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A Simple Plumbing Problem Sent Galileo Satellites Into Wrong Orbits

On 22 August, about 35 minutes after liftoff of a Soyuz rocket carrying the fifth and sixth satellites of Europe's ambitious 30-satellite navigation system Galileo, things went wrong. The upper stage, the Russian-built Fregat that carried the two spacecraft, injected them into the wrong orbits, making them unusable for their intended function as part of the navigation system.

At first blame fell on an error in the software controlling the Fregat's trajectory. But an inspection of the flight parameters clarified the situation: the two attitude control thrusters — small thrusters that keep the spacecraft and its propulsion engine pointed in the correct direction — failed to fire when they had to. "When a motor functions, and then stops functioning, it means that the fuel is no longer getting there," says Mario de Lépine, a spokesperson of Arianespace, who controlled the launch.

The fuel — hydrazine — didn’t reach the thrusters because it froze in its feed line, which was too close to another feed line carrying liquid helium. Both lines were mounted on a same support structure that, unfortunately, functioned as a thermal bridge cooling the hydrazine. The fault has also been discovered in other Fregat stages that are now under construction in Russia, and was apparently caused by ambiguities in the design documents of Fregat.

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The Blue LED Has Many Parents

The story of science and technology today is the story of many hands. But try as we might, it’s hard to get away from the hero narrative. It’s still easy for us to get swept up by the tales of lone inventors, who battle the powers-that-be and fight against all odds to prove themselves right.

The stories that we tell about the development of the blue LED are no exception. The hero has long been Shuji Nakamura, one of this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Nakamura, working “virtually alone” for a small, geographically remote company called Nichia Chemical Industries, was responsible for developing manufacturing processes that brought the first truly bright blue LEDs to market. He’s since become the face of the device.

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Private Space Habitat to Blow Up on ISS Next Year

Until someone manages to figure out how to get a space elevator up and running, sending stuff into space is going to remain enormously expensive. Payloads are also limited by size: if it doesn’t fit inside a rocket, it’s not going to make it into orbit. This places significant restrictions on large space structures like the International Space Station, which have to be made up of lots of tiny little modules stuck together, meaning that you don’t have access to a lot of open space.

Fifty years ago, NASA experimented with launching inflatable spacecraft that could be carried into space wadded up inside small rockets, and then pumped up to enormous sizes once they reached orbit. It was a fantastic idea that was in the running for a habitat on the ISS until funding for it was axed by the U.S. Congress. But Bigelow Aerospace has taken up the idea, and at the 2014 International Astronautical Congress last week, the private company reconfirmed its plan to test an inflatable module on the ISS in 2015.

 

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will fly up to the ISS inside the unpressurized butt trunk of a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule sometime next year. The station’s Canadarm2 will attach the BEAM to an airlock on the Tranquility module, where it will be slowly inflated:

The BEAM has an internal volume of about 16 cubic meters, which is just enough room for one astronaut to comfortably do a mostly stationary acrobatic routine, and it’s scheduled to remain attached to the ISS for two full years. However, since this is a new thing for both Bigelow and NASA, it’s not likely that astronauts will be able to take full advantage of the space. At the moment, the plan is to keep the BEAM mostly sealed off. Its role will be to house instruments, but astronauts will venture in once or twice a year to make sure that it’s not leaking, irradiated, full of aliens, or otherwise malfunctioning.

If everything goes well with BEAM, Bigelow has plans to launch an inflatable space station of its own sometime after 2016, built around a much larger inflatable module called the BA 330. With 330 cubic meters of usable space, the BA 330 is slightly larger than Skylab was. That makes it more than three times as spacious as the Destiny module, although it’s just 30 percent heavier. The BA 330 will be completely self-contained, flying with all of the infrastructure required to keep humans alive and happy. It should be at least as safe, if not safer, than the ISS modules, with respect to both radiation and impact protection.

Earlier this year, Bigelow announced how much it’ll cost you to spend some time inside the BA 330 when it launches. Expect to pay $25 million for a sixty day lease of one-third of the station—if you can get yourself there and back. Should you need a ride, round-trip taxi service between SpaceX and your local launching pad will run you an additional $26.5 million. 

As with most projects of this magnitude, Bigelow has had some ambitious goals that have been tempered by reality over the years. But actually launching and testing hardware in space is a major hurdle that they’re about to clear (again). SpaceX and Boeing (and perhaps even Sierra Nevada) are in the process of proving that private industry is the future of getting humans into space, and Bigelow is out to show that private industry can also be the future of humans staying there.

[ Bigelow Aerospace ] via [ Space.com ]

Make It So: Open Source, Arduino-Based Tricorder Nears Completion

A tricorder is a piece of fictional equipment* in Star Trek that’s only slightly less realistic than Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver. A handheld device with a screen, lots of blinking LEDs, and some unspecified set of sensors, a tricorder allows you and your away team to detect alien lifesigns and subspace anomalies and whatever else is necessary to move the plot forward.

Considering how often tricorders are relied on in Star Trek, we can infer that they’re immensely useful. Peter Jansen has been developing tricorders for the last seven years, and his latest model is tiny, open source, and absolutely packed with useful (and entirely functional) sensors.

 

Here’s the full accounting of the suite of sensors in the current prototype:

Atmospheric Sensors

  • Ambient Temperature and Humidity: Measurement Specialties HTU21D
  • Ambient Pressure: Bosch Sensortec BMP180
  • Multi-gas sensor: SGX-Sensortech MICS-6814

Electromagnetic Sensors

  • 3-Axis Magnetometer: Honeywell HMC5883L
  • Lightning sensor: AMS AS3935
  • X-ray and Gamma Ray Detector: Radiation Watch Type 5
  • Low-resolution thermal camera: Melexis MLX90620 16×4
  • Home-built linear polarimeter: 2x TAOS TSL2561
  • Colorimeter: TAOS TCS3472
  • UV: Silicon Labs Si1145
  • Spectrometer: Hamamatsu C12666MA micro-spectrometer, with NeoPixel light source

Spatial Sensors

  • Inertial Measurement Unit: Invensense MPU-9150 9-axis (3-axis accelerometer, gyro, and magnetometer)

Other Sensors

  • Microphone: Analog Devices ADMP401

The difference between the Arducorder Mini and the tricorders competing for Qualcomm’s Tricorder XPrize is sort of like the difference (in Star Trek) between a regular tricorder, and a medical tricorder. The Arducorder Mini is a pure sensing tool, and isn’t intended to perform any diagnostics. The winner of the Tricorder XPrize, on the other hand, will need to be able to diagnose diseases by itself.

Jansen is competing for a different sort of reward: a trip to space for himself, if he wins the Hackaday Prize. But really, we all win, because of the open-source nature of the Arducorder. All of the build details are available here.

[ Tricorder Project ]

*Gene Roddenberry, the creater of Star Trek, added a clause to his contract with Paramount specifying that if anyone actually made a functioning tricorder, they’d have automatically earned the right call it a tricorder if they wanted to.

Pediatricians Bring Tracking of Illnesses at Childcare Centers Online

Packed with small kids who may have yet to make habits of covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough or of washing their little germy hands, a daycare can serve as ground zero for infectious diseases like influenza. Now, a team of pediatricians is trying to improve reporting of illnesses in childcare centers by replacing pen and paper reporting with a more nimble online illness tracker. By more quickly collecting and disseminating information about what’s making kids sick, the researchers hope to help childcare providers identify diseases and stem their spread.

 

Researchers from Kalamazoo College and the Medical College of Wisconsin, led by Dr. Andrew Hashikawa, a physician at the University of Michigan, enrolled four childcare centers in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in a four-month pilot study examining the effectiveness of an online system for reporting and tracking illnesses in about 600 preschool-aged children. When kids were kept home sick or needed to be picked up by an adult due to an illness, staffers reported the illness using an onilne form at sickchildcare.org, a site set up by Hashikawa and his colleagues with the aim of more efficiently capturing data about symptoms reported in young children and making that data easier to analyze. 

While similar reporting systems have been tested in schools to little effect, Hashikawa thinks that a group of preschool age kids makes a great petri dish for testing this kind of tracking. That’s thanks in no small part to how closely the kids themselves can resemble petri dishes.

“They’re in close contact, they have immature immune systems, they’re slobbering over each other,” Hashikawa told IEEE Spectrum prior to his presentation at the American Academy of Pediatricans conference in San Diego.

Young children in childcare, Hashikawa says, could also make more reliable indicators of disease spread than older kids because their sick days are more likely than others to be days when they’re actually sick, something that’s not always the case with middle school and high school students. And since childcare centers don’t take summer breaks, the reporting can also run year round without gaps in information gathering. 

According to Hashikawa, Washtenaw County made a good testing ground for the pilot programs because childcare workers are already required to turn over data on sick kids to public health agencies. The process for doing so, though, is pretty antiquated. 

“Flu-like [symptoms] and stomach flu cases are reported on a weekly basis on paper,” Hashikawa says. “Those are faxed to the public health department of the community, and then someone puts it into a spreadsheet.” The result is a well-intentioned reporting system that lags well behind the actual spread of illness in a community.

During the pilot program, sickchildcare.org gathered 188 instances of illnesses in children. Included in that data was a small outbreak of stomach flu that the online system identified in near real-time. Public health officials also noticed the outbreak in the faxed records—nearly three weeks after the fact.

U.S. Military Puts Up $110 Million to Fund Photonic Integrated Circuits Competition

Today’s Internet relies upon a backbone of photonics technology that uses light to transmit, store, process, and display all the digital information that ends up in front of your eyes. A new generation of photonic integrated circuits—which would be used in everything from smartphones to medical devices—could boost the speed of data transmission among and within these devices. And it’s predicted that these photonic circuits will shrink considerably, allowing the gadgets that contain them to get progressively smaller. That’s why the U.S. government has launched a new initiative that will award more than $100 million to spur the ramping up of domestic manufacturing of photonic integrated circuits.

The U.S. Department of Defense is heading the effort, which will disburse up to $110 million in federal funding via an Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Institute. The five-year commitment also requires matching funding of $110 million from private sources to cover its operational costs. Last Friday, President Obama announced that the new initiative would be the latest Institute for Manufacturing Innovation launched by his administration. The aim is to enable the creation of an end-to-end photonics “ecosystem” in the United States that covers every part of the manufacturing process.

Today’s integrated photonics are packaged from individual components made separately. But the photonic integrated circuits researchers envision (built entirely in a single package) hold the promise of simplifying design and manufacturing in a way yields smaller dimensions and lower power consumption.

The Department of Defense expects photonic integrated circuits to eventually help lower the costs of high-speed Internet access and boost the efficiency of telecommunications networks within cities and across long distances, says DoD News. For instance, future data centers would use less power per bit for speeds of 100 gigabits per second than today’s technologies use in transmitting 10 gigabits per secondleading to a potential energy savings of millions of dollars per year.

The average consumer would enjoy more benefits than just improved Internet speeds and access. Reductions in size, weight, and power for photonics technology in electronics could also enable new generations of embedded computing in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Such technology could also lead to a “several-fold increase” in the dynamic range of biomedical detectors, DOD News reported. That would enable such detectors to peer through human tissue and boost detection of certain diseases.

Finally, light-manipulating circuits may boost the ability to see through dust clouds kicked up by the rotors of helicopters during landingsa problem that has led to crashes and deaths in the past.

Officials expect to announce the recipient(s) of the $110 million award sometime early next summer. The Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Institute would then have five years to reach a self-sustaining point where it no longer requires federal funding.

Past examples of winners for U.S. Institute for Manufacturing Innovation competitions include broad consortia of universities and companies focused on areas such as 3-D printing and modern metals manufacturing.

A Faster Way To Make Quantum Computing Chips

Optics researchers from INRS-EMT in Quebec, Canada have developed a new method of generating photon pairs — tiny entangled particles of light — that are small enough to fit onto a computer chip.

The new power-efficient approach could enable next-generation quantum computers and optical communication technologies. The results will be presented at the Optical Society's (OSA) 98th Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics, being held Oct. 19-23 in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Generating photon pairs on demand is only a recent breakthrough, but it's important for creating certain computer networks that can process quantum information. Methods of photon polarization — the direction in which an electric field associated with a photon oscillates — thus far only generate photons with same polarization as the laser beam used to pump the device. These states must be mixed afterward to create cross-polarization. The new method shortens the process by directly generating cross-polarized photon pairs, from devices less than one square millimeter in area.

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Nobel Shocker: RCA Had the First Blue LED in 1972

The work of this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics cannot be understated. As the Nobel Foundation said when they awarded the prize to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura—the three inventors for the blue light-emitting diode—“Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”

But there’s more to this story. “The background is kind of being swept under the rug,” says Benjamin Gross, a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. “All three of these gentlemen deserve their prize, but there is a prehistory to the LED.” In fact, almost two decades before the Japanese scientists had finished the work that would lead to their Nobel Prize, a young twenty-something materials researcher at RCA named Herbert Paul Maruska had already turned on an LED that glowed blue.

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Chemistry Nobel Honors Microscopes Made to See the Nanoworld

Three scientists were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a new generation of optical microscopes that can peer at the processes inside living cells on the nanoscale. Their invention represents a huge leap over the optical microscopes that gave scientists their first glimpse of tiny living organisms starting in the 17th century.

The biological imaging techniques pioneered by Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner succeeded in overcoming a physical limit defined by half the wavelength of light and first described by microscopist Ernst Abbe in 1873. That limit meant optical microscopy could not reveal biological objects smaller than 0.2 micrometers, such as viruses or proteins. Modern electron microscopes have the resolution to see at such small levels of detail, but their preparation is lethal for cells under observation and prevents scientists from peering at the inner workings of living cells.

Chemistry Nobel Laureates 2014

One of the first breakthroughs came from Stefan Hell, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, in Göttingen, Germany. In 1993, Hell had his eureka moment while working on fluorescence microscopy, a technique that involved using pulses of light to excite certain molecules in a way that allows scientists to see their glowing locations within cells. The problem was that the microscope resolutions were still too low to see objects such as individual DNA strands.

Hell bypassed the limitation by proposing a method called stimulated emission depletion. After using a laser beam’s pulse of light to excite the fluorescent molecule, a second laser quenches the fluorescent glow except for a nanometer-size volume in the middle. That allows scientists to build a very detailed image of the molecule by sweeping the “nano-flashlight” along the object and continuously measuring light levels, according to a Nobel Foundation explainer. Those small volume images were put together to form a detailed whole image.

By comparison, Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working independently, helped develop a second method called single-molecule microscopy. That method takes several images of the same area while turning the fluorescence of a few individual molecules on and off. Once all the images are superimposed on one another, they form a single “super-image” with details at the nanoscale level.

In 1989, Moerner, a chemist at Stanford University and an IEEE Senior Member, became the first scientist to ever measure the light absorption of a single molecule (he worked at the IBM research center in San Jose, Calif., at the time). He followed up that work eight years later by showing it was possible to control the fluorescence of single molecules, work he described in the journal Nature in 1997.

Such control over single-molecule fluorescence represented the practical solution to a theoretical concept envisioned by Eric Betzig two years earlier. Betzig, a physical chemist at the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Va., developed his ideas in the 1990s while working on a new type of optical microscopy called near-field microscopy.

After leaving his research career for a while (to work at his father’s machine tool company), Betzig returned and eventually demonstrated how the single-molecule fluorescence could help create the highly detailed “super-image” of a specialized cell organelle called a lysosome. His groundbreaking work appeared in the journal Science in 2006.

These advances in optical microscopy have allowed researchers to begin studying the inner workings of living cells in unprecedented detail. Hell has used the technique to peer inside living nerve cells to understand how brain synapses work. Moerner has examined proteins related to Huntington’s disease, an inherited genetic disorder that leads to the malfunction and breakdown of brain cells. Betzig has studied cell division within embryos.

All three researchers have published much of their work in IEEE journals such as IEEE Photonics Journal and through the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society.

No Nobel for the Father of the LED

Given the Nobel Foundation’s statutes (three people at maximum, no posthumous awards), it’s almost inevitable that every year, there will be people who deserve a share of a Nobel Prize that are left out. 

Nick Holonyak Jr., the person widely credited with the development of the first visible-light LED, the device that now lights up countless clocks, traffic signals, and other electronic displays, might be one of them. On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics to three inventors of the blue light-emitting diode. Holonyak isn’t exactly complaining that he isn’t among them; his objection is that his 1962 invention has never been singled out for recognition by the academy. 

“Hell, I'm an old guy now,” Holonyak said in an interview with the Associated Press. “But I find this one insulting.”

In announcing the prize yesterday, the Nobel Foundation highlighted the great potential social impact of blue LEDs, which made LED bulbs possible and could help dramatically reduce the amount of energy the world expends on lighting.

But some of Holonyak’s colleagues are puzzled at the selection. “I can’t help but wonder why the committee chose to single out the blue light LED in their selection of the winners,” Andreas Cangellaris, dean of engineering at the University of Illinois, Holonyak’s home for many decades, told a reporter at The News-Gazette, a local newspaper. “Very puzzling and very disappointing.”

The story of the LED, of course, goes back further than and well beyond Holoynak. Before Holonyak’s red LED, there was the infrared LED (along with even earlier discoveries), and there is a host of other researchers who could share credit in the device’s development.

Indeed, The News-Gazette went on to say that Holonyak “was disappointed and irritated at the omission—not just for himself, but for many of his former students and colleagues who did groundbreaking work themselves.” 

Holonyak, who won the IEEE Medal of Honor in 2003, originally set out to develop a red diode laser. In the process, he also succeeded in creating a red LED. Holonyak and several of his colleagues later went on to use compound semiconductors similar to those used to create the first LED to develop a transistor laser, a device capable of emitting both electrical and optical signals. 

You can read more about his seminal work in an IEEE Spectrum profile here. Holonyak also made a couple of nice appearances online on the 50th anniversary of his invention: an audio slide show for the BBC and an excellent video interview for General Electric, where the device was made. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article2561243.html#storylink=cpy
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