How robot tentacles may capture our floating space trash

It could be one small step for space junk, one giant leap for commercial space operations. 



How robot tentacles may capture our floating space trash


© Provided by Mashable
How robot tentacles may capture our floating space trash

The European Space Agency signed an €86 million contract with a team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA in November, talking to reporters on Tuesday about what could be the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit, and one that could potentially push the commercial space trash removal market forward. And folks, the proposed spacecraft has four robotic tentacles.

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Space debris has long become a colossal problem, not one you can personally see clogging up your streets and drains outside, but one that could have serious impact on future space endeavours — particularly if you’re in the business of launching say, thousands of satellites. 

It’s been 60 years since the Space Race started, and more than 5,550 rocket launches from Earth have left approximately 23,000 tracked objects remaining in space, not to mention the millions of bits and pieces floating around low Earth orbit known as “space junk.” About 9,600 satellites have been placed into Earth’s orbit to date, with about 5,500 still in space, and just 2,300 of those are functioning. 

This only stands to increase, with today’s space industry averaging 100 launches a year. Add to this the rising popularity of satellite “mega-constellations” as a means for worldwide telecommunications coverage, consisting of hundreds, even thousands of objects — Elon Musk wants to send a total of 42,000 satellites into orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink project, aiming to provide high speed internet to the globe.

Problems arise when larger objects in orbit collide in space, causing fast-moving, smaller fragments of space debris to break off, creating a space junkyard that can cause all kinds of hazards at speed, especially for active spacecrafts. The 2009 collision between active commercial satellite Iridium 33 and inactive military satellite Kosmos-2251 has become the prime example of this, but even as recently as September last year, the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite had to fire its thrusters to avoid colliding with one of Musk’s Starlink satellites. 

It’s a problem with exponential growth potential, most notably due to a phenomenon known as “Kessler Syndrome,” a term coined in 1978 by astrophysicist Don Kessler, a former senior scientist for orbital debris research at NASA, which describes the idea that one collision could result in several more, like falling dominos.

“The more populated the orbits around us get, the higher probability of collisions,” Rolf Densing, ESA director of operations told reporters on Tuesday. “This has happened in the past, and unfortunately, I’m quite sure that this will happen in the future as well.”

Space junk clean-up is no easy task — you can’t just vacuum it up, sweep it under some space rug, or pluck it out like a piece of lint on a cardigan. People have tried, some more successfully than others. NASA has been studying this since the ’70s. But ClearSpace’s

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Singapore to pilot floating energy storage system, invest $36M in low-carbon research

The Singapore government is setting aside SG$49 million ($36.05 million) to drive research and development (R&D) efforts in low-carbon energy technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). It also announces an initiative to pilot a lithium-ion battery energy storage on a “floating” lab, utilising seawater to cool the battery cells. 

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Spanning five years, the SG$49 million R&D investment aimed to push the “technical and economic viability” of technologies that could help reduce the country’s carbon emissions. In particular, it hoped to do so in emission-intensive areas such as the power and industrial sectors, according to a joint statement Monday released by give government agencies involved in the funding efforts: the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star); Economic Development Board (EDB); Energy Market Authority (EMA); National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS); and National Research Foundation (NRF). 

Research projects could include technologies that enabled the effective capture of carbon dioxide from low-concentration emission sources in the industrial and power industries and covert the gas into useful products, such as building materials, reclamation sand, and synthetic fuels. 

“Testbeds for emerging technologies, such as the blending of low-carbon hydrogen with natural gas in combined cycle gas turbines, will reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation. These testbeds could yield insights in applying low carbon technologies in Singapore’s context and facilitate future deployment,” the agencies said.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing added that hydrogen and CCUS were amongst “promising” technologies with the potential to transform Singapore’s energy landscape and drive the nation’s long-term goals in emissions reduction. 

The government last year unveiled a roadmap to lead efforts towards a “cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy future”, focusing on four “switches” — natural gas, solar, regional power grids, and emerging low-carbon alternatives. For instance, it is aiming to meet a solar target of at least 2 gigawatt-peak by 2030, and an energy storage deployment target of 200 megawatts beyond 2025. 

Energy storage system to cool by seawater

In a separate statement Monday, EMA said it awarded a research grant to test a floating energy storage system (ESS) as part of a SG$10 million ($7.36 million) partnership with Keppel O&M to develop energy solutions in the marine sector. 

Awarded to a consortium led by Envision Digital International, the research grant would see the deployment of a 7.5 MW/7.5MWh lithium-ion battery ESS on Keppel O&M’s floating living lab. This would have sufficient capacity to power more than 600 four-room HDB apartments a day, the partners said in a joint statement.

Because Singapore’s high humidity and hot climate could affect the performance of the energy system, the testbed would tap a liquid-cooling feature that utilised seawater to cool the battery cells. The pilot also would assess the feasibility of a battery stacking system, which might cut the footprint required for deployment by up to 40%. 

Findings from the pilot were expected to be applied to ESS on mainland Singapore, where such systems could enhance power grid stability and resilience as well

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Physicists made a superconductor that works at room temperature. It could one day give rise to high-speed floating trains.



When squeezed between two diamonds, a material made of carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen can become a superconductor. J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester


© J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester
When squeezed between two diamonds, a material made of carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen can become a superconductor. J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester

  • Superconductors are materials that effortlessly conduct electricity.
  • Until now, they’ve only worked at temperatures of minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • But researchers recently found a superconductor that works at ambient temperatures when under immense pressure. They’re now trying to make it work without that pressure.
  • Widespread superconductors could give rise to high-speed floating trains, super-powered computers, and very cheap electricity.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Superconductors – materials that transport electricity with no energy lost – have until now only worked at extremely cold temperatures, from about -100 degrees Fahrenheit to the near-absolute zero of space. But this month, that changed.

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In a study published October 14, a team of researchers described a superconductor they engineered, which works at 59 degrees Fahrenheit. The material is composed of carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen, so is appropriately called carbonaceous sulfur hydride.

Physicists had previously found that a combination of hydrogen and sulfur worked as a superconductor under intense pressure and at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. With the addition of carbon, the team was able to create a material that worked at a higher temperature.

Ranga Dias, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Rochester, told Business Insider that they did so by “chemically compressing instead of mechanically compressing” the material. In other words, they made a denser material by adding carbon and sulfur atoms into a pre-existing network of hydrogen atoms.



Equipment including a diamond anvil cell (blue box) and laser arrays are seen in the lab of Ranga Dias, a professor at the University of Rochester. J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester


© J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester
Equipment including a diamond anvil cell (blue box) and laser arrays are seen in the lab of Ranga Dias, a professor at the University of Rochester. J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester

So far, Dias said, his team has only been able to create tiny specks of the superconductor material, about the size of ink-jet particles. The specks are made under almost 40 million pounds per square inch of pressure, almost the pressure in Earth’s inner core. They only function as superconductors under that level of pressure, too. 

“Somebody can argue that, ‘so you went from one extreme to another extreme,'” Dias said.

However, he added, now that it’s clear a superconductor can function at room temperature, the researchers can start tinkering with their material to make it work at ordinary pressure levels. 

If they succeed, superconductors could become widespread – potentially causing dramatic advances in technology by making electricity faster, cheaper, and more powerful.

What a superconducting society would look like 

Video: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Probe Punched an Asteroid in the Name of Science (Time)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Probe Punched an Asteroid in the Name of Science

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Electrical currents are flows of electrons that move through materials. Electrons move through certain types of materials easily, including most metals. Materials that convey electricity more easily are called conductors. But electrons have a harder time moving through materials like rubber and wood, so

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OSIRIS-REx collected too much asteroid material that it’s now floating away

NASA confirmed that the OSIRIS-REx mission picked up enough material from asteroid Bennu during its sample collection attempt on Tuesday. In fact, the spacecraft’s collection chamber is now too full to close all the way, leading some of the material to drift off into space. “There’s so much in there that the sample is now escaping,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said Friday.

What was supposed to happen: On Tuesday, OSIRIS-REx descended to asteroid Bennu (the object it has studied from orbit for almost two years now, more than 200 million miles from Earth) and scooped up rubble from the surface during a six-second touchdown before flying back into space. 

The goal was to safely collect at least 60 grams of material, and the agency expected to run a series of procedures to verify how much mass was collected. Those included observing the sample collection chamber using onboard cameras, as well as a spin maneuver scheduled for Saturday that would approximate the sample’s mass through moment-of-inertia measurements. 

What actually happened: Over the last few days, the onboard cameras revealed that the collection chamber was losing particles that were floating into space. “A substantial amount of the sample is seen floating away,” mission lead Dante Lauretta said Friday. As it turned out, the sample collection attempt picked up too much material—possibly up to two kilograms, the upper limit of what OSIRIS-REx was designed to collect. About 400 grams of material seem visible from the cameras. The collection lid has failed to close properly, and remains wedged open by pieces that are up to three centimeters in size, creating a centimeter-wide gap for material to escape through.

It seems when OSIRIS-REx touched down on Bennu’s surface, the collection head went 24 to 48 centimeters deep, which would explain how it recovered so much material. 

How bad is it: It’s not terrible! It’s obviously concerning that some material has been lost, but this loss was mostly due to some movements of the arm on Thursday (the material behaves like a fluid in microgravity, so any movement will cause the sample to swirl around and potentially flow out of the chamber). Lauretta estimates that as many as 10 grams may have been lost so far. Given how much sample was collected, however, this loss is relatively small. The arm has now been moved into a “park” position so that material is moving around more slowly, which should minimize additional loss.  

What’s next: The mission is forgoing the scheduled weigh procedure, since a spin maneuver would undoubtedly lead to more material loss, and NASA is confident it has way more than the 60 grams the agency initially sought. Instead, the mission is expediting the stowing of the sample, which NASA expects to take place Monday. After the sample is stowed safely, OSIRIS-REx will leave Bennu in March, and bring the sample back to Earth in 2023.

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Astronauts Plug Leak On The International Space Station With The Help Of Floating Tea Leaves

A worsening leak on the International Space Station (ISS) has been plugged thanks to an unusual method – using floating tea leaves to work out where it was.

Since September 2019, a small amount of air as been leaking from the ISS at a rate of 0.6 pounds of air per day – not much, but cause for some concern. However, by August 2020 the problem had increased five-fold, with the loss rate rising to 3.1 pounds per day.

Over the next several weeks, the crew began searching for the leak. This included closing hatches to isolate the leak, along with an ultrasonic leak detector. Ultimately the location of the leak was narrowed down to the Zvezda module, the location of Russia’s crew quarters on the station.

Finding the actual leak itself – which NASA noted posed “no immediate danger to the crew” – proved more difficult. But last week, the Russian space agency – Rocosmos – said the crew had successfully used floating tea leaves to work out where it was and plugged it, although the cause of the small hole still seems to be unknown.

“We believe that we have really identified the probable leakage area,” said Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, one of the crew of six on the ISS, reported the Russian news agency TASS. “We have distributed a tea bag before closing the transfer chamber.”

Ivanishin added: “We have several photos and videos of the direction of the tea bag’s flight or where it intended to fly and this precisely shows the direction the air is blowing from the possible air leak.”

The crew have now put tape over the crack, which will temporarily prevent a further loss of air. The plan now is to find a more permanent solution to seal the leak.

This could include using equipment brought up by the most recent Soyuz launch on October 14, with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov on board.

“ISS crew sealed the airleak using temporary means available at the station,” Roscosmos said in a short statement on Twitter.

“Currently, [the] Chief Operating Control Group together with the [ISS] crew is working out a program of operations to permanently seal the leak location.”

This is not the first time a leak has been reported on the ISS. Back in 2018, a small hole was found in one of the Soyuz spacecraft docked with the space station, potentially due to human error on the ground. Russia later said that, while the cause of the leak had been found, it would not reveal what happened.

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