The failure of an unmanned Russian Soyuz booster during launch last week has thrown a wrench into International Space Station operations, with upcoming fights to and from the lab complex facing delays that likely will result in extended operations with a reduced crew of three, a senior NASA manager said today.
During the launch of an unmanned Progress supply capsule atop a Soyuz booster last Wednesday, a sudden loss of pressure downstream of a turbo-pump in the third-stage engine resulted in a computer-commanded shutdown 5 minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
British and U.S. scientists have confirmed that an atomic clock at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) near London is the most accurate long-term timekeeper in the world, the NPL said.
The NPL-CsF2 is a cesium fountain clock that's used as a standard for International Atomic Time and Universal Coordinated Time.
The machine is apparently accurate to within two 10 million billionths of a second. Not bad, I guess.
The NPL's Krzysztof Szymaniec joined scientists from Pennsylvania State University in evaluating the clock. The team published its results in the journal Metrologia.
The analysis concludes that the clock will lose only a billionth of a second every two months, and represents an unprecedented accuracy. Cesium clocks are usually expected to lose or gain a second over tens of millions of years.
"Together with other improvements of the cesium fountain, these models and numerical calculations have improved the accuracy of the U.K.'s cesium fountain clock, NPL-CsF2, by reducing the uncertainty to 2.3 × 10-16--the lowest value for any primary national standard so far," Szymaniec was quoted as saying by the NPL.
In the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology operates the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, which as of summer 2010 had an uncertainty of 3 x 10-16, meaning it would take more than 100 million years to lose or gain a second.
That will be billions of years before the sun dies, taking the Earth with it, so I expect an update on this from a future blogger. … Read more
The best thing I saw at CES in 2010 was the Parrot AR Drone, an iPhone-controlled quadcopter. It was a really fun toy, but an expensive one, and not that reliable either, as I learned when my demo unit dropped out of the sky. But this platform, the quadcopter, can be a serious player in solving real-world problems. Aeryon, which I covered in 2009, played an important part in the Libyan rebellion: one of its flying bots helped the rebels see over their heads to where their opposition was gathering.
And at the graduation ceremony of the Singularity University this week, I was introduced to another real-world, save-the-world company that's applying quadcopter technology: Matternet.
This particular class of S.U. was focused on solving problems for "the next billion people," those without access to modern technology. Matternet tackled the problem of getting drugs and diagnostic or test materials to people in rural areas in developing countries that don't have access to passable roads during rainy seasons.
The company proposed building a network of robotic drones to deliver medication quickly and very cost-effectively--even less than a guy on a dirt bike costs.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration last week gave Boeing certification for its 787 Dreamliner, saying that the company's years-in-the-making aircraft is finally safe for passengers. The announcement came after the aircraft completed its final flight tests on August 17.
The green-lighting will allow Boeing to make its first delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways on September 28, at Tokyo's Haneda airport.
The Dreamliner is in many ways the aircraft on which the aerospace giant has staked its future. Constructed with composite materials, the 787 is supposed to be more fuel … Read more
Perhaps the biggest frustration for astronomers is that they can't get to the places that most interest them.
So please imagine the excitement--and vexation--of skygazers who believe they have discovered a planet that might just be the shiniest piece of bling out there. Reuters paints a picture of astronomers who feel like someone who has just been offered 27 carats over their chocolate pudding.
For there seems to be a planet orbiting tightly around a small star just down the road (in celestial terms) from Earth that is "a massive diamond."
A network of dashboard smartphones that monitors traffic lights and congestion can tell drivers when to slow down to avoid idling, cutting fuel use by 20 percent, according to researchers at Princeton University and MIT.
SignalGuru (PDF) collates traffic data from images captured by dashboard smartphones.
It also graphically shows drivers how fast to go to avoid stopping at the next light; a commercial version would have audio suggestions. The system could also be developed to advise motorists to take a side street to avoid congestion ahead.
The researchers deployed iPhones on car dashboards in Cambridge, Mass., and in Singapore. In the former, where traffic signals with fixed schedules are used, SignalGuru could predict when lights would change with an error margin of two-thirds of a second. In Singapore, which has signals that adapt to traffic volume, the error increased to one second up to just over two seconds. … Read more
ITK, a Japanese start-up that makes eclectic products such as walking sticks and gardening tools, is developing a low-cost, flexible robot hand that could be used in hazardous environments.
The Handroid is a remotely-operated hand with five movable fingers. It weighs roughly 1.6 pounds.
As seen in the promo vid below, users can operate it with a master-slave glove system so that their hand movements are reproduced by Handroid.
That could come in handy in places like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where workers have struggled to manipulate doors with iRobot PackBots.
ITK, a spinoff of a machining company near Nagoya, wants to develop the Handroid into a prosthetic that can pick up electrical impulses from a user's muscles, just like Touch Bionics' i-Limb Pulse.
But as a robot appendage, it could cost only a fraction of the price of the i-Limb Pulse. Robonable reports ITK wants to market the Handroid in two years and sell it with the glove controller for some $6,500. … Read more
The upper stage of a Soyuz-U booster carrying an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship malfunctioned and shut down just over five minutes after launch today in Kazakhstan, sending 2.9 tons of space station supplies and equipment crashing back to Earth, NASA officials said.
It was the first post-shuttle launch to the lab complex. Officials said they believe the ship came down in the Altai Republic, part of the Russian Federation, near the border with Mongolia.
It was the second failure in a row for the Russian space program after the Breeze-M upper stage of a more powerful Proton rocket … Read more
Biz Stone, the Twitter co-founder who left his daily duties at the microblogging site to restart Obvious Corporation, the company that gave life to Twitter, revealed details of the incubator's first project today.
The company's first project is Lift, an "application for unlocking human potential through positive reinforcement," Stone wrote in a blog post today titled "Unlocking Potential."
"It's important never to delude ourselves into thinking that technology changes the world," Stone wrote. "People are responsible for change--technology just helps out."
Stone said little else about the app but … Read more
The postings, written by an author who goes by the initials S.H., began appearing after the March 11 quake and tsunamis that knocked out the plant and ran through July. Many of them detail training sessions, as seen in the associated video compilation below. The blog was deleted last month when word of it spread in Japan, but it has also appeared on the site of AIST, a government-backed research center.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) hired contractors, including S.H.'s employer, to help bring the plant to a cold shutdown in January, but the postings paint a picture of an inadequately equipped robot response to the catastrophe. Observers, including your humble correspondent, have wondered why robot-mad Japan wasn't prepared for a major nuclear accident like Fukushima. … Read more