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Two Galileo Satellites Are Parked In the Wrong Spots

On 22 August, a Soyuz rocket launched the fifth and sixth satellites of Europe's Galileo project, a satellite navigation system that will eventually comprise 30 satellites designed to make Europe independent of U.S., Russian, and other GPS systems. Unlike most Soyuz launches, the rocket did not lift off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, but from Kourou, Europe's space center in French Guiana.  Apparently the launch went off without incident, but it soon became apparent that the two satellites were injected into the wrong orbits. The upper stage of the Soyuz rocket, the Fregat-MT, injected them into elliptical orbits instead of circular ones, making the satellites unusable for GPS navigation.

Initially, blame fell on the Fregat-MT’s outdated navigation system, or on the possibility that its engine malfunctioned. Kourou ground crews dealing with an unfamiliar launcher was also viewed as a possible cause. But it has since been confirmed that the crew that readied the Soyuz for launch was a Russian team. The Izvestia reported on Thursday that according to Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, it was likely that a software error caused the two Galileo satellites to be placed in the wrong spots. If true, it would follow on the heels of a software error earlier this year that left the Russian navigation system GLONASS out of commission for 11 hours. The Izvestia article added that software development is a weak spot for Roscosmos because of chronic underfunding.

The October 2011 launch of the first four Galileo satellites—experimental satellites to validate whether the Galileo technology actually worked in space—by Soyuz launchers was a complete success. But it was also the first time that Soyuz launchers were used outside Russia or Kazakhstan. A 28 August article in Le Monde, takes its headline, "We Would Have Done Better by Launching With Ariane," from a quote attributed to the French Coordinator of Galileo, Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of CNES, the French Space Agency.

European Space Agency spokesperson Dominique Detain disagrees: "For the early launches we needed only a middle-class launcher. The first satellites were light, and it made no sense to launch them with an Ariane 5," he told IEEE Spectrum. And the reliability of the Soyuz launchers is high. "They have the best record ever, with 1800 successful launches; and Fregat has been successful for over four years," says Detain.

There is a lot of speculation about how the project will go forward. The two satellites were intended to be part of the actual operational system of 22 satellites, but being in the wrong orbits makes this now impossible. The hydrogen fuel aboard the satellites allows for small orbit corrections, but is insufficient for the drastic orbit change that would be required to make them fully operational.

Le Gall would prefer to switch to Ariane right away, and he believes that this is what will happen, as reports Le Monde.  However this will require an extensive reorganization of the project. According to current plans, six more Soyuz will launch 12 satellites, and the remaining 12 satellites will be placed in orbit by three Ariane 5 launchers.

ESA set up an international inquiry board to ascertain what went wrong during the launch; the group will issue a report on 8 September, says Detain. "They are discussing how to rescue as much as possible of this mission, in a way to make it a "technology" mission," says Detain.  For example, one of the possibilities would be to reprogram the two satellites so that they can operate from a wrong orbit, but this will also require reprogramming the ground segment.  "It will take weeks before we make a decision," concludes Detain. 

The $7.2 billion Galileo project has now seen six years of delays and it is clear that whatever will be done to fix the latest problem will add substantially to this delay.

Medicine's Next Big Mission: Understanding Wellness

human os iconThe bioengineering pioneer Leroy Hood has seen vast changes in medicine over his decades in the biz, in part thanks to his own work on automated DNA sequencing. But he's not much for looking back — he's too busy envisioning a future model of medicine. "Contemporary medicine is all about disease, and not about wellness," he says. Hood says the medical profession must learn to measure and maximize wellness, and he's happy to show the way. 

At the annual meeting of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, Hood presented his vision for "P4 medicine," which is predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. In a keynote speech, he described the 100K Wellness Project he launched this year as president of the Institute for Systems Biology. The ambitious study aims to enroll 100,000 participants and track their biometrics over 20 years (funding permitting). Hood wants to quantify wellness, and also to provide "actionable information" to the participants.

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10 Finalist Teams Announced for Tricorder XPrize

human os iconIn the Star Trek reality of the 23rd century, a doctor like Leonard "Bones" McCoy can wave his trusty tricorder over a patient's body and get an immediate diagnosis from the device. Now, ten teams of engineers are vying to make such a device available to the consumers of our humble 21st century.

The Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize announced its ten finalist teams yesterday at the annual conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS). Each team must now get to work on building a consumer-friendly device that can diagnose 15 diseases and measure 5 vital signs. At the EMBS meeting there's been a lot of talk about distributing healthcare technologies, shifting power from doctors to patients, and letting people manage their own care with sensors and data analytics. The Tricorder XPrize expresses this theme neatly with its tagline: "Healthcare in the palm of your hand." 

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Quantum Entanglement Camera Images Object With Photons That Never Come Near It

Conventional imaging devices like cameras and x-ray machines create pictures by detecting photons that interact with the things being imaged. Now researchers have developed a new quantum imaging technique that shines a beam of photons on an object but then, instead of using these photons to form a picture, uses instead a completely different beam that has never come near the object. If this sounds a bit spooky, it is: what connects the two sets of photons and allows this technique to work is the bizarre quantum physics phenomenon known as entanglement.

The advantage of a quantum entanglement camera like this is that you can illuminate an object using photons with a certain wavelength and then use entangled photons with a different wavelength to form the image. The scientists have already begun investigating possible biotechnological applications such as capturing images of sensitive samples that would be destroyed by conventional imaging techniques.

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Lasers Switch Bad Memories to Good in Mice

human os iconResearchers have discovered a way to use a laser to manipulate memories in mice. In experiments reported today in Nature, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that they could change the emotions associated with a memory from negative to positive and vice versa. The researchers relied on optogenetics, a sophisticated genetic tool that uses a laser to control neurons that have been sensitized to light. 

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Spherical Display Lets You See 3-D Animations from Any Angle

Researchers from the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, and University of British Columbia, in Canada, have developed a spherical display that lets users see and interact with three-dimensional objects. In one demonstration, viewers have the sensation of staring into a snow globe that they can control with simple gestures from any angle.

The device, called Spheree, represents the first display capable of projecting uniform, high resolution pixels on a spherical surface—a technology that also allows users to interact with the 3-D display objects by using gestures.

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New Eye Sensor Could Be Boon for Glaucoma Patients

human os iconA new lens-mounted microfluidic sensor can measure fluid pressure inside the eye and provide a readout with a smartphone camera. The simple, low-cost device could make it much easier for doctors to diagnose blindness-causing glaucoma. It could also give glaucoma patients a 24-hour home-based monitoring test similar to the glucose monitors available for diabetics.

Glaucoma affects 65 million people and is the second-most common cause of blindness in the world. One of its main risk factors is an increase in the eyeball fluid pressure, which can build up enough to damage the optic nerve. Eye doctors today measure this intraocular pressure using a tonometer, but the test is not always accurate.

The new sensor consists of an airtight 50 µm-channel that runs around most of the periphery of a lens that is used for cataract surgery. On one side it ends in a tiny gas reservoir, while on the other it connects to the aqueous eyeball fluid. A doctor would surgically implant the lens into a patient’s eye.

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Drone Fleets Could Monitor Bridge Safety

Checking for cracks, rust, and other wear and tear on bridges and other infrastructure can be a pretty old-fashioned endeavor. Teams of civil engineers maneuver beneath bridges manually inspecting joints and beams for damage that could cause them to collapse under pressure. Now, a pair of professors at Tufts University are building a system that combines vibration sensors and quadcopter drones to keep an eye on bridges in real time and alert engineers when something is amiss.

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GPS Network Weighs Drought in the U.S. West

A record-breaking drought has left California and most of the western United States parched, threatening crops and even some of the region's hydroelectric power . Now a network of global positioning system stations scattered across the west is providing a new way to show just how dry it's become.

"The beauty of this is that, at a regional scale, you're able to put a number on how much water we've lost," says Daniel Cayan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Compared to the nine years before the drought, the new data show that the western United States has lost 240 gigatons of water, which is enough to flood the entire region in 10 centimeters of water.

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Camouflage Technology Copies Cuttlefish Trick

Octupodes and cuttlefish have a remarkable ability to change their appearance, producing colors and patterns in their skin that allow them to disappear into the background. Now a team of scientists says they’ve engineered an approach to camouflage that’s inspired by the way these sea creatures work.

“I think we’ve put together the key elements that are needed,” says John Rogers, head of materials research the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The adaptive optoelectronic camouflage system, which Rogers developed with scientists from Illinois, Texas, and China, consists of several components piled on top of one another in very thin layers and divided up into pixels. The top layer contains a kind of dye that is normally black but becomes transparent with a small increase in temperature. Beneath that is a layer of white reflective silver. Next down is an array of silicon diodes that heat up when current runs through them. Separated from that layer by a sheet of silicone lies an array of ultrathin silicon photodetectors on a transparent polymer substrate.

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When light strikes a photodetector, it sends a signal that drives current into the diode above it; the diode heats up, causing the black dye to turn transparent. This lets the white layer of silver show through. As the pattern of ambient light changes, the array of pixels match the pattern of light striking the structure.

The system, which works in a manner similar to the skin of cephalopods like the cuttlefish, grew out of the research of Roger Hanlon, a biologist at Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass. Hanlon, Rogers, and their colleagues describe the work in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

The work was sponsored by the U.S. Navy, which has an obvious interest in camouflage, but Rogers says there could be a range of industrial and consumer applications, including mood lighting and sensors that change color based on exposure to ultraviolet light. Though the team worked with black and white to demonstrate the concept, Rogers says the technique could also be used to display colors—and might incorporate actuators or even a camera. “We view it as sort of a general set of engineering approaches,” Rogers says.

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