. Thus, it would be illegal to catch other people’s space debris, he said.

Ingo Retat, who led the team at European space manufacturer Airbus, which designed the net, said it took six years of testing in parabolic flights, special drop towers and vacuum chambers for the engineers to gain enough confidence to send the technology to space.

“Our small team of engineers and technicians have done an amazing job moving us one step closer to clearing up low Earth orbit,” Retat said in a statement.

Interest in active space-debris-removal technology has increased in recent years as the number of spacecraft and satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) has risen. Too much debris from defunct satellites or rockets could threaten newer satellites in orbit, because a hit from even a tiny piece of junk could destroy a satellite, experts have said.

Satomi Kawamoto, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in a conference last year that more than 100 objects need to be removed from LEO at the rate of five per year to prevent the so-called Kessler syndrome — an unstoppable cascade of collisions predicted in the 1970s by NASA scientist Donald Kessler. This collision cascade would generate a massive amount of fragments and make operating in the space around Earth unsafe.

The net consists of ultra-lightweight polyethylene Dyneema, which is commonly used to make mountaineering ropes. Six weights attached to the net ensured that it would spread to its full size of 5 m (16 feet) across, said Retat.

“The weights are actually small motors that are used to close the net around the debris,” Retat said. “They run on a timer that begins counting down once the net has been deployed, and [they] automatically tighten up to trap the object.”

In an operational setup, the net would be connected to the chaser spacecraft with a tether. After the capture, the chaser spacecraft would fire its engines and drag the space junk into Earth’s atmosphere, where the object would burn.

For this first-time attempt, the engineers left the tether out, as it could cause some unexpected complications, Aglietti said. For example, the satellite could rebound and hit the main RemoveDebris spacecraft, which still has three more experiments to run.

Aglietti said the cubesat wrapped in the net will fall out of orbit naturally over time. It should remain in orbit no more than a year.

RemoveDebris was delivered to the International Space Station in April and deployed by astronauts in June.

The 5.2-million-euro ($18.7 million) mission, funded by the European Union, will next validate a vision-based navigation system designed to track and analyze pieces of space debris. In early 2019, RemoveDebris will test another Airbus-led active-removal technology: a pen-size harpoon that will be fired into a fixed plate attached to a boom that will extend from the main spacecraft.

The campaign will conclude in March 2019, when RemoveDebris will deploy a large sail designed to increase the craft’s atmospheric drag and speed up its re-entry. Ultimately, the spacecraft will burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere.



Science & Technology

NTP nuclear rocket engine will take humans to Mars in just three months

Although the romance of the peaceful atom has subsided since the mid-1960s, the idea of ​​using nuclear reactors for “civilian” purposes is still regularly returned. The new nuclear rocket engine (NRM) will deliver a man to Mars much faster than is possible now.

The danger of cosmic radiation is much more serious than the risk of infection from an accident with such an engine. The most dangerous of all the constraining vectors for projects of sending people to other bodies in the solar system is cosmic radiation. Radiation from our star and galactic rays can seriously damage the health of the mission crew. Therefore, when planning flights to Mars, engineers and scientists try to reduce travel time as much as possible.

One promising way to get to the Red Planet in just three months could be a new NTP engine. Its concept was developed and submitted to NASA by Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies ( USNC-Tech ) from Seattle, USA. The name of the unit is simply deciphered – Nuclear Thermal Propulsion ( NTP ), that is, “thermal nuclear power plant”. The novelty differs from its previously created or invented counterparts in the most secure design.

A key component of USNC’s development is mid – grade uranium fuel “pellets”. They contain 5% to 20% of the highly reactive isotope U- 235 coated with zirconium carbide ceramics. This degree of enrichment lies roughly halfway between the “civilian” nuclear power plants and the military. The proprietary ceramic coating technology makes the tablets incredibly resistant to mechanical damage and extreme temperatures.

Schematic diagram of a thermal nuclear rocket engine / © Wikipedia |  Tokono
Schematic diagram of a thermal nuclear rocket engine / © Wikipedia | Tokono

The company promises that their fuel elements are significantly superior in these parameters to those currently used at nuclear power plants. As a result, the engine will have a higher specific impulse with a lower degree of uranium enrichment than in earlier versions of NRE. In addition to the flight to Mars, among the goals of the ambitious project are other missions within the solar system. The perspectives of the concept will soon be considered by specialists from NASA and the US Department of Defense ( DoD ). Perhaps departments will even allow its commercial use by private companies.

Theoretically, NRE based on modern technologies can have a specific impulse (SR) seven times higher than that of chemical jet engines. And this is one of the key performance parameters. At the same time, unlike electric and plasma ones, the ID of a nuclear rocket engine is combined with high thrust. One of the limiting factors in the use of NRE, in addition to safety issues, are extremely high temperatures in the reactor core.

The higher the temperature of the gases flowing out of the engine, the more energy they have. And accordingly, they create traction. However, mankind has not yet come up with relatively inexpensive and safe materials that can withstand more than three thousand degrees Celsius without destruction. The solution created by USNC will operate at the limit of modern materials science (3000 ° C) and have a specific impulse twice that of the best liquid-propellant engines.

Tests of the first nuclear jet engine in 1967 / © NASA
Tests of the first nuclear jet engine in 1967 / © NASA

The official press release does not specify which working body will be used in NTP . Usually, in all NRE projects, the reactor core heats hydrogen, less often ammonia. But, since we are talking about a long-term mission, the creators could have chosen some other gas. Keeping liquid hydrogen on board for three months is no easy task. But you still need to invent something for the way back.

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Science & Technology

Scientist Peter Scott-Morgan is set to become “the world’s first complete cyborg”

Scientist and roboticist Peter Scott Morgan, who is using an advanced version of Stephen Hawking's communication system, built by Intel. INTEL

Two years ago scientist Peter Scott-Morgan was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and today he is still fighting for a new life, not just for survival.

This October, Dr. Scott-Morgan is on track to become the world’s first full-fledged cyborg, potentially giving him more years of life.

The world’s first complete cyborg

It was in 2017 that Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan (a brilliant robotics writer, scientific writer, and talented speaker) was diagnosed with degenerative motor neuron disease that ultimately paralyzed his entire body except his eyes.

The diagnosis is understandably grim, especially considering that he has only two years to live, but he has not given up the fight.

Teaming up with world-class organizations with expertise in artificial intelligence, Dr. Scott-Morgan is transforming himself into what he calls “the world’s first fully fledged cyborg.”

“And when I say ‘Cyborg’, I mean not just that some kind of payment will be implanted in me, I mean that I will become the most advanced human cybernetic organism ever created on Earth for 13.8 billion years. My body and brain will be irreversibly changed, ”says Dr. Scott-Morgan.

What does it mean to be human

According to Dr. Scott-Morgan, he will become part robot and part living organism. Moreover, the change will not be one-time, but with subsequent updates.

“I have more updates in the process than Microsoft ,” says Dr. Scott-Morgan.

AI-powered creative expression

The cyborg artist is a great example of the power of human-AI collaboration. AI uses the data that make up Peter’s digital portrait ( articles, videos, images, and social media ) and is trained to recognize key ideas, experiences, and images.

Peter will introduce a theme, AI will suggest composition, and Peter will apply images to suggest style and mood. Peter will direct the AI ​​to render a new digital image that none of them could create alone.

A unique blend of AI and human, reflects Peter’s creative and emotional self – a critical aspect of what it means to be human.

Peter 2.0

This October, Dr. Scott-Morgan will undergo what he calls the latest procedure that will transform him into “Complete Cyborg”.

October 9 he tweeted a photo of himself, writing the following:

“This is my last post as Peter 1.0. Tomorrow I will trade my vote for potentially decades of life as we complete the last medical procedure for my transition to Full Cyborg, in the month that I was told statistically I would be dead. I am not dying, I am transforming. ! Oh, how I LOVE science !!! “.

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Science & Technology

Japan has developed an inflatable scooter that weighs practically nothing

The University of Tokyo engineers have developed the Poimo inflatable electric scooter, which is created individually for each owner. It is enough to send your photo to the manufacturers – and a personal optimized model will be assembled for you.

The scooter is designed with a special program for the body size of a particular user and his specific fit. Moreover, each owner is free to make any changes to this model. If he makes any changes to the drawing, the program will automatically redesign the electric bike to maintain its strength, stability and controllability. When the model is finished and approved, it is handed over to the manufacturer.

Scooter Poimo

The scooter consists of seven separate inflatable sections that are constructed from durable fabric and sewn with straight stitch. It remains to add electronic components – in particular, a brushless motor and a lithium-ion battery. 

The finished electric scooter weighs about 9 kg and can travel at speeds up to 6 km / h (that is, slightly faster than a pedestrian). It can work for an hour on one charge.

This is how the current version of Poimo looks like in action:

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