China unveils rival to

International Space Station

April 27, 2011 – 10:06AM

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Less than a decade ago, it fired its first human being into orbit. Now, Beijing is working on a multi-capsule outpost in space. But what is the political message of the Tiangong ‘heavenly palace’?

China has laid out plans for its future in space, unveiling details of an ambitious new space station to be built in orbit within a decade.

The project, which one Nasa adviser describes as a “potent political symbol”, is the latest phase in China’s rapidly developing space programme. It is less than a decade since China put a human into orbit for the first time, and three years since its first spacewalk.

The space station will weigh around 60 tonnes and consist of a core module with two laboratory units for experiments, according to the state news agency, Xinhua. 

Officials have asked the public to suggest names and symbols for the unit and for a cargo spacecraft that will serve it.

Professor Jiang Guohua, from the China Astronaut Research and Training Centre, said the facility would be designed to last for around a decade and support three astronauts working on microgravity science, space radiation biology and astronomy.

The project heralds a shift in the balance of power among spacefaring nations. In June, the US space agency, Nasa, will mothball its whole fleet of space shuttles, in a move that will leave only the Russians capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The $US100bn outpost is itself due to fly only until 2020, but may be granted a reprieve until 2028.

Bernardo Patti, head of the space station programme at the European Space Agency (Esa), said: “China is a big country. It is a powerful country, and they are getting richer and richer. They want to establish themselves as key players in the international arena.

“They have decided politically that they want to be autonomous, and that is their call. They must have had some political evaluation that suggests this option is better than the others, and I would think autonomy is the key word.”

He added that China’s plans would be “food for thought” for policymakers elsewhere. Esa and other nations are already discussing a next-generation space station that would operate as a base from which to explore space beyond low-Earth orbit; future missions could return astronauts to the moon, land them on asteroids, or venture further afield to Mars.

“Another country trying to build its own infrastructure in space is competition, and competition always pushes you to be better,” Patti said.

The central module of the Chinese space station will be 18.1 metres long, with a maximum diameter of 4.2 metres and a launch weight of 20 to 22 tonnes. The laboratory modules will be shorter, at 14.4 metres, but will have the same diameter and launch weight.

Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine Space International, told Xinhua: “The 60-tonne space station is rather small compared with the International Space Station [419 tonnes] and Russia’s Mir space station [137 tonnes], which served between 1996 and 2001.

“But it is the world’s third multi-module space station, which usually demands much more complicated technology than a single-module space lab.”

China is also developing a cargo spaceship, which will weigh less than 13 tonnes and have a diameter of no more than 3.35 metres, to transport supplies and equipment to the space station.

John Logsdon, a Nasa adviser and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said China’s plans would give it homegrown expertise in human space flight. “China wants to say: ‘We can do everything in space that other major countries can do,”‘ he said. “A significant, and probably visible, orbital outpost transiting over most of the world would be a potent political symbol.”

China often chooses poetic names for its space projects, such as Chang’e – after the moon goddess – for its lunar probes; its rocket series, however, is named Long March, in tribute to communist history. The space station project is currently referred to as Tiangong, or “heavenly palace”.

But Wang Wenbao, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, told a news conference: “Considering past achievements and the bright future, we feel the manned space programme should have a more vivid symbol, and that the future space station should carry a resounding and encouraging name.

“We now feel that the public should be involved in the names and symbols, as this major project will enhance national prestige and strengthen the national sense of cohesion and pride.”

China plans to launch the Tiangong-1 module later this year, to help master docking technologies. An unpiloted spacecraft will attempt to dock with the module; two piloted spacecraft will then follow suit.

Wang Zhaoyao, spokesman for the programme, said researchers were developing technology to ensure astronauts could remain in space for at least 20 days and to ensure supplies could be delivered safely.

According to, Jiang, the chief engineer at the China Astronaut Research and Training Centre, in Beijing, told an international conference last month: “The rendezvous and docking project is smoothly going through technical preparations and testing.”

The Tiangong-2 should support three astronauts for around 20 days, while the Tiangong-3, which is due for launch in 2015, should support them for twice as long. The laboratories would allow China to develop the technology it needs to build the space station.

Jiang added that China aimed to increase international exchanges, and that the hardware from the current rendezvous and docking project is compatible with the International Space Station.

“We will adhere to the policy of opening up to the outside world,” he said. “Scientists of all countries are welcome to participate in space science experimental research on China’s space station.”

China hopes to make its first moon landing within two years and to put an astronaut on the moon as early as 2025.

The Guardian

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Big Brother gongs go out

for privacy wrongs

Geesche Jacobsen

April 25, 2011

TWENTY-SEVEN years ago the world envisaged by George Orwell seemed far-fetched.

But when the Privacy Foundation announced its Big Brother Awards for this year, the range of contenders would probably have made Orwell proud.

”We already have Newspeak, we’ve got TV which at the moment doesn’t look at us, but that’s not far off. There’s two-way communication on the streets … There’s GPS,” said Julie Cameron, co-ordinator of the awards. The foundation’s spoof awards for privacy intruders seek to draw attention to privacy invasions. 

This year’s winners include Facebook (worst corporate invader), airport body scanners (most invasive technology) and Google’s previous chief executive Eric Schmidt who said Street View’s data collection had caused ”no harm” (boot in the mouth award).

The Queensland driver’s licence and Victorian public transport myki smartcard which links travel data to personal information were joint winners of the award for worst public agency.

Dr Cameron thinks Orwell would recognise our world. ”We’ve gone from capturing data to capturing images of people’s faces and being able to match images in real time. We have a real change in the way people are tracked,” she said.

Some of the nominees responded to the foundation, defending their privacy record. ”I think they are concerned with the public reaction to breaches of privacy,” Dr Cameron said.

The federal government, for example, defended the airport scanners with reference to the need to detect security threats and its plans to introduce the ”stick figure images” for enhanced privacy.

Already there seems to be a contender for next year following reports that the iPhone stores the co-ordinates of its location for a year in a secret file which is duplicated to the owner’s computer when synchronised.

with Guardian News & Media

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Unseen NASA space pics now available for viewing on line

NASA has released a trove of data from its sky-mapping mission, allowing scientists and anyone with access to the Internet to peruse millions of galaxies, stars, asteroids and other hard-to-see objects.

Many of the targets in the celestial catalog released online this week have been previously observed, but there are significant new discoveries. The mission’s finds include more than 33,000 new asteroids floating between Mars and Jupiter and 20 comets.

NASA launched the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which carried an infrared telescope, in December 2009 to scan the cosmos in finer detail than previous missions. The spacecraft, known as WISE, mapped the sky one and a half times during its 14-month mission, snapping more than 2.5 million images from its polar orbit.

The spacecraft’s ability to detect heat glow helps it find dusty, cold and distant objects that are often invisible to regular telescopes.

The batch of images made available represents a little over half of what’s been observed in the all-sky survey. The full cosmic census is scheduled for release next (northern) spring.

“The spectacular new data just released remind us that we have many new neighbours,” said Pete Schultz, a space scientist at Brown University, who had no role in the project.

University of Alabama astronomer William Keel has already started mining the database for quasars – compact, bright objects powered by super-massive black holes.

“If I see a galaxy with highly ionized gas clouds in its outskirts and no infrared evidence of a hidden quasar, that’s a sign that the quasar has essentially shut down in the last 30,000 to 50,000 years,” Keel said.

WISE ran out of coolant in October, making it unable to chill its heat-sensitive instruments. So it spent its last few months searching for near-Earth asteroids and comets that should help scientists better calculate whether any are potentially threatening.

The mission, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was hundreds of times more sensitive than its predecessor, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which launched in 1983 and made the first all-sky map in infrared wavelength.

AP Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

StrongArm helps load boats onto cars

By Ben Coxworth

09:02 March 29, 2011

The StrongArm Kayak Loader levers a user's canoe or kayak onto the roof of their vehicle (...

The StrongArm Kayak Loader levers a user’s canoe or kayak onto the roof of their vehicle (Photo: BoatHoist International)

Sea kayaks are quite possibly one of the finest things ever created by mankind, but they can be rather difficult to load onto the top of one’s car – this is particularly true for people who are trying to do the job single-handed, or who have a tall vehicle. Australia’s Steve Scott identified this problem as an opportunity, and invented the StrongArm Kayak Loader.

The StrongArm consists of a sort of Y-shaped adjustable-height aluminum bar that pivots on a steel base, which attaches to a vehicle’s tow ball. The bar is pulled back to rest at a 45-degree angle from the back of the vehicle, and which point the user places the hull of their kayak (or canoe) on the bar’s upper surface. As they proceed to push forward on the back of their kayak, the spring-loaded bar swings forward and upwards, levering the boat up to the roof of the car. Mechanical stops keep the bar from hitting the back of the vehicle.

When unloading the kayak, users pretty much just perform the process in reverse.

The bar can be strapped in place while in transit, although a simple Tee bolt hand-mounting system reportedly allows it to be removed from the tow ball within about 15 seconds.

“Many people love the idea of kayaks no matter where their interests lie, however have forgotten in their haste just how tricky, awkward and heavy they can be to transport,” Scott told us. “We have had many females purchase the StrongArm Kayak Loader, as often they are alone and lacking that extra pair of strong arms to help out.”

While the Kayak Loader can manage boats up to 6 meters (19.7 feet) long and weighing up to 65 kilograms (143 lbs), owners of heavier types of car-toppable watercraft can instead use the StrongArm Boat Loader. Basically a stronger, wider version of the Kayak Loader, it can handle boats weighing up to 80 kilos (176 lbs). An optional winch helps pull them into place.

The Kayak and Boat Loaders sell for AUD$495 and $795 (about US$507 and $814) respectively, and are available online via Steve’s company, BoatHoist International. So far, they are only available to residents of Australia and New Zealand.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

New material combines

the strength of steel and

the moldability of plastic

By Darren Quick

00:36 March 1, 2011

Jan Schroers and his team have developed novel metal alloys that can be blow molded into v...

Jan Schroers and his team have developed novel metal alloys that can be blow molded into virtually any shape

Scientists at Yale University have done what materials scientists have been trying to do for decades – create a material that boasts the look, strength and durability of metal that can be molded into complex shapes as simply and cheaply as plastic. The scientists say the development could have the same impact on society as the development of synthetic plastics last century and they have already used the novel metals to create complex shapes, such as metallic bottles, watch cases, miniature resonators and biomedical implants, that are twice as strong as typical steel and can be molded in less than a minute.

Unlike the crystalline structure found in ordinary metals that makes them strong but also results in them requiring three separate steps for processing (shaping, joining and finishing), the metal alloys recently developed by the Yale team are amorphous metals known as bulk metallic glasses (BMGs), whose randomly arranged atoms and low critical cooling rate allows them to be blow-molded into complex shapes like plastics. This allows the researchers to combine the three traditional time- and energy-intensive metal processing steps into one blow molding process that takes less than a minute.

Although the different metals used to make the alloys, such as zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper, cost about the same as high-end steel, they can be processed as cheaply as plastic, according to Jan Schroers, a materials scientist at Yale that led the team.

The BMGs ability to soften and flow as easily as plastic at low temperatures and low pressures, without crystallizing like regular metal is what allows the material to be shaped with unprecedented ease, versatility and precision, Schroers said. To ensure the ideal temperature for blow molding was maintained, the team shaped the BMGs in a vacuum or in fluid.

“The trick is to avoid friction typically present in other forming techniques,” Schroers said. “Blow molding completely eliminates friction, allowing us to create any number of complicated shapes, down to the nanoscale.”

Schroers and his team have already fabricated a wide variety of shapes and devices using the new processing technique, including miniature resonators for microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) and gyroscopes, but they say that is just the beginning.

“This could enable a whole new paradigm for shaping metals,” Schroers said. “The superior properties of BMGs relative to plastics and typical metals, combined with the ease, economy and precision of blow molding, have the potential to impact society just as much as the development of synthetic plastics and their associated processing methods have in the last century.”

The new processing technique developed by the Yale researchers is described online in the current issue of Materials Today.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Lift-off for strap-on flying machine

April 13, 2011
$75,000 a piece ... The Martin Jetpack.$75,000 a piece … The Martin Jetpack.

George Jetson fans take note: the wait for your very own jet ski in the sky is nearly over, according to the New Zealand company behind an ambitious aeronautical project.

The Martin Jetpack, literally a strap-on personal flying machine, is now in the final stages of development, with the first machines to be dispatched for solo flights by the end of the year.

Military agencies, border control and rescue organisations in the United States will be the first to use the pricey $NZ100,000 (about $75,000) aircraft. 

Inventor Glenn Martin predicts it will be just 18 months before other wealthy enthusiasts get their delivery.

“We’ve had 2500 people sign up for one so far, and plenty of them from Australia,” Mr Martin told AAP.

Their plans for the expensive toy range from practical – “some just want to dodge the rush-hour traffic and do it in style” – to the purely frivolous.

“We know of someone that would love to do stunts flying across Sydney Harbour. How amazing would that be?” Mr Martin said.

The jetpack resembles two leaf blowers welded together but its capabilities are much more complex. The two-litre, jet-powered engine can soar across the skies at 100km/h at heights of up to 50 metres.

Carrying enough fuel to fly for 30 minutes, the contraption could be used in hard-to-access areas and war zones to patrol borders and, if unmanned, to make difficult deliveries by remote control.

“Some of that might sound boring but where there’s huge cost savings and an increase in efficiencies for agencies it’s actually hugely exciting,” Mr Martin said.

Recreationally, it could be used to go fishing and, one day, get to work.

For now, however, it is categorised as a microlight so it cannot be taken into the city centre, however this may change under US law.

Martin’s machine, lauded as Time magazine’s most anticipated invention last year, has been more than three decades in the making.

The Christchurch man began tinkering with the concept in the 1970s, inspired by the limited success of the US Bell Rocket Belt, which stayed airborne for just 26 seconds before crashing.

A gas-guzzler in the extreme, the belt burned through $US2000 worth of fuel in 30 seconds.

Martin’s latest and most celebrated version, unveiled at an air show in 2008, is more fuel efficient, costing just 15 US cents for 20 seconds in the air.

It was designed to be the “simplest aircraft in the world,” said Mr Martin, who has described how “you strap it on, rev the nuts out of it and it lifts you up off the ground”.

“It’s basic physics. As Newton said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when you shoot lots of air down very fast you go up and you’re flying.”

He said the interest had been overwhelming, with inquiries coming from Middle Eastern royalty, US business tycoons and European daredevils.

The Australian government hadn’t officially registered its interest but, judging by website traffic, the Australian Defence Force was a fan.

“It’s the fourth biggest visitor to our site after Boeing, NASA and the SAS, so something’s going on there,” he said with a laugh.

“Maybe they’ve just got an employee who thinks it’s so cool they spend all day checking it out.”


Received & published by Henry Sapiecha

Audi teams with Renovo for ‘duo’ line of wooden bicycles
While a number of car makers, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren, have sought to leverage their brand and technical knowledge to produce vehicles of the two-wheeled, pedal-powered variety, they tend to opt for the same high-tech, lightweight materials used in their cars, such as carbon fiber and aluminum. Audi has done the same thing in the past, but for its latest bicycle offering Audi of America has taken a different tack by teaming up with Renovo Bicycles to create the “duo” – a line of bikes that feature monocoque frames made of hardwood. Read More

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha