Chinese lunar mission
China’s first lunar rover, named Jade Rabbit, has now launched aboard a Long March 3B rocket, marking the first attempt for the country to make an off-world soft landing. The mission plans call for the rover to traverse a three square kilometer area around the Sinus Iridum basaltic lava field, where it will use ground penetrating radar to analyze the lunar crust. The Jade Rabbit also has an alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer to measure the amounts of elements in soil samples, and it can scan the sky with its Lunar Ultraviolet Telescope -- the first long-term lunar observatory. The lunar landing is scheduled to occur on December 14.
Reusable hydrogen rocket
Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight company Blue Origins, teaming up with NASA, has successfully test fired the BE-3, the world’s first reusable hydrogen-oxygen rocket engine. The test firing -- conducted near Van Horn, Texas -- consisted of a two-minute initial burn phase, followed by a four-minute coast, and a final burn, simulating the stages of spaceflight. The BE-3 is the first liquid hydrogen rocket under development in over a decade, and being reusable could dramatically reduce the cost of getting humans and payloads to near-earth orbit. I say, reusing rockets makes sense -- they get launched from the east coast, so they must have that annoying five cent deposit.
Tires from plants
Car tires are currently made from a combination of rubber from rubber trees and synthetics, including butadiene -- a petroleum by-product expected to be in short supply as energy companies shift from oil to natural gas. Now, French tire company Michelin, supported by a subsidy from the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, will spend $71 million researching alternatives to butadiene that can be made from plant sources. The project hopes to ferment the plant-based waste biomass into a kind of bio-butadiene. If we make tires from plants, might I suggest ragweed, the devilspawn undisputed king of allergens? I yearn to show other ragweeds that I drive on your friends.
Sensors powered by noise
Engineers from multiple teams have developed prototypes of devices capable of converting about 130 dB of acoustic energy into enough electricity to power a small sensor. The devices use piezoelectric materials to transform small mechanical motions into an electrical charge. The research could lead to devices such as a noise sensor for jet engines that -- without batteries or even wires -- can feed back information to help reduce engine noise. While very little energy is harvested, the simplicity of fewer moving parts or wires is compelling.
Lunar solar power
Japanese construction company Shimzu Corporation has proposed the Luna Ring, a band of solar panels along the moon’s equator that would send a continuous beam of energy down to earth via microwaves or laser light. The solar panel array, 400 km wide spanning the moon’s 11,000 km equator, could generate 13 TW of power -- over 800 times the current entire global power consumption. Energy would be beamed from the near side of the moon to rectennas all over the world. Nice -- because when I think sustainable energy, I ask, “What would a Bond villain do?” Nice, kitty.
Carpets with LEDs
Lighting behemoth Philips, teaming up with carpet manufacturer Desso, have created a prototype of the world’s first carpet embedded with LEDs. Designed to convey information to walkers in public spaces, the product contains a layer of LEDs beneath a light-transmissive pile. The technology could present information for navigation or even exit routes during an emergency, or could just adjust with ambience and deco