Satellite Tech Propelling Forward

The ion propelled satellite in geostationary orbit.

Recently, Boeing announced the first ever communications satellite to use no chemical propulsion at all, which has profound implications for the future of space. The $400 million deal just signed with Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) and Satelites Mexicanos (SatMex) to build the first all-electric commercial telecommunications spacecraft to be sent into orbit has taken aback even the most dubious critics.

This technology implements lightweight xenon-fueled thrusters rather than chemical propulsion in order to maneuver a spacecraft platform into position.

The switch from chemical rockets to ion thrusters comes with benefits and drawbacks. First, traditional chemical rockets provide much more power, allowing quick acceleration. However, the cost of propellent is extraordinarily high because more propellant must be expelled to achieve a given change. This is exactly why ion propulsion has excited many spacecraft designers and engineers.

“We think this might expand the market quite a bit,” says President of Boeing Satellite Systems International Steve O’Neill in an interview with Aviation Week. O’Neill has spent the past five months negotiating the deal for Boeing. “The total cost to market will be significantly different for a satellite operator than it is currently.”

Ion propulsion works by stripping or adding to the electrons in a noble gas in order to get an electrical charge. Then, the ion engine will accelerate the electrons with either an electric or magnetic field, subsequently shooting them out the back end of the thruster.

This process can provide exceedingly high exhaust velocities greater than chemical propulsion by a factor of 10, meaning the spacecraft would need only a fraction of the propellent used in a traditional chemical rocket. Thus, this technology can cut the satellites weight in half and as a result, the launch costs. Depending on the size of the spacecraft, savings are estimated at $100 million.

Besides reducing weight, all-electric spacecraft offer the opportunity to add payload capacity and boost performance.

“The more you use electrical propulsion, the lighter the spacecraft becomes and the more payload you can put on it,” Simpson said in an interview with Aviation Week, adding that the ion-propulsion satellites can accommodate 47 active transponders and generate 3-8 kw of power. “You’re getting quite a significant value proposition, up to 7.5-8 kilowatts of capacity, but it’s much more economical from a launch perspective.”

However, there are some downsides. For instance, an ion system has a very low thrust. Whereas chemical rockets can provide their own energy in the propellent, an electrical system’s propellent has no energy of its own, therefore it has to be provided externally which limits its thrust to the power available. However, one could remedy this problem by implementing a nuclear reactor which would certainly be effective which could supply ample power; albeit the cost and politics of such an endeavor prohibit the use of this power source.

Using ion thrusters is not going to be easy, for it will take Boeing’s satellite months to attain the operating altitude which initially will reduce the return on investment. This is because the travel time through the highly radioactive Van Allen belts will require additional shielding to last the arduous journey.

Looking into the future, this same technology could drastically reduce the costs of trips to the moon and beyond by not only reducing weight, but adding payload and therefore boosting performance. Not to mention, ion propulsion is meant to carry large payloads.

“The more you use electrical propulsion, the lighter the spacecraft becomes and the more payload you can put on it,” said vice president of business development at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems Jim Simpson in an interview with Aviation Week, adding that the ion-propulsion satellites can accommodate 47 active transponders and generate 3-8 kw of power. “You’re getting quite a significant value proposition, up to 7.5-8 kilowatts of capacity, but it’s much more economical from a launch perspective.”

Put simply, this satellite will have have better bandwidth and subsequently more channels due to the increased power on board. Having more channels to broadcast in means increased revenue for Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) and Satelites Mexicanos (SatMex).

Bringing Your Pet to School

Sponsored by The Elder Scrolls XXXVI Chicken, Fus Roh Bukah™

Dr. Randell L. Mills, former space-hobo and President of Blacklight Power has been chosen by Loco Industries, the conglomerate-subsidy of the AppleSoft Washington State board of directors of education,  for his leadership in education and is now taking the role of  vice principal of BRIAHS. In 2079, Mills became a trillionaire when he finally figured out how to make Hydrino theory a reality. Today, he is letting students ride in his CIHT (Catalyst Induced Hydrino Transition) car and showing them how to make their very own solid fuel reactor.

Ever since the theory was first proposed, Mills was ridiculed by mainstream physicists who claimed that there was no lower state of hydrogen, known as a hydrino, and that certainly one could not obtain energy for one cent per kilowatt hour through this technology.

The first meeting about whether this design would work in Bangkok didn’t go well. Mills was viciously mauled by a gang of finger monkeys. However, after eight months in the hospital and 17 reconstructive surgeries, Mills recovered and came back to detail the process better than ever.

“This [process] allows the negatively charged electron,” said Mills in an interview with the TFHA (Tin Foil Hat Alliance),  “that is otherwise in a stable orbit to move closer to the naturally attracting  positively charged nucleus to release large amounts of energy with the formation of a prior undiscovered form of hydrogen called a ‘hydrino.’”

The road to fame and fortune has certainly been a difficult one for Mills, and he has some grim memories of his days as a hobo.

“I recall the chilling winters mostly, that and starving everyday. Back then,” said Mills, “it was only me and my steamy CIHT powered cell to provide warmth.”

It is evident that Mill’s journey has been a difficult one, but now, one super-super-super-super-senior is following in the footsteps of Mills. Jaque Heklakovagai, once a strong proponent of Hydrino theory, is now working on making his own CIHT cells for his physics class.

“I am really truly astounded that such a technology actually works,” said Heklakovagai, “I never thought it would be possible, and to be honest, I am not sure if this whole thing is just a crazy dream.”

That being said, Heklakovagai went on to say how much respect he has for Mills for pursuing his passion, yet it is clear that he still holds resentment for Mill’s success.

“As you know already, after I made light isotope nuclear reactors available to the world,” said Heklakovagai,  “the Zeta Reptilians came and took all the thorium. And, in an unfortunate series of events that followed, I was unable to continue selling this energy source. Well, I guess CIHT really does roll down hill.”

Fellow super-senior and former Tonsorial Artist Cranberries Foxyson, who refused to comment on the new vice principal and the Hydrino theory, is working on a new energy technology of his own. In an interview with an anonymous source (sponsored by Anonymous), Foxyson is apparently working with E-Cat’s inventor Andrea Rossi on Cold Fusion, which he hopes will one day dominate the energy market.

On another note, all the lighting in the school is to be changed to the CIHT lights, so hopefully they perform better than their name entails.

“While these lights may be powered by CIHT, it is important to note that none of these will stink up the school,” said Mills. “We will leave that to Skunkworks.”

Mills has also announced that he and his new team at Know Knew Energy are working on a new energy cell, the bullCIHT, which consumers can expect to see on the markets in spring of 2112. Mills exclaimed in an interview with The Gassy Knoll (the world’s leading supplier of petroleum) that this cell isn’t just bullCIHT, it’s the future.

Kinect Hacking

For the better part of three decades, robotics has been stuck: When a robot moves through the world it must have the ability to create a 3D map of its environment and more importantly, understand its place within it. Scientists in the field of robotics have implemented tools in the past such as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), but the equipment has so far been expensive, clunky, and inaccurate.

However, this, and many more robotics related problems, have been eradicated with the coming of fruition of the Kinect for Xbox 360. Debuting November 4, 2011, this $150 add-on allows players to control the game through their movements, and has application in hundreds of scientific fields, with more being discovered every day.

For example, the Kinect is now being implemented in search and rescue. The Warwick Mobile Robotics (WMR) team from the University of Warwick in the U.K. have made a robot controlled by the Kinect that has the capability to search for and rescue earthquake survivors.

Another helpful Kinect hack has helped the blind navigate. Students from the University of Konstanz in Germany have created NAVI (Navigational Aids for the Visually Impaired), which sits on top of the person’s head which is attached to a helmet. Then, once all the necessary accessories are attached, such as the LilyPad vibration motors and a Bluetooth device for voice commands, the Kinect will scan around. Depending on how far away it is from say, a door, it will give instructions such as “Door ahead in 3, 2, 1” and  “Pull the door.” Another neat feature of this hack is that certain signs can be read aloud to the wearers of the device.

In the 2012 FIRST Robotics competition Rebound Rumble, the Kinect will be implemented during the hybrid period of the game.

“The Kinect is a way for the driver to interface with the robot,” said FIRST Team 1983 programmer Davis Yoshida,  “so it will allow our control during the autonomous period to be more reactive and accurate.”

In this period, players will have the ability to control their robots with just their body movements, eliminating the necessity for hand controls (at least for this period of the match). Once programmed for Kinect, players can make the sort of adjustments in hybrid period that they wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to during autonomous.

“FIRST has provided code that allows the Kinect to emulate a pair of joysticks, with your arms being used as the joysticks,” said Yoshida. “Also, they have provided some head movements and leg movements that emulate button presses. We started off using these built in features and we got those working to help drive the robot, and we hope to add some of our own in in the future.”

This year, the implementation of the Kinect on robots could be a make or break issue when it comes to the championships in St. Louis.

Not only is the Kinect being used in the 2012 FIRST Robotics competition, but researchers at UC Berkeley have been able to mount a Kinect to a quadrotor, enabling them to control the vehicle with simple gestures of their hands.

Also, a humanoid robot has been programmed to copy every move you make with the Kinect, so maybe the fighting robots in the movie Real Steel will become a reality sooner than many may think.

Of course, the Kinect has also been used for pure fun. The Kinect juggle hack lets one juggle using virtual, augmented-reality balls, a fun endeavor for a person who does not have the hand-eye coordination to juggle in real life.

Another Kinect Hack has been pushed the boundaries of video gaming. Someone has created a Kinect hack just for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a video game by Bethesda. This hack was developed by Youtuber KinectFAAST and combines motion and voice commands to accomplish the task. “The gestures are simple and intuitive, yet allow for gameplay depth never before seen with the Kinect,” said KinectFAAST in an interview with Tom’s Hardware. “Simply swing your right arm forward, up, left, or right, and your character will hack with his sword.”

Free to Fly

The Microsoft Flight control assistance panel.

In 2006, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X had a complete makeover, and now, Microsoft Flight is ready to revolutionise the market once again.

This PC-only game will allow players to free roam around Hawaii in an airplane dubbed the ICON A5. The ICON A5 is a small concept plane that aims to be produced in the real word later this year. This $140,000 seaplane is quite unique because it uses regular gasoline instead of aircraft fuel. In addition, this seaplane is unique because it requires only a sport license to operate it.

Not only is this game more intuitive, but the realism is taking on a whole new level, with terrain that actually looks like the beautiful landscape of Hawaii.

“This is a whole new product about the magic of freedom and fun of flying,” said Joshua Howard, executive producer of the game at Microsoft’s new game studio for the Flight franchise in an interview with GamesBeat. “It’s for new audiences that include any people who look up in the sky and think airplanes are cool.”

As far as gameplay goes, Microsoft Flight only has two missions, one being the tutorial and the other a water landing. Players can earn points for completing tasks as well, which includes dodging hot-air balloons. For flight instruction, a virtual assistant can aid you and give you hints about you task.

Then, once a mission is complete, the player has the opportunity to select from a multifarious list of other challenges. Naturally, there is a time for all of us when we just want to fly freely without a mission task, and that option is available to the player as well.

The goal of this game is to make flying truly accessible to everybody, and regardless of your experience, the difficulty can be adjusted according to your level. At level one, landing sets the plane on the glide path, whereas in level two the player is forced to turn, and by level six the player has to fly through a rumbling storm at night not knowing where they are.

Helpful tutorials for beginners will ensure that people aren’t left “high and dry”. Also, if people wish to use a rudder or joystick rather than the keyboard and mouse configuration, they can do so.

There are many unlockables available for anyone who has a Windows Live account and is willing to pay. An example of unlockable content that will cost money is the rest of the Hawaiian islands, where players can fly over and complete more challenges.

However, this simulator may not prepare you completely for the rigorous course of ground school at AHS.

“Considering how many areas of learning we cover in ground school,” said Austin Herold, a ground school student at AHS, “I seriously doubt that the Microsoft Flight simulator would help me in that particular class. I believe that the only reason I would use this flight simulator is for the fun of it.”

Currently, this game is in a closed-beta mode, and to register for the beta you can go to <>

Microsoft Flight will be coming in spring 2012.

Quantum Levitation

Example of Quantum Levitation

At Tel Aviv University in Israel, researchers have created a superconductor that levitates a puck, due to the phenomenon known as quantum levitation. This discovery has broad implications that may revolutionize the transportation industry within our lifetime.

This levitation effect is explained by the Meissner effect, which is when the magnetic field is expelled from the superconductor in the process of its transition from the superconducting state. Thus, a superconductor expels almost all magnetic variations by setting up electric currents near its surface.

The researchers who demonstrated their superconducting track started with a single crystal sapphire wafer and coated this with a thin ceramic material known as yttrium barium copper oxide. Although this ceramic layer has no special magnetic or electrical properties at room temperature, when it is cooled below -185 degrees Celsius the material becomes a superconductor. In other words, it encounters no resistance, which means no energy loss.

Also, it is important to note that superconductor remains trapped in midair, which is known as quantum locking.

What this entails is that no outside forces can affect the spatial movement of the disc. Simply put, since the superconducting has no efficiency losses, it would make the perfect mode of transportation.

However, there is a catch. As mentioned early, this disc must be cooled down to -185 degrees Celsius with liquid nitrogen. So, in a real life situation and at its current point in development, it will not be taking over the transportation industry. The Noble prize in physics (as well as a very large sum of money) will go to the person who is able to demonstrate superconducting effects at room temperature.

“When we discover room temperature superconductors,” said Associate Professor of Physics at Ithaca College Matthew C. Sullivan, “they will be everywhere and used in nearly every electrical device. The world will change radically in just a few years—of course, we have to discover materials that can superconduct above room temperature first—but I am confident we will eventually.”

This is not to say that people have not been having fun with this concept, however. Researchers at Université Paris Diderot in France have created MagSurf. They have turned a skateboard-like platform into one giant superconductor. Dr. Marie-Aude Méasson from the Université Paris Diderot explained how the idea came to fruition.

“Many researchers in the field of superconductivity were involved in the 100th birth of the discovery of superconductivity,” said Méasson, “and all events related to it. So, our team, of the Université Paris Diderot, had the idea to built a human-size levitating object that can also move, in order to promote science mainly to children. The skateboard was the most crazy idea.”

Not only has Marty McFly noticed this hoverboard, but researchers in Japan working for SmartPlanet are reportedly working on scaling this technology for levitating a train.

Although this hoverboard may sound like a child’s toy, Dr. Marie-Aude Méasson thinks that superconductivity may one day revolutionize the transportation industry.

“Researchers can find new material with good properties and not too expensive to produce. In that case,” says Méasson, “it would be possible to revolutionize the transport industry, not only thanks to levitation, but maybe thanks to superconducting motors,or thanks to superconducting energy keepers.”

However, Sullivan is not so certain if superconductivity will revolutionize the transportation industry within our lifetime.

“I am hopeful we will,” said Sullivan, “but admit there is a good chance that we won’t.  If we do, superconductors will revolutionize more than transportation.  If not, the cost of using superconductors— keeping them at liquid nitrogen temperatures — will always outweigh their benefits.”

Although progress must still be made in the field of superconductivity, today we still use it for many applications.

“Superconductivity has a lot of uses in everyday use as it is,” said Sullivan, “in MRI machines in hospitals, electrical power cables, and cell phone towers.”  

The discovery of the Meissner effect led to the theory of superconductivity by researchers Fritz and Heinz London in 1935. Today, the development of this theory is still being studied, and the implications of this work have the potential to completely revolutionize the transportation industry.

Open post
Optimus Prime making a NASA spin-off video of his own.

NASA’s Transformative Video Contest

Optimus Prime making a NASA spin-off video of his own.
Optimus Prime making a NASA spin-off video of his own, Illustration by Sopheaktra Dahn

Students must pick which technology they wish to make a video about through NASA’s annual Spinoff publication which focuses on the successes of the previous year. Students have the opportunity this year to make videos about everything from energy-efficient systems which eliminate icing dangers for UAVs, to bacteria that provide cleanup for oil spills.

An Optimus Prime Spinoff trophy will be awarded for winning individual submissions and group submissions will get plaques with the individuals names. Also, Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, will be there along with NASA VIPs and other celebrities who have yet to be named.

In addition, some new prizes this year will be free trips to Space Camp as well as free passes to the Kenn


edy Visitor Center Complex and possible scholarships for exemplary work. Last year the contest was held in Colorado, but the location has changed to Kennedy Space Center this year because it gives NASA more flexibility to expand the content of the awards ceremony NASA has also built a new website dedicated to this contest that is easy to navigate.

“NASA is busy compiling a repository of NASA pictures and videos that the students can access without having to worry about infringing someone’s copyright,” said Mitchell. “We are actually partnering with the US Patent & Trademark Office to provide content on patents, copyright and trademark issues.”

The bar is being raised for high school students this year, so it is necessary to demonstrate an adequate understanding of how the technology is being used by NASA and the spinoff partner alike. 

“I would advise anyone thinking of entering to focus on understanding the spinoff technology and coming up with a creative way to present the story,” said Mitchell.

Also, do not get too hung-up on creative special effects, as many submissions last year tried with different degrees of success.

Hasbro, the company that own the rights to TRANSFORMERS, is supporting this program because they and NASA share similar ideals.

“There are a lot of common values that connect the character Optimus Prime with NASA,” said the director of the contest Darryl Mitchell. “Both are focused on honor, integrity, knowledge, the pursuit of excellence and looking toward a brighter future.” 

Hasbro is also supporting this contest because it not only educates students, but encourages creativity as well. The goal of this program is to help students understand the benefits of the different NASA technologies that benefit them in their daily lives.

“One of the primary goals of the contest is to raise awareness,” said Mitchell, “of how NASA spin-off technologies impact our daily lives.”

Last year, students in grades three through eight were allowed to compete, and this year the contest administrators are adding high school students into the running.

Approximately 190 students in thirty-one different states submitted seventy-six different videos last year. The videos themselves were three to five minutes in length.

This year, the deadline for registration is January 3, 2012 with January 17, 2012 being the last day for video submissions. Voting for the winner of this contest falls to the public, and then NASA evaluators will select and announce the winners in the first week of March.

Judging will be similar to other years in that it will be a two step process. First, the public will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite submission online. Then, the top five videos in each category will advance through the final round where a NASA panel will rank them and pick the winners.

Judging for the winners is based upon three categories: understanding, persuasiveness, and originality. Once the winners are announced, they will receive unique prizes. In each grade category, the winning submissions group leader and parent will be sponsored by NASA to attend the Optimus Prime Spinoff Award ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center.

The winning videos for grades three through five were created by Juliana Sanchez, Samantha Herrod, Isaliz Gonzalez, and Grace Romano, who are four students at the Union Park Elementary school in Orlando, Florida. The video was based on a story from NASA’s Spinoff 2009 publication called “Fabrics Protect Sensitive Skin from UV Rays.” It is about how NASA technology used in clothing helps to protect the wearer’s skin against exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays.

The winner for grades six through eight sixth was based on the 2009 Spinoff story originating from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.  which was  how “Star-Mapping Tools Enable Tracking of Endangered Animals.” It is about how a star-mapping algorithm used on the Hubble Space Telescope is helping scientists track endangered animals.

For more information go to 


Space Industry Taking Off

The arrival of Space X’s new Dragon capsule to the International Space Station in November will mark a new beginning for space travel; however, the race to control the commercial space industry does not stop there, for Blue Origins and Orbital Sciences are hoping to follow suit.

NASA is in need of these space taxis because currently only the Russian Soyuz spacecraft are able to transport people to the ISS due to the fact that the American space shuttle program was retired in July. However, on August 24, a Russian cargo ship failed because it did not separate stages properly, exposing the susceptibility to problems that comes with only having one way for crew to fly to and from the space station.

After the December 8 mission, which was under the supervision of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (COTS), Space X sucesfully delievered the Dragon to orbit on its Falcon 9 rocket. Subsequently, plans were made for Space X to begin making supply runs to the ISS starting in November.

However, these plans are now in a state of limbo because Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control center, announced on September 16 that Space X will not be granted permission to dock the Dragon spacecraft at the ISS. As a major contributor to much of the hardware of the ISS as well as the primary mode of transportation for both supplies and people, the Russian federation has significant influence when it comes to operations at the ISS. The head of the human spaceflight department of Roscosmos believes that Space X is simply not ready for docking with the ISS.

“We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety is proven,” said Krasov in an interview with “So far we have no proof that this spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety.”

Although Space X may have acquired the first mission to the ISS, their competitor Blue Origins is not far behind. They are making improvements to their vehicle dubbed New Shepard. Setbacks have plagued the commercial space industry and since its inception Blue Origins has not been a stranger to failure.

Founded by Jeff Bezos and operating out of Kent,WA, a developmental test spacecraft of Blue Orgin’s failed at an altitude of 45,000 feet in West Texas. According to Bezos, this setback was due to flight instability, and they have apparently fixed the error. Fortunately, Bezos announced that Blue Origins has already started on their next orbital crew vehicle to aid NASA’s commercial crew program. In April, NASA granted $22 million to the company to help develop the rocketry systems and a potential crew capsule for future manned spaceflight operations in orbit and to the ISS.

Orbital Sciences is also not far behind Space X in terms of its preparation for commercial spaceflight supply operations to the ISS. In early September, the company was granted a license to test its Taurus II rocket, which carries the Cygnus capsule.

“Taurus II uses many heritage components that have already been flight proven or are derived from proven flight hardware,” said VP of Orbital Sciences Commercial Space Launch Vehicles Mark Pieczynski, “thus lowering the initial development risk that is inherent most new technology development.”

Orbital Sciences has been thinking further ahead as well, as a matter of fact they have an Advanced Programs Group which is constantly looking for new innovative technologies that could get them a step ahead and which would subsequently allow them to rocket ahead of the competition. Who will win out is unknown, but it is certain that all of these companies are trying to be to first in the commercial space race.

“Those that have the wisdom and the fortitude to continue to move forward,” said Pieczynski, will be the ones that capture tomorrow’s hold on space launch.”

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