Intel Assessment: Obama Regime’s Incompetent Response To Cyber Attacks Encouraging More Of Them

Intel Assessment: Weak Response To Breaches Will Lead To More Cyber Attacks – Washington Free beacon

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The United States will continue to suffer increasingly damaging cyber attacks against both government and private sector networks as long as there is no significant response, according to a recent U.S. intelligence community assessment.

Disclosure of the intelligence assessment, an analytical consensus of 16 U.S. spy agencies, comes as the Obama administration is debating how to respond to a major cyber attack against the Office of Personnel Management. Sensitive records on 22.1 million federal workers, including millions cleared for access to secrets, were stolen by hackers linked to China’s government.

U.S. officials familiar with the classified cyber assessment discussed its central conclusion but did not provide details.

Spokesmen for the White House and office of the director of national intelligence declined to comment.

Recent comments by President Obama and senior military and security officials, however, reflect the intelligence assessment.

Obama said during a summit in Germany June 8 that he would not disclose who conducted the OPM hack. But he said such attacks would continue.

“We have known for a long time that there are significant vulnerabilities and that these vulnerabilities are gonna accelerate as time goes by, both in systems within government and within the private sector,” the president said.

Last week, Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, said the increase in state-sponsored cyber attacks is partly the result of a perception that “there’s not a significant price to pay” for such attacks.

Privately, administration officials said the assessment appears to be an indirect criticism of the administration’s approach to cyber attacks that has emphasized diplomatic and law enforcement measures instead of counter-cyber attacks.

“The administration is expecting more attacks because they’re unwilling to do anything,” said one official. “They’re preparing for more attacks because we’re failing to deter and defend against them.”

Intelligence and cyber security experts agreed with the assessment that weak U.S. responses are encouraging more cyber attacks.

“Until we redefine warfare in the age of information, we will continue to be viciously and dangerously attacked with no consequences for those attackers,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency director.

“The extraordinary intellectual theft ongoing across the U.S.’s cyber critical infrastructure has the potential to shut down massive components of our nation’s capabilities, such as health care, energy and communications systems. This alone should scare the heck out of everyone.”

James Lewis, a cyber security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed. Lewis said the defensive approach that emphasizes closing vulnerabilities to cyber attacks is not working.

“Unless we punch back, we will continue to get hit,” Lewis said.

Lewis says that conducting retaliatory cyber strikes without starting a war is difficult but not impossible.

“There are a lot of ways to do this – leaking some party leader’s bank account could be a good start,” Lewis said. “Many people think a cyber response is the best way to signal where the lines are the other side should not cross.”

“We’re all coming to the same place – that a defensive orientation doesn’t work,” he added.

Rogers, the Cyber Command chief who has stated in the past that he favors more aggressive U.S. responses, acknowledged that the U.S. response to the OPM hack has been muted compared to the government’s highly-public response to North Korea’s damaging cyber attack in November against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Sony hack was a failed bid by the North Koreans to derail the release of a comedy film critical of dictator Kim Jong Un.

Major incidents in recent months include the Sony attack; cyber attacks against the health care provider Anthem that compromised the records of some 80 million people; attacks against State Department and White House networks from suspected Russian government-linked hackers; the OPM hacking; and an Iranian-backed cyber attack against the Sands casino in Las Vegas.

Asked about the increase in state-sponsored attacks, Rogers said during a security conference in Colorado that one factor has been a lack of response.

Rogers earlier in congressional testimony has suggested a more muscular cyber policy that would include demonstrations and threats of retaliatory cyber attacks against hackers in a bid to create deterrence similar to the Cold War-era strategic nuclear deterrence.

In addition to more capable hackers, “you’ve got a perception, I believe, that to date there is little price to pay for engaging in some pretty aggressive behaviors,” Rogers aid.

“Whether it’s stealing intellectual property; whether it’s getting in and destroying things as we saw in the Sony attack; whether it’s going after large masses of data – OPM being the most recent but go back to the summer of ’14 and we saw a successful penetration of a large health insurance company and the extraction of most of the medical records and personal data information that they had.”

Nation states are only one part of the threat. Criminal groups also are conducting large-scale cyber attacks, Rogers said.

In November, Rogers said he argued for going public in naming North Korea’s communist regime for the Sony hack and having the president make a public statement that Pyongyang would pay a price.

Rogers said some officials in the administration favored a less public response to the Sony case.

“So one of my concerns was this time it was a movie,” Rogers said. “What if next time a nation state, a group, an individual, an actor decides I don’t like the U.S. policy, I don’t like a U.S. product, I don’t agree with this particular position taken by a company, or taken by an individual. If we start down this road, this is not a good one for us as a nation.”

Rogers said he argued strongly that “we cannot pretend that this did not happen,” and that the attack had to be linked to North Korea directly.

“My concern was if we do nothing, then one of the potential unintended consequences of this could be does this send a signal to other nation states, other groups, other actors that this kind of behavior [is okay] and that you can do this without generating any kind of response,” Rogers said.

On not naming the Chinese for the OPM hack, Rogers appears to have lost out during the administration’s debate on naming the Chinese.

“OPM is an ongoing issue,” Rogers said, adding that he would not discuss the specifics of internal discussions.

“But I would acknowledge, hey, to date the response to OPM, there’s a thought process and I’m the first to acknowledge to date we have to take a different approach.”

Asked if he agreed with doing nothing about the OPM response, Rogers suggested some action might be forthcoming.

“Just because you’re not reading something in the media does not mean that there’s not things ongoing,” he said. “So I would argue, let’s step back and see how this plays out a little bit.”

He defended the more public U.S. response to the Sony hack that included limited sanctions against North Korean agencies and officials, by noting that to date no similar cyber attacks by Pyongyang have been conducted.

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Customized 3D Printed Food Only A Decade Or Two Away, Experts Claim

Experts Predict 3D Printed Customised Food Items To Rule The Industry In Next 20 Years – 3ders

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The use of 3D printers has the potential to revolutionize the way food is manufactured within the next 10 to 20 years, experts from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) are claiming.

According to a July 12th symposium at IFT15: Where Science Feeds Innovation hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago, advances in 3D printed technology will radically change the way food is produced, impacting everything from how military personnel get food on the battlefield to how long it takes to get a meal from the computer to your table.

“The price of 3D printers has been steadily declining, from more than USD 500,000 in the 1980s to less than USD 1,000 today for a personal-sized device, making them increasingly available to consumers and manufacturers,” researchers said.

“No matter what field you are in, this technology will worm its way in,” said Hod Lipson, a professor of engineering at Columbia University and co-author of the book Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing.

“The technology is getting faster, cheaper and better by the minute. Food printing could be the killer app for 3D printing,” said Lipson.

For example, Lipson said, users could choose from a large online database of recipes, put a cartridge with the ingredients into their 3D printer at home, and it would create the dish just for that person.

The user could customise it to include extra nutrients or replace one ingredient with another.

Anshul Dubey, research and development senior manager at PepsiCo, said 3D printing already is having an impact within the company, even though it is not yet being used to make food.

For example, consumer focus groups were shown 3D-printed plastic prototypes of different shaped and colored potato chips. He said using a prototype such as that, instead of just a picture, elicits a more accurate response from the focus group participants.

The US military is just beginning to research similar uses for 3D food printing, but it would be used on the battlefield instead of in the kitchen, said Mary Scerra, food technologist at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Centre (NSRDEC) in Massachusetts.

She said that by 2025 or 2030, the military envisions using 3D printing to customise meals for soldiers that taste good, are nutrient-dense, and could be tailored to a soldier’s particular needs.

“Imagine warfighters in remote areas – one has muscle fatigue, one has been awake for a long period without rest, one lacks calories, one needs electrolytes, and one just wants a pizza,” Scerra said.

“Wouldn’t it be interesting if they could just print and eat?” Scerra said.

She noted that there are still several hurdles to overcome, such as the cost of bringing the technology to remote areas, the logistics of making it work in those locations and, perhaps most importantly, making sure the food tastes good.

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After 9 1/2-Year, 3 Billion-Mile Journey, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Reaches Pluto

NASA’s Three-Billion-Mile Journey To Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter – Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto.

After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface – roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

“I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA’s multifaceted journey of discovery continues.”

“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”

Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. tonight.

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The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world.

“Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer’s son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”

New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, says the mission now is writing the textbook on Pluto.

“The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system,” Stern said. “This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”

New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space – the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.

Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data – 10 years’ worth – back to Earth.

New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple rovers exploring the surface of Mars, the Cassini spacecraft that has revolutionized our understanding of Saturn and the Hubble Space Telescope, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. All of this scientific research and discovery is helping to inform the agency’s plan to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

“After nearly 15 years of planning, building, and flying the New Horizons spacecraft across the solar system, we’ve reached our goal,” said project manager Glen Fountain at APL “The bounty of what we’ve collected is about to unfold.”

APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit www.nasa.gov/newhorizons.

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China’s Top Internet Provider Builds Headquarters That Look Like Starship Enterprise

Chinese Millionaire Builds Company Headquarters To Look Like The Starship Enterprise – Oddity Central

The headquarters of NetDragon Websoft – China’s most popular internet provider – looks quite conventional from the ground, but aerial footage shows that the building is actually a replica of the iconic Starship Enterprise!

NetDragon chairman Liu Dejian, a huge Star Trek fan and self-described ‘Uber Trekkie’, reportedly spent $150 million over a span of six years to construct the USS Enterprise-shaped office. When it was finally ready in 2014, he chose to remain rather low-key about it. But when a fan spotted a satellite image of the badass building – about the size of three football pitches – it eventually stirred up a social media frenzy. Drone footage was soon released online, making Star Trek fans all over the world drool with delight.

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Mashable reports that the premises looks like a mashup of the Enterprise-E, Enterprise-D, and the starship design from the J.J. Abrams reboot movies, but die hard Star Trek fans disagree – they say it looks more like the Voyager. As smashing as its exteriors are, we’re not sure if the NetDragon office mimics the Enterprise’s cool interiors as well. Some reports suggest that it has a few awesome features inside, like automatic sliding gates, 30-foot slides connecting the third floor to the first, and a giant T-Rex replica.

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Liu, whose $600 million fortune is larger than the Queen of England’s, is fondly called ‘big child’ by the Chinese media. The man is famous for indulging his employees and filling his offices with fun gadgets like pinball machines, batman toys, and segways. His obsession with Star Trek began when he was a student at the University of Kansas. So he reportedly obtained a special license from CBS, allowing him to build a replica of the spaceship.

Star Trek fans, if you aren’t able to make it to China, you can get a clear view of the office on Google Maps!

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Boeing Patents Plasma Force Field Technology

Boeing Patents ‘Star Wars’-Style Force Fields – C/Net

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A new patent granted to aircraft, defense and security company Boeing is taking its cues from science fiction. Just like the glowing energy shields seen protecting troops, machines and even spacecraft in Star Wars and Star Trek, the design – named “Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc” – uses energy to deflect potential damage.

As it is described, the system is not designed to prevent direct impact from shells or shrapnel; rather, it is designed to protect a target – such as a vehicle or building – from the damaging effects of shockwaves from a nearby impact.

The patent is for a shockwave attenuation system, which consists of a sensor capable of detecting a shockwave-generating explosion and an arc generator that receives the signal from the sensor to ionise a small region, producing a plasma field between the target and the explosion using lasers, electricity and microwaves.

This small plasma field would differ from the surrounding environment in temperature, density and/or composition. This would provide a buffer between the target and the explosion that would hinder the shockwaves from reaching and damaging the target.

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“Such embodiments as described above may reduce the energy density of the shockwave by creating a second medium in the path of the advancing shockwave that reflects, refracts, absorbs and deflects at least a portion of the shockwave,” the patent reads.

Because this system heats and ionises the air, it is eminently unsuitable for enveloping a target and being held in place for any length of time. That kind of force field is technically feasible – physics students last year determined that an electromagnetic field could by used to hold a plasma shield in place – but it would likely also deflect light, leaving anyone inside blind as a bat.

You can read the full specs included in Boeing’s patent on the USPTO website.

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Successful Launch Of Orion Spacecraft First Step Towards Mars Mission (Pictures / Video)

‘Day One Of The Mars Era’: Orion Test Flight That Heralds New Age Of Space Exploration Launches After Yesterday’s Technical Glitches – Daily Mail

For the first time in nearly half a century, Nasa has launched a spaceship designed to carry astronauts far beyond Earth.

Riding atop a fountain of fire, the 24-story-tall Orion spacecraft soared above the Atlantic Ocean at 12.05 GMT (07.05 ET), punching through partly cloudy skies.

The unmanned craft is now being catapulted around the Earth twice in a 4.5 hour journey, which will end 16:30 GMT (11:30 ET) when it re-enters the atmosphere at 20,000 mph (32,000 km/h).

In the future, Nasa hopes to use the spacecraft to send astronauts to an asteroid in the 2020s and ultimately take them to Mars in the 2030s.

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‘The star of the day is Orion,’ said Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden, back for the second morning in a row. He called it ‘Day one of the Mars era.’

The maiden launch of the Orion spacecraft was postponed yesterday, after a technical fault, a stray boat and poor weather conditions hampered efforts to blast into space.

However, today’s launch was described by Nasa as ‘picture perfect’ – and so far all of the separation stages have gone to plan.

As the rocket roared into orbit, cameras streamed video showing dramatic pictures of the two side boosters falling away and the curved edge of the Earth.

Nasa is aiming for a peak altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 km) on Orion’s second lap around the planet, in order to give the capsule the necessary momentum for a scorchingly high-speed re-entry over the Pacific.

The spacecraft has travelled through Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts that protect the planet from charged particles. Scientists say this will show how well equipment tolerates radiation like that experienced on the long journey to Mars.

Just three minutes into the launch, the spacecraft was already travelling at five times the speed of sound.

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Engineers want to see how the heat shield – the largest of its kind ever built – holds up when Orion comes back through the atmosphere traveling 20,000 mph (32,200 kph)and enduring 4,000 degrees (2,200 Celsius).

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The atmosphere at Kennedy Space Center was reminiscent of the shuttle-flying days. After more than three years since the last shuttle flight, Nasa reveled in all the attention.

Launch commentator Mike Curie fed the enthusiasm in the gathered crowds, calling it ‘the dawn of Orion in a new era of American space exploration’

Mark Geyer, Orion programme manager at Nasa, said: ‘It was very good to see how well the rocket did its job and very exciting to see it go up into space.

‘Now it is actually doing the job it was designed to do. We still have a long way to go with this mission but everything is going great.

‘All the systems were on already, we have linked up to the satellites.

‘We had a few key tests to run in the first six minutes of the flight that were very important for us.

‘We jettisoned service module fairing which are there to reduce mass on the rest of Orion. This is a critical event these pyrotechnic systems and it went perfectly.

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Orion is being developed alongside the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is due to make its maiden launch in 2018 or 2019.

Together, SLS and Orion will allow Nasa to send humans into deep space to destinations such as Mars.

For this launch, Orion was strapped to a Delta IV-Heavy rocket – currently the largest launch system in the world. Three RS-68 engines produced about two million pounds of thrust at lift-off.

Five and a half minutes after launch, at an altitude of around 200 miles (320km), fuel ran out on both the Delta IV’s main and booster engines.

A couple of seconds later, the entire bottom end – or the ‘first stage’ of the rocket – detached, while the second stage engine will ignited to take Orion to a higher orbit.

The upper stage’s protective fairings were then jettisoned, along with the launch abort system, which is designed to protect the astronauts in the case of an emergency during launch by carrying the capsule to safety.

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After two hours, and one orbit of Earth, the second-stage rocket will be ignited again, moving Orion up to an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 km).

This is 15 times the distance to the ISS and will cause Orion to travel through the high-radiation Van Allen Belts.

At three hours after lift-off, Orion will hit its peak altitude and then slowly start its descent back to Earth

The flight program has been loaded into Orion’s computers well in advance, allowing the spacecraft to fly essentially on autopilot.

It should give engineers the opportunity to check the performance of Orion’s critical heat shield, which is likely to experience temperatures in excess of 2,000ºC (4,000°F).

Its re-entry speed into the atmosphere will be close to 20,000mph (32,000km/h) – similar to the speed of the Apollo capsules that returned from the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.

The dry run, if all goes well, will end with a Pacific splashdown off Mexico’s Baja coast and Navy ships will recover the capsule for future use.

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The spacecraft is rigged with 1,200 sensors to gauge everything from heat to vibration to radiation.

Geyer said: ‘We’re going to test the riskiest parts of the mission. Ascent, entry and things like fairing separations, Launch Abort System jettison, the parachute, plus the navigation and guidance – all those things are going to be tested.

‘Plus, we’ll fly into deep space and test the radiation effects on those systems.’

A crucial test came when Orion flies flew through the Van Allen belts, which are two layers of charged particles orbiting around Earth.

‘The ISS would not have to deal with radiation but we will, and so will every vehicle that goes to the moon,’ Geyer told the BBC.

‘That’s a big issue for the computers. These processors that are now so small – they’re great for speed but they’re more susceptible to radiation.

‘That’s something we have to design for and see how it all behaves.’

Another key test was on the heat shield on Orion’s base, designed to protect the craft from the searing temperatures of atmospheric re-entry.

It is 16.5ft (five metres) across and is the biggest, most advanced of its kind ever made.

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On this flight, Orion will reach close to 2,000ºC (4,000°F), not quite the 2,800ºC (5,000ºF) that was generated from the moon missions, but close enough for a good test of the technology.

That’s why Orion will aim for a 3,600 miles (5,800 km) peak altitude to pick up enough speed to come back fast and hot with this mission, officially called Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1).

Even though bears a strong resemblance to the Apollo command module that carried astronauts to the moon in the 1960s, it is bristling with the latest technology that makes it markedly different.

‘There’s an obvious comparison to draw between this first Orion launch and the first unmanned flight of the Apollo spacecraft on Apollo 4 [in 1967], but there are more differences than similarities,’ space historian Amy Teitel told MailOnline.

‘Apollo 4 flew a nearly lunar-ready command and service module, was the first flight of the Saturn V rocket, and demonstrated that both the S-IVB rocket stage and the spacecraft’s own engine could ignite in a vacuum.

‘The EFT-1 flight is only testing a spacecraft; it doesn’t even have its service module!

‘With Apollo 4, we knew we were going to the moon and it was clear this mission was putting us firmly back on that path after the major setback of the Apollo 1 fire. With Orion, we don’t have a clear goal and a firm timeline for this new spacecraft.’

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But at 11ft (3.6 metres) tall with a 16.5ft (5 metres) base, Orion is much larger than the old-time Apollo capsules, and is designed to carry four astronauts rather than three.

The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021; a mission to an asteroid is on the space agency’s radar sometime in the 2020s and Mars, the grand prize, in the 2030s.

‘We’re approaching this as pioneers,’ said William Hill of Nasa’s exploration systems development office.

‘We’re going out to stay eventually… It’s many, many decades away, but that’s our intent.’

However, Nasa has yet to develop the technology to carry out manned surface operations on Mars.

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By comparison, it took eight years from the time President John Kennedy announced his intentions of landing a man on the moon – before John Glenn even became the first American to orbit Earth – to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s lunar bootprints in 1969.

Given the present budget situation, ‘it is what it is,’ said Kennedy Space Center’s director Robert Cabana, a former astronaut. And the presidential election ahead could bring further delays and uncertainties.

Lockheed Martin is handling the £236 million ($370 million) test flight, and Nasa will be overseeing its operation.

Nasa’s last trip beyond low-Earth orbit in a vessel built for people was Apollo 17 in December 1972.

‘This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit,’ said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development.

‘In a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced. It’s thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning.’

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*VIDEOS* Lecture Series: Dr. Phillip Stott Destroys Secular Humanism / Materialism


WHAT IS SCIENCE?

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WHY EVOLUTION IS IMPOSSIBLE

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THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTING GEOCENTRICITY

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THE AGE OF THE EARTH

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THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTING A GLOBAL FLOOD

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THE GREAT QUESTION OF LIFE

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Scientists At Salk Institute Discover On/Off Switch For Aging Cells

Scientists Discover An On/Off Switch For Aging Cells – Salk News

Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that may hold the key to healthy aging. This switch points to a way to encourage healthy cells to keep dividing and generating, for example, new lung or liver tissue, even in old age.

In our bodies, newly divided cells constantly replenish lungs, skin, liver and other organs. However, most human cells cannot divide indefinitely – with each division, a cellular timekeeper at the ends of chromosomes shortens. When this timekeeper, called a telomere, becomes too short, cells can no longer divide, causing organs and tissues to degenerate, as often happens in old age. But there is a way around this countdown: some cells produce an enzyme called telomerase, which rebuilds telomeres and allows cells to divide indefinitely.

In a new study published September 19th in the journal Genes and Development, scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered that telomerase, even when present, can be turned off.

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……………………….Victoria Lundblad and Timothy Tucey

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“Previous studies had suggested that once assembled, telomerase is available whenever it is needed,” says senior author Vicki Lundblad, professor and holder of Salk’s Ralph S. and Becky O’Connor Chair. “We were surprised to discover instead that telomerase has what is in essence an ‘off’ switch, whereby it disassembles.”

Understanding how this “off” switch can be manipulated – thereby slowing down the telomere shortening process – could lead to treatments for diseases of aging (for example, regenerating vital organs later in life).

Lundblad and first author and graduate student Timothy Tucey conducted their studies in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the same yeast used to make wine and bread. Previously, Lundblad’s group used this simple single-celled organism to reveal numerous insights about telomerase and lay the groundwork for guiding similar findings in human cells.

“We wanted to be able to study each component of the telomerase complex but that turned out to not be a simple task,” Tucey said. Tucey developed a strategy that allowed him to observe each component during cell growth and division at very high resolution, leading to an unanticipated set of discoveries into how–and when–this telomere-dedicated machine puts itself together.

Every time a cell divides, its entire genome must be duplicated. While this duplication is going on, Tucey discovered that telomerase sits poised as a “preassembly” complex, missing a critical molecular subunit. But when the genome has been fully duplicated, the missing subunit joins its companions to form a complete, fully active telomerase complex, at which point telomerase can replenish the ends of eroding chromosomes and ensure robust cell division.

Surprisingly, however, Tucey and Lundblad showed that immediately after the full telomerase complex has been assembled, it rapidly disassembles to form an inactive “disassembly” complex – essentially flipping the switch into the “off” position. They speculate that this disassembly pathway may provide a means of keeping telomerase at exceptionally low levels inside the cell. Although eroding telomeres in normal cells can contribute to the aging process, cancer cells, in contrast, rely on elevated telomerase levels to ensure unregulated cell growth. The “off” switch discovered by Tucey and Lundblad may help keep telomerase activity below this threshold.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Fritz B. Burns Foundation and a Rose Hills Foundation Fellowship.

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Japanese Company To Sell Humanoid Robots In U.S. Within 12 Months (Video)

SoftBank To Sell Robot In U.S. Stores Within 12 Months – Bloomberg

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Billionaire Masayoshi Son will start selling his humanoid robots named “Pepper” at Sprint Corp. (S) stores in the U.S. by next summer, part of SoftBank Corp.‘s push to take the technology beyond factory floors.

SoftBank also has received between 300 and 400 inquiries about Pepper from companies in finance, food service and education, Fumihide Tomizawa, chief executive officer of SoftBank Robotics, said yesterday. The 1.2 meter (4 foot) robot dances, makes jokes and estimates human emotions based on expressions. Pepper will go in sale in Japan in February for 198,000 yen ($1,900) while the company hasn’t set a U.S. price.

SoftBank, which paid $22 billion for control of Sprint last year, is investing in robotics as Japan seeks to double the value of domestic production to 2.41 trillion yen by 2020. SoftBank has developed an operating system that controls robots in the same way Google Inc.’s Android software runs smartphones, with the platform open to customization for use in construction, health care and entertainment industries.

“We will sell Pepper in the United States within a year after gathering information in Japan,” Tomizawa said. “I won’t be surprised if Pepper sales will be half to business and half to consumers.”

SoftBank Robotics was established as a subsidiary in July to direct the company’s business and sell Pepper, which is equipped with a laser sensor and 12 hours of battery life.

Shares (9984) of SoftBank rose 1.3 percent to 7,541 yen at the close of trade in Tokyo. The stock has declined 18 percent this year while the benchmark Topix index is little changed.

The robot was initially targeted at families and the elderly before getting attention for business use since its June unveiling.

Tomizawa declined to specify the company’s sales targets for robotics. SoftBank expects to generate revenue through applications and original content as customers personalize their robots.

“The basic premise is to produce profit,” Tomizawa said. “Son is aggressively involved in the project and we report to him one or two times a month.”

Son said in 2010 his vision was to create a society that coexists with intelligent robots. The SoftBank chairman has said Pepper is a result of his time spent watching the TV show “Astro Boy,” an animated 1960s series based on a character who couldn’t experience emotions.

In July, Son said he expects to improve labor productivity by replacing 90 million jobs with 30 million robots.

“We could enter the robot business for industrial use in the mid or long term,” Tomizawa said.

Pepper was initially developed by SoftBank subsidiary Aldebaran Robotics SA. The robot operating system, which isn’t currently used by Pepper, was developed by its Asratec Corp. division. The businesses continue to operate as separate units of SoftBank.

SoftBank’s development of robots comes as Google acquired robotics companies, including Schaft Inc., a Tokyo-based maker of two-legged humanoid robots. Other robot makers include Honda Motor Co. (7267), which has the soccer-playing Asimo, and Panasonic Corp. (6752), which created Hospi-R machines to deliver medicines to patients in hospitals.

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Scientists In The Netherlands Report Finding Reliable Way To Teleport Data

Scientists Report Finding Reliable Way To Teleport Data – New York Times

Scientists in the Netherlands have moved a step closer to overriding one of Albert Einstein’s most famous objections to the implications of quantum mechanics, which he described as “spooky action at a distance.”

In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, physicists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology reported that they were able to reliably teleport information between two quantum bits separated by three meters, or about 10 feet.

Quantum teleportation is not the “Star Trek”-style movement of people or things; rather, it involves transferring so-called quantum information – in this case what is known as the spin state of an electron – from one place to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached.

Classical bits, the basic units of information in computing, can have only one of two values – either 0 or 1. But quantum bits, or qubits, can simultaneously describe many values. They hold out both the possibility of a new generation of faster computing systems and the ability to create completely secure communication networks.

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A forest of optical elements that was part of the quantum teleportation device used by the team of physicists in the Netherlands. Credit Hanson lab@TUDelft

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Moreover, the scientists are now closer to definitively proving Einstein wrong in his early disbelief in the notion of entanglement, in which particles separated by light-years can still appear to remain connected, with the state of one particle instantaneously affecting the state of another.

They report that they have achieved perfectly accurate teleportation of quantum information over short distances. They are now seeking to repeat their experiment over the distance of more than a kilometer. If they are able to repeatedly show that entanglement works at this distance, it will be a definitive demonstration of the entanglement phenomenon and quantum mechanical theory.

Succeeding at greater distances will offer an affirmative solution to a thought experiment known as Bell’s theorem, proposed in 1964 by the Irish physicist John Stewart Bell as a method for determining whether particles connected via quantum entanglement communicate information faster than the speed of light.

“There is a big race going on between five or six groups to prove Einstein wrong,” said Ronald Hanson, a physicist who leads the group at Delft. “There is one very big fish.”

In the past, scientists have made halting gains in teleporting quantum information, a feat that is achieved by forcing physically separated quantum bits into an entangled state.

Interactive Graphic
QUANTUM TELEPORTATION
Researchers teleported quantum information between two distant atoms for the first time in 2009.
Click on image below to open interactive graphic

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But reliability of quantum teleportation has been elusive. For example, in 2009, University of Maryland physicists demonstrated the transfer of quantum information, but only one of every 100 million attempts succeeded, meaning that transferring a single bit of quantum information required roughly 10 minutes.

In contrast, the scientists at Delft have achieved the ability “deterministically,” meaning they can now teleport the quantum state of two entangled electrons accurately 100 percent of the time.

They did so by producing qubits using electrons trapped in diamonds at extremely low temperatures. According to Dr. Hanson, the diamonds effectively create “miniprisons” in which the electrons were held. The researchers were able to establish a spin, or value, for electrons, and then read the value reliably.

In addition to the possibility of an impregnable quantum Internet, the research holds out the possibility of networks of quantum computers.

To date, practical quantum computers, which could solve certain classes of problems far more quickly than even the most powerful computers now in use, remain a distant goal. A functional quantum computer would need to entangle a large number of qubits and maintain that entangled state for relatively long periods, something that has so far not been achieved.

A distributed quantum network might also offer new forms of privacy, Dr. Hanson suggested. Such a network would make it possible for a remote user to perform a quantum calculation on a server, while at the same time making it impossible for the operator of the server to determine the nature of the calculation.

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Amazing: Electrical Stimulator Allows Paralyzed Men To Move Again (Video)

‘The Wind On My Legs’: Stimulator Helps Paralyzed Men Move Again – NBC News

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Four men paralyzed after bad spinal cord injuries can all move their legs again, thanks to an electrical stimulator.

Astonished researchers say they’d hoped for some result, but nothing like what they got. They think the stimulator is retraining the mens’ nerves to work with the brain again, despite the terrible damage.

“This is wonderful news. Spinal cord injury need no longer be a lifelong sentence of paralysis,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, one of the National Institutes of Health. “It is just downright marvelous.”

Rob Summers, now 28, was the first patient implanted and his case made international headlines in 2011 when he was first able to stand using the stimulator. Summers now exercises for three hours a day and says his life has been transformed.

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“It has changed my life on a day-to-day basis,” said Summers, who was paralyzed from the chest down after a hit-and-run driver plowed into him as he stood in his own driveway. “It’s given me the ability to travel alone and come and go as I please.”

Summers says he does an hour of abdominal exercises daily, reversing the gradual wasting of muscles that normally comes with paralysis.

“I can now feel soft touch, hard touch. I can feel pinpricks,” Summers, who lives in Portland, Ore., told NBC News. “I can feel the wind on my legs.”

None of the four men can walk again, but researchers believe the stimulator is retraining the damaged nerves in their spinal columns to communicate once again with the brain. They’re not sure why – it may be some connection remained after their injuries or it is slightly possible the nerves are re-growing.

“We have uncovered a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can dramatically affect recovery of voluntary movement in individuals with complete paralysis even years after injury,” the researchers, led by Dr. Susan Harkema of the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute and the University of Louisville, write in their report, published in the journal Brain on Tuesday.

Because all four men tested have regained movement, including two who were completely paralyzed, it’s likely that many people who believed they were permanently paralyzed may be able to move again, says Reggie Edgerton, distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who developed the approach.

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“It tells us that the information from the brain is getting to the right place in the spinal cord, so that the person can control, with fairly impressive accuracy, the nature of the movement,” said Edgerton. “We don’t have to necessarily rely on regrowth of nerves in order to regain function. The fact that we’ve observed this in all four patients suggests that this is actually a common phenomenon in those with complete paralysis.”

The stimulator was originally developed by Medtronic to treat chronic pain. It’s a pacemaker-sized device implanted under the skin of the abdomen, connecting to electrodes placed near the spinal cord. When turned on, it delivers a low pulse of electricity.

For patients with chronic pain, the electricity interrupts the pain signal before it can reach the brain. The researchers adapted it to try on patients with paralysis.

“The next generation will be more precisely controlled and noninvasive,” says NIBIB’s Pettigrew, whose institute helped pay for the research, along with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Pettigrew says the results are no flash breakthough. They are based on decades of work. He says researchers are already working with a fresh batch of volunteers and will report new findings soon.

“It is why we come to work every day,” Pettigrew said.

The next step is to try and make the approach work without having to implant electrodes, Pettigrew said. The hope would be for an external device, with electrodes simply stuck onto the skin to stimulate the nerves.

“The implications of this study for the entire field are quite profound and we can now envision a day where epidural stimulation might be part of a cocktail of therapies used to treat paralysis,” said Susan Howley, executive vice president for research at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

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The accident cost Summers a promising possible career in baseball. He’d been a top pitcher for Oregon State University and he was struck a month after his team won the college world series.

But he’s happy now that going out to dinner is no longer an ordeal that required hours of preparation. He’s strong enough now to hop into his wheelchair and just go.

“Not only has this benefited me with the confidence to go out and do what I want to do… I can continue to live my life as I choose and not be restricted or limited,” Summers said. His doctors say he has regained continence, sexual function and even the lost ability to sweat.

“I truly believe this is the greatest thing out there,” Summers said.

Summers says he can feel the device working. “The best way to describe it is like a strong tingling sensation,” he says, almost like a limb feels after it’s “fallen asleep.” “It almost feels like pins and needles.”

The three other men whose cases are described in the report are all in their 20s and 30s now and, like Summers, had been paralyzed for years before trying the device.

Kent Stephenson of Mount Pleasant, Texas, was 21 when he was paralyzed in a motocross accident in 2009. He cannot move his leg without the stimulator, but with it on can pull his leg up to his chest, straighten it, and slowly lower it again.

Andrew Meas of Louisville was injured when his motorcycle and a car collided in 2007, while Dustin Shillcox of Green River, Wyo. was 26 when a company van he was driving blew out a tire and wrecked. Stephenson and Meas both have resumed outdoor activities such as snow machining and fishing.

Each has a little different level of function with the device. “I have mentored all the other guys using it,” Summers says. “We have been like a brotherhood bonding on this.”

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Game-Changer: U.S. Navy Turning Seawater Into Fuel (Video)

Could You Soon Be Filling Up With Seawater? US Navy Reveals ‘Game Changing’ Fuel Created From Water – Daily Mail

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The US Navy has developed a radical new fuel made from seawater.

They say it could change the way we produce fuel – and allow warships to stay at sea for years at a time.

Navy scientists have spent several years developing the process to take seawater and use it as fuel, and have now used the ‘game changing’ fuel to power a radio controlled plane in the first test.

The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel is being hailed as ‘a game-changer’ because it would allow warships to remain at sea for far longer.

The US has a fleet of 15 military oil tankers, and only aircraft carriers and some submarines are equipped with nuclear propulsion.

All other vessels must frequently abandon their mission for a few hours to navigate in parallel with the tanker, a delicate operation, especially in bad weather.

The ultimate goal is to eventually get away from the dependence on oil altogether, which would also mean the navy is no longer hostage to potential shortages of oil or fluctuations in its cost.

The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.

Pursuing remote land-based options would be the first step towards a future sea-based solution, the Navy says.

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Vice Admiral Philip Cullom declared: ‘It’s a huge milestone for us.

‘We are in very challenging times where we really do have to think in pretty innovative ways to look at how we create energy, how we value energy and how we consume it.

‘We need to challenge the results of the assumptions that are the result of the last six decades of constant access to cheap, unlimited amounts of fuel,’ added Cullom.

‘Basically, we’ve treated energy like air, something that’s always there and that we don’t worry about too much.

‘But the reality is that we do have to worry about it.’

They hope the fuel will not only be able to power ships, but also planes.

The predicted cost of jet fuel using the technology is in the range of three to six dollars per gallon, say experts at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who have already flown a model airplane with fuel produced from seawater.

Dr Heather Willauer, an research chemist who has spent nearly a decade on the project, said:

‘For the first time we’ve been able to develop a technology to get CO2 and hydrogen from seawater simultaneously, that’s a big breakthrough,’ she said, adding that the fuel ‘doesn’t look or smell very different.’

Now that they have demonstrated it can work, the next step is to produce it in industrial quantities.

But before that, in partnership with several universities, the experts want to improve the amount of CO2 and hydrogen they can capture.

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‘We’ve demonstrated the feasibility, we want to improve the process efficiency,’ explained Willauer.

Collum is just as excited.

‘For us in the military, in the Navy, we have some pretty unusual and different kinds of challenges,’ he said.

‘We don’t necessarily go to a gas station to get our fuel, our gas station comes to us in terms of an oiler, a replenishment ship.

‘Developing a game-changing technology like this, seawater to fuel, really is something that reinvents a lot of the way we can do business when you think about logistics, readiness.’

A crucial benefit, says Collum, is that the fuel can be used in the same engines already fitted in ships and aircraft.

‘If you don’t want to reeengineer every ship, every type of engine, every aircraft, that’s why we need what we call drop-in replacement fuels that look, smell and essentially are the same as any kind of petroleum-based fuels.’

Drawbacks? Only one, it seems: researchers warn it will be at least a decade before US ships are able to produce their own fuel on board.

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America’s Next Space Shuttle – Sierra Nevada Corporation’s ‘Dream Chaser’ (Pictures / Video)

Meet Dream Chaser, America’s Next Space Shuttle – Giant Freakin Robot

As you probably know, President Obama announced his decision to end NASA’s space shuttle program Constellation back in 2010. Since then, the US has been paying to transport astronauts to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA designed the four-person Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle, to replace the retired shuttles. So I’ve just been waiting patiently for that to come to fruition, somehow unaware of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a commercial spaceflight transport system that will be able to take a crew of seven astronauts to the ISS, despite being about 1/3rd the size of a conventional shuttle.

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The Dream Chaser will ride aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, which will propel the craft into low Earth orbit, potentially ferrying astronauts to the ISS. Service – or some kind of crewed mission – is expected to begin in 2017, with the first orbital crewless flight in late 2016. Dream Chaser’s first unmanned flight occurred in 2013, when it flew successfully but crashed due to a malfunction in its landing gear. Actually, the vehicle flipped over at the very end, coming to rest in an upright position, after which the malfunctioning left landing gear deployed. I like a spacecraft with a sense of humor. Despite the rocky ending, the flight was regarded as an overall success.

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Dream Chaser was built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, and it’s one of three potential commercial transport systems that are part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Development process. NASA is expected to choose one or two of the these systems to take astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX’s Dragon is one, and Boeing’s CST-100 is the other, and so far all three have met target milestones. The teams are vying for the privilege of becoming NASA’s main mode of near-Earth orbit transit, kicking off the era of private commercial spaceflight for both crews and cargo.

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That shift will also usher in another change, with the privatization of spaceflight beyond near-Earth orbit, to places such as Mars and asteroids. SpaceX, after all, is planning on taking people to colonize the Red Planet, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are still more milestones to meet, and lots of fun to be had watching it happen.

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Private Aerospace Company SpaceX To Launch The World’s First Reusable Booster

SpaceX Set To Launch The World’s First Reusable Booster – MIT Technology Review

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Later this month, if all goes well, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, will achieve a spaceflight first.

After delivering cargo to the International Space Station, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used for the flight will fire its engines for the second time. The burn will allow the rocket to reenter the atmosphere in controlled flight, without breaking up and disintegrating on the way down as most booster rockets do.

The launch was originally planned for March 16, but the company has delayed the launch until at least March 30 to allow for further preparation.

The machine will settle over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of its Cape Canaveral launchpad, engines roaring, and four landing legs will unfold from the rocket’s sides. Hovering over the ocean, the rocket will kick up a salt spray along with the flames and smoke. Finally, the engines will cut off and the rocket will drop the last few feet into the ocean for recovery by a waiting barge.

Future flights of the so-called F9R rocket will have it touching down on land. For now, a water landing ensures maximum safety in case the rocket goes off course.

The test of SpaceX’s renewable booster rocket technology will be the first of its kind and could pave the way to radically cheaper access to space. “Reusability has been the Holy Grail of the launch industry for decades,” says Jeff Foust, an analyst at Futron, a consultancy based in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s because the so-called expendable rockets that are the industry standard add enormously to launch costs – the equivalent of building a new aircraft for every transatlantic flight.

SpaceX began flying low-altitude tests of a Falcon 9 first stage with a single engine, a rocket known as Grasshopper, at its McGregor, Texas, proving grounds in 2012. The flights got progressively higher, until a final test in October, when the rocket reached an altitude of 744 meters. Then, following a flight to place a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in November, a Falcon 9 first stage successfully restarted three of its nine engines to make a controlled supersonic reentry from space.

The rocket survived reentry, but subsequently spun out of control and broke up on impact with the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a call with reporters after the flight that landing legs, which that rocket lacked, would most likely have stabilized the rocket enough to make a controlled landing on the water. The March 16 flight will be the first orbital test with landing legs.

After recovering the rocket from the water on Sunday, SpaceX engineers and technicians will study it to determine what it would take to refurbish such a rocket for reuse. SpaceX also has plans to recover and reuse the second stage rocket, but for now, it will recover only the first stage and its nine Merlin engines, which make up the bulk of the cost of the rocket.

Even without reusable rockets, SpaceX has already shaken up the $190-billion-a-year satellite launch market with radically lower launch costs than its competitors. The company advertises $55.6 million per Falcon 9 launch. Its competitors are less forthcoming about how much they charge, but French rocket company Arianespace has indicated that it may ask for an increase in government subsidies to remain competitive with SpaceX.

Closer to home, SpaceX is vying for so-called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, contracts to launch satellites for the U.S. Air Force. Its only competitor for the contracts, United Launch Alliance, charges $380 million per launch.

Musk testified before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense meeting on March 5 that his company can cut that cost down to $90 million per launch. He said the higher cost for a government mission versus a commercial one was due to a lack of government-provided launch insurance. “So, in order to improve the probability of success, there is quite a substantial mission assurance overhead applied,” Musk said in the hearing. Still, SpaceX’s proposed charge for the Air Force missions is a mere 23 percent of ULA’s.

SpaceX is counting on lower launch costs to increase demand for launch services. But Foust cautions that this strategy comes with risk. “It’s worth noting,” he says, “that many current customers of launch services, including operators of commercial satellites, aren’t particularly price sensitive, so thus aren’t counting on reusability to lower costs.”

That means those additional launches, and thus revenue, may have to come from markets that don’t exist yet. “A reusable system with much lower launch costs might actually result in lower revenue for that company unless they can significantly increase demand,” says Foust. “That additional demand would likely have to come from new markets, with commercial human spaceflight perhaps the biggest and best-known example.”

Indeed, SpaceX was founded with human spaceflight as its ultimate mission. It is now one of three companies working with NASA funds to build ships capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station. Musk plans to take SpaceX even further—all the way to Mars with settlers. And colonizing Mars will require lots of low-cost flights.

Michael Belfiore (michaelbelfiore.com) is the author of Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space.

Updated on March 14, at 3 p.m. EST, to include mention of the delay.

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The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Is Back

The Hydrogen Car Is Back… Again – Popular Mechanics

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The basic principle behind hydrogen fuel cells is fairly simple: Hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons to generate electricity and then combined with oxygen to form water as a by-product. Mainstream deployment of fuel-cell vehicles, though, has proved to be complex. Compared with liquid fuels, hydrogen is tough to transport and store. And without a meaningful number of vehicles on the road, there’s been no incentive to build hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Now new initiatives in California and across the U.S. are pushing for a long-awaited expansion of the refueling network. And with the debut of three promising hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, consumers will have new options beginning in 2014. Are we finally seeing the dawn of the hydrogen age? Not so fast.

WHY NOW?

The current hydrogen push has less to do with consumer demand than with government incentives that treat fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) as equal to or better than electric vehicles. In California the combination of 300-mile range and fast refueling gives fuel cells the maximum available zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) credits. That makes it easy for a manufacturer to meet the state’s ZEV mandate with fewer cars. On the federal level, both FCVs and EVs get an EPA credit multiplier of 2.0 beginning in 2017, which means that sales of either type of car confer a disproportionate benefit on the ledger for an automaker’s entire fleet. In response, manufacturers have formed several high-profile partnerships, including Ford/Daimler/Renault-Nissan, BMW/Toyota, and GM/Honda to develop the vehicles. On the fueling side, a recent infusion of $20 million of funding per year has expanded the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s plan to 100 statewide refueling stations. The Department of Energy’s H2USA organization wants to use California’s efforts as a blueprint for the rest of the nation.

CAN I BUY A FUEL-CELL CAR?

In the past, fuel-cell vehicles have only been available in the hundreds. The three new FCVs slated for production this year and next will increase the volume to thousands, but they will be available primarily in California, where most of the country’s hydrogen stations exist. According to Alan Baum, an automotive analyst at Baum and Associates, even if the stations proliferate, fuel-cell vehicles, like EVs, won’t dominate the market. “It’s not going to be a widespread technology, and for that matter it doesn’t need to be,” he says. “We’re doing an all-hands-on-deck strategy.”

ARE THE PRACTICAL?

Not according to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who says fuel cells are more of a marketing ploy than a realistic solution. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn agrees: “Knowing all the problems we have with charging [EVs], where is the hydrogen infrastructure?” Both men have a bias toward electric vehicles, but the infrastructure issue is a big one. With the current cost of a hydrogen filling station at more than $1 million, neither the government nor the corporate world has any plans for a rapid expansion of the filling network. “We’ve got electricity everywhere,” Baum says. “Putting in 240-volt charging units requires some effort and expense, but it’s not game changing. Putting in hydrogen is.”

WHERE DOES THE POWER COME FROM?

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Here’s the abridged version: Compressed hydrogen from the storage tank (A) is stripped of its electrons in the fuel-cell stack (B), creating electricity. A power-control unit (C) orchestrates the flow of energy from the stack to the battery (D), which powers the electric motor that moves the car. The battery ensures full power during acceleration until the fuel cell reaches peak voltage. Got all that?

ARE THEY SAFE?

Yes. Stringent requirements established by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) ensure that the technology is safe. Automakers are required to build robust hydrogen storage tanks that not only hold the fuel at up to 10,000 psi but also withstand arcane-sounding trials such as “bonfire” and “gunshot” tests by the DOT. Tanks are usually made of several layers of carbon fiber wrapped around aluminum or polyethylene liners, and many are also protected by external layers of steel. Regulations covering PRDs (pressure-relief devices) govern both temperatures and pressures at which gas is released, typically well below what is standard for safe operating conditions.

HOW GREEN ARE FUEL CELLS?

It depends on where you look. The only tailpipe emission from an FCV is water, but the process of creating hydrogen fuel – just like that of formulating gasoline or generating current for an electric vehicle – has an environmental impact. More than 90 percent of hydrogen today is created using a natural-gas-reforming process involving steam and methane, which reduces CO2 emissions from “well to wheel” by approximately 60 percent, compared with the process of creating gasoline. So, carbon dioxide is still released into the atmosphere – it just happens before the liquid hydrogen gets to your tank. Incentives and mandates encourage a cleaner hydrogen-creation process: The state of California requires that 30 percent of H2 supplied for transportation come from renewable sources, which can include wind, solar, and biomass material.

WHAT ABOUT REFUELING?

One advantage of FCVs is that they can travel farther and restore range faster than most current EVs. Refueling is simple: Once a nozzle with a snap collar is securely mated and locked to your car, the transfer of hydrogen begins with a brief hissing sound, followed by a 3- to 5- minute fill-up. However, it takes considerably longer for a filling station to restore the pressure required to service the next vehicle, so current setups can only refuel six or so cars per hour.

SO, IS HYDROGEN HAPPENING?

“When you have several major carmakers saying we’re going to invest in this, that’s significant,” Baum says. But vehicles are just one piece of the puzzle. Every other player in the hydrogen supply chain, such as the service station industry, needs to invest heavily. Until then, refueling options and vehicle choices will remain extremely limited, with no guarantee of expansion. Which is to say that hydrogen-fuel-cell cars will be a minor footnote in terms of overall vehicle sales for the foreseeable future. For all but the earliest of adopters, hydrogen as a prominent fuel alternative remains somewhere on the horizon.

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