Friday, June 23, 2017

Innovative rocket science gives boost to near-space missions

CubSat rocket motor test firing, LANL image.

Over the past decade and a half, satellites the size of a toaster have opened up new possibilities for using space. Called CubeSats, these diminutive spacecraft offer several appealing virtues for scientific and national security missions. They have one major handicap — but a fix is on the way.

For all their advantages, CubeSats are hamstrung by one shortcoming: they lack their own rocket motor. To solve the problem, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has a long history of developing propellants as part of the nuclear weapons program, have developed a unique segregated fuel oxidizer rocket fuel system. (Full story)

Laser-targeting A.I. yields more Mars science

ChemCam aboard the Curiosity Rover, NASA image.

A.I. software on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft.

The vast majority of those involved selecting targets to zap with ChemCam's laser, which vaporizes small amounts of rock or soil and studies the gas that burns off. 

The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico leads the U.S. and French team that jointly developed and operates ChemCam. (Full story)

UCAR collaboration to improve weather forecasts worldwide

MPAS enables forecasters to combine a global
view of the atmosphere with a higher-resolution
view of a particular region. UCAR image.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research today announced a new collaboration with The Weather Company, an IBM business, to improve global weather forecasting.

With the new agreement, The Weather Company will develop a global forecast model based on the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS), an innovative software platform developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

MPAS offers a unique way of simulating the global atmosphere while providing users with more flexibility when focusing on specific regions of interest. (Full story)

U.S. textile makers look for a revival

Spools of thread awaiting shipment. From Unify.

New technology is also coming to textile finishing. APJeT developed its technology at North Carolina State University College of Textiles. The firm’s atmospheric pressure plasma jet technology, based on know-how from Los Alamos National Laboratory, uses a blend of gases to apply water-repellent, fire-retardant, and soil- and stain-resistant fabric finishes.

APJeT claims that its process completely eliminates the large amounts of water necessary to finish most textiles. It also says the process uses only 10% of the chemicals needed in traditional fabric finishing. (Full story)