June 29, 2016

"A number of different public and private organizations — from NASA, to the European Space Agency (ESA), to Elon Musk's ambitious company SpaceX — plan to launch missions to Mars in the near future."

Space.com: "I can just see each country trying to figure out what they can do that is going to really put them on the map," said Ben Clark, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute (SSI) in Boulder, Colorado. by Leonard David

'"That would be, of course, discovering life on Mars." (Clark has had a long association with Mars stemming back to the U.S. Viking lander missions in the 1970s.)

'Indeed, some nations may see Mars missions as a way to gain prominence on the global stage.

'"In my view, Mars draws interest both for its potential as an abode for Martian microbes and for humans, and also as a status symbol for emerging spacefaring nations," said Steven Ruff, associate research professor at the Mars Space Flight Facility in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.'

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"A major American launch provider has outlined a plan that the company says will help enable a space economy based on refueling spacecraft in Earth orbit."

Space.com: Dubbed the "Cislunar 1,000 Vision," the initiative foresees a self-sustaining economy that supports 1,000 people living and working in Earth-moon space roughly 30 years from now. by Leonard David

'The concept stems from an analysis and ongoing technical work by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co. that provides launches aboard Atlas and Delta rockets.

'A central element of the plan involves the use of a souped-up Centaur rocket stage called ACES (Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage). This liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen upper stage is designed to be reusable and can be refueled, perhaps by propellant made using water extracted from Earth's moonor asteroids.

'A road map to attain the Cislunar 1,000 Vision was detailed at the seventh joint meeting of the Space Resources Roundtable and the Planetary Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium, which was held here from June 7 through June 9.'

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"Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are making tiny strides -- no, really -- that could revolutionize the solar industry."

WESA: Paul Leu runs a lab at the university where students work with the tiny particles called nanotubes. By Mark Nootbaar

'“Just to give you the idea of the scale of things, if you take one of these nanotubes and you were to enlarge it to the typical circumference of a pillar in a building, and then you take that column and enlarge it by the same scale, that original column would be the size of the diameter of the entire Earth,” Leu said. “So these things are incredibly, incredibly small.” They're smaller than the wavelength of visible light.

First-year graduate student Brad Pafchek is trying to create a product that will absorb as much light as possible. He works with a standard silicon disc that looks like a mirror and then exposes it to a plasma or ionized gas. '“This plasma has a bunch of ions and radicals that are flying around at high energy and they etch into the surface,” Pafcheck said. That etching creates a surface that, to the eye, has a flat black appearance but, under an electron microscope, resembles conical structures. “So these bed of needles create kind of like a buffer region that allows light to get absorbed into the silicon itself, which is fantastic for solar cell applications, because that is the whole point to absorb light and create energy,” Pafcheck said. Pafchek creates this by changing a slew of variables, including the flow rate of the multiple gases used to make the plasma and the power at which they are introduced.

'Those tiny advances might have applications beyond solar energy. Third-year Ph.D. student Imrul Kayes is creating an antibacterial surface spiked with nanocones. According to Kayes, nearly 300 million structures fill just one square inch of material. Viewed under an electron microscope, it looks like a bed of nails, but those nails are just 60 nanometers at the tip. By comparison, a red blood cell is about 8,000 nanometers in diameter -- the wavelength of red light is 700 nanometers. Kayes coats the silicon spikes with a few nanometers of silver, then exposes it to a common bacteria known to cause serious infections among hospital patients.'

"Ready to face some of the best university teams from Romania, India, and the United States, UWaterloo’s own Nanotech Engineering students took the 2016 Mobile Microrobotics Challenge."

University of Waterloo: After packing up their trusted microbot, the team made the journey to Sweden, where they competed in tests of autonomy, accuracy and assembly. by Aleks Bahdanovich

'The NanoRobotics Group (UW_NRG) team consists of more than 20 undergraduate students from across the Faculty of Engineering. Although the team has competed in the international challenge since it was founded in 2007, this year marks their first victory in the competition.

'The UW_NRG team has a fleet of five tiny robots, and this year, they’ve selected "EMMA" to impress the judges in Stockholm. Their roboto EMMA, ElectroMagnetic MicroActuation, can manipulate the magnetic field around itself to relocate with sub-micron precision.

'As the microrobotics field continues to grow, so too does the scope of applications for robots like EMMA. If you’ve got an affection for nanotech, keep an eye on UW NRG. You could also be involved in developing the next wave of nanotech tools.'

"Two Indiana University chemists have received $525,000 from the National Science Foundation to advance research with applications to the emerging field of carbon recycling."

EurekAlert: IU scientists Steven L. Tait and Kenneth Caulton will combine their expertise in two distinct fields of chemistry -- surface chemistry and metal-organic chemistry -- to create new catalysts that guide molecular transformations. via Indiana University

'An example of this type of transformation is converting environmentally harmful carbon dioxide molecules into carbon-neutral plastics, building materials and fuel. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the product of combustion of gasoline or coal.

'"The conversion of molecules into new forms, including 'recycling' carbon, is a broad challenge in chemistry," said Tait, associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry, who is principal investigator on the project. "Our work will advance the field by applying methods pioneered at IU toward the development of reactions not yet attainable outside highly controlled laboratory environments."

'The co-investigator on the project is Caulton, an IU Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and world-renewed expert in metal-organic chemistry, which employs organic materials to isolate and organize single metal atoms into powerful, complex structures, roughly analogous to enzymes, the molecules of life.'

'"We’re trying to get robots to be able to work in a home environment," said Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. student Jennifer King.'

WESA: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Personal Robotics Lab have spent years working on ways to make robots execute subtle, human-like movements in the hopes of helping around the house. By Melinda Roeder

'With cameras for eyes, two thick arms and the occasional bowtie, Herb – an acronym for home exploring robot butler – only recently learned to move a cup across a table. While scanning a room, Herb creates a high-resolution, three-dimensional map complete with depth perception, spacial reasoning and physical properties like weight and texture, according to Lab Director Sidd Srinvasa.

'“He needs a map that not only looks good, but also works effectively for him,” Srinvasa said.

'Researchers have also been teaching Herb how to handle clutter. King said objects on a floor or shelf can be confusing to a robot on a mission. Think of trying to reach a carton from the back of the fridge, she said. A homeowner might take some items out first, but others, he or she may just shove aside. That reasoning does not come easily to a robot.

'“So we’re trying to get Herb to think about that as well,” King said. “Can he use his whole arm to move clutter out of the way in order to reach his goal rather than be afraid of it?”'