NASA fires shuttle rocket engine to the max

Rocket engine firing

Exhaust billows out from a rocket test tower at NASA’s Stennis Space Center during a test firing of an RS-25 rocket engine. (NASA via YouTube)

Like a “Spinal Tap” guitarist, NASA turned the dial up to 11 today on a souped-up rocket engine from the bygone space shuttle program.

The 260-second engine firing at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi represented the toughest test yet for hardware that’s destined to go on the Space Launch System, NASA’s heavy-lift rocket.

NASA plans to use sets of Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engines left over from the shuttle program in the main propulsion systems on the first four SLS rockets, four at a time. Fourteen of the 16 hydrogen-fueled engines were previously installed on the shuttle orbiters, which were retired in 2011 and are now on display in museums.

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Space council targets regulations – and China

Mike Pence

With NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule serving as a backdrop, Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a meeting of the National Space Council at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA via YouTube)

Space industry deregulation, and the potential perils posed by China’s space program, shared the spotlight at today’s meeting of the National Space Council, presided over by Vice President Mike Pence.

Commercial space ventures and NASA’s vision for deep-space exploration also got shout-outs when members of the council, newly named advisers and other VIPs gathered inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“As we continue to push further into our solar system, new businesses and entire enterprises will be built to seize the infinite possibilities before us,” Pence declared. “And there will be no limit to the jobs and prosperity that will be created across this country.”

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Charge your phone with lasers? It’s not that scary

Lasers charging smartphone

A smartphone is powered up using a laser-based charging system. The charging laser and guard lasers are normally invisible to the human eye, but red beams have been inserted in place of the guard beams for demonstration purposes. (University of Washington Photo / Mark Stone)technol

Engineers at the University of Washington have demonstrated that it’s possible to charge up your smartphone using laser beams.

Perhaps the deeper question is, why?

If laser charging can be conducted quickly and safely, that would mark a big step toward freeing up mobile devices ranging from phones and tablets to drones and laptops.

The beaming system is described in a paper published online in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. It can deliver a steady 2 watts of power to a 15-square-inch area from a distance of 14 feet, or from up to 40 feet away with further modifications.

“The beam delivers charge as quickly as plugging in your smartphone to a USB port,” co-lead author Elyas Bayati, a UW doctoral student in electrical engineering, said today in a news release. “But instead of plugging your phone in, you simply place it on a table.”

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Boeing and Blue Origin CEOs become space advisers

Mike Pence and Discovery

Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks at the National Space Council’s inaugural meeting last October at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The shuttle Discovery looms in the background. (NASA Photo / Joel Kowsky)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith are among 29 candidates for the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group, which is meant to promote coordination, cooperation and information exchange for the U.S. space effort. Vice President Mike Pence listed the candidates on the eve of a National Space Council meeting at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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Find out how to store your data in DNA

DNA data storage experiment

University of Washington researcher Lee Organick (foreground) and Microsoft researcher Yuan-Jyue Chen (background) work in the Molecular Information Systems Lab. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise)

Scientists from the University of Washington and Microsoft are improving their system for preserving digital data in strands of synthetic DNA — and they’re giving you the chance to participate.

The UW-Microsoft team laid out the method in a research paper published this week in Nature Biotechnology.

For the experiment described in the paper, text files as well audio, images and a high-definition music video featuring the band OK Go were first digitally encoded, and then converted into chemical coding — that is, adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine, which make up the ATCG alphabet for DNA base pairs.

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Bigelow sets up new company for space stations

Bigelow space complex

An artist’s conception shows three Bigelow Aerospace B330 modules linked together to create a space station being serviced by SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. Such a configuration would provide as much pressurized volume as the International Space Station. (Bigelow Aerospace Illustration)

Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace has had space modules in orbit for more than a decade, but now billionaire founder Robert Bigelow is starting a new push to operate commercial space stations.

To that end, he has set up a separate company called Bigelow Space Operations, or BSO, with the aim of having Bigelow’s expandable B330 modules sent into orbit. Two of the 330-cubic-meter (12,000-cubic-foot) habitats are due to be ready for launch by as early as 2021.

The timing for deployment will depend on the outcome of Bigelow’s negotiations with potential launch providers, and the findings of a market study to be conducted by BSO this year.

“We intend to spend millions of dollars this year in drilling down, hopefully, to a conclusion one way or the other as to what the global market is going to look like, and we expect to finish this investigation by the end of this year,” Bigelow told reporters today during a teleconference.

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Time to check in with Jeff Bezos’ 10,000 Year Clock

10,000 Year Clock

Workers install components of the 10,000 Year Clock in Texas. (Jeff Bezos via Instagram)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is highlighting the start of installation of the 10,000 Year Clock, a $42 million project that’s arguably as way-out as his Blue Origin space venture.

Today Bezos posted a time-lapse video to Twitter and Instagram showing workers setting up steampunk-style assemblies of gears and sprockets deep inside a mountain in West Texas.

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