Firefly Spot is my personal blog about the future: space travel, gadgets, and technology in general. Feel free to leave a comment or browse our archives.
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|Posted August 5, 2016|
One of the biggest problems facing space scientists may have just been solved. Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the University of Leicester publish a paper recently that uses pulsars to track a spacecraft's position in space, using only a small X-ray telescope on board the craft. Currently, position is calculated using ground based systems and radio waves. But this approach can involve long lag times (when the craft is at a significant distance from earth) and we can currently only track a limited number of craft. The new approach, however, allows each device to determine its own (3D) position autonomously with only a small, inexpensive telescope--to an accuracy within 2 km. It also has promising potential to work outside earth's solar system.
The new approach will be built into an upcoming mission to Mercury in 2018, and if it works as expected, could soon become standard issues for all future space craft.
|Posted July 11, 2016|
Another recent article about virtual reality has come out, suggesting that after a long period of hype--VR is finally taking off, and starting to grow exponentially.
It also suggested one possible use for the technology: capturing favorite moments so you can relive them afterward. Imagine sitting with your grandmother in her home, having breakfast--and then years later when she is gone, being able to go back and sit with her again? A beautiful sentiment. Now add to that favorite vacation spots, or events like a wedding or graduation.
But the article then raises a serious question--the kind of question this blog was created to discuss: "Will this virtual reality revolution, this constant obsession with immersion in another world, become too much for us to handle? Will we end up confining ourselves in past memories, like prisoners in our own minds?"
Tech Insider reports another use for the new technology--this time being planned by NASA:
When the first human sets foot on the surface of Mars in the not-so-distant future, he or she may have regular people standing right next to them watching in stunning virtual reality...
You don your shiny new Microsoft HoloLens device and load up the VR experience of Mars, which all comes from NASA image stocks. While walking around the surface, you spot something interesting and mark it for scientists to check out later.
It doesn't seem as if it will be long before these kinds of things will become common. Soon we will be able to explore other worlds virtually, including imaginary worlds created by artists and programmers. How will this impact our motivation to pursue manned space exploration missions? To quote the first article again...
As a society we sometimes find it difficult to take our eyes off our screens, imagine having to leave an incredibly lush paradise only to return to the seemingly boring “normality” of this world.
Whether we are ready or not, this revolution appears to be coming. Fully immersive worlds, so perfect they captivate the imagination. Who knows what killer uses will be found for the new technology, or more important, how it will impact us. But these are definitely questions worth more careful thought...
|Posted July 11, 2016|
According to an article out by Inverse, Japanese scientists have announced plans to test a space elevator in the near future. It's actually just a 328 foot tether made of kevlar connecting two small cubes. It will be shipped to the ISS at some point, and then deployed to help gather data that could by used in the development of a future full-scale space elevator. A date for the experiment has not yet been released.
The idea of a space elevator has been around for a long time. Basically it involves connects an orbiting space station in geosynchronous orbit to the earth via an extremely long cable. This would make it possible to send cargo into space by simply having them climb up and down the cable--no rocket required! There is some question about whether such a system is possible, but hopefully we'll know more once the data comes in from this experiment. Were it to work, it would be an incredibly cost efficient way to get things into space!
|Posted June 8, 2016|
When I first started this blog, my goal was to talk about technologies that had the potential to be revolutionary. Today, I stumbled on to a couple videos put out by Microsoft advertising their new HoloLens. Here's one:
Here's another one showing the potential for gaming:
Here's a video showing a more practical application, in terms of architecture.
If you want a more objective evaluation, this article by The Verge gives a good review. It's worth checking this out.
|Posted June 7, 2016|
Here's another interesting article by HP Enterprise, on future tech trends. After discussing the commoditization of internet bandwidth, the coming IoT explosion, the continued growth of mobile connections, the problems of market saturation and the challenges of internet security, it suggests a sixth imminent trend.
The author argues the exploding demand for low cost bandwidth, and the plummeting cost of space travel will combine to finally result in a widespread suborbital broadand system. He writes,
These space-, balloon-, or drone-based systems will provide high-quality broadband access to anywhere and everywhere in the world, they'll do it affordably, and they'll likely start arriving around 2020. And this time, they'll be wildly successful.
This could be a boon for companies like SpaceX and Blue Origen, disruptive for telecoms like Verizon and AT&T, and transformative for companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Imagine cheap, blazing fast data in the most remote corners of the globe. It could be just ahead.
|Posted June 7, 2016|
Despite all the talk about a trip to mars, my preference would be to try colonization of the moon first--and then use it as a base for a Mars project.
According to this great article at Mashable, Moon Express is attempting to move that direction. Evidently it is set to get NASA approval for the first private US landing on the moon.
The first venture will be a small 20 pound payload to do lunar exploration. According to RT, "The company is one of 16 that is competing for the Google Lunar X prize, which will award $20 million to the first firm to land a craft on the moon that can travel across the surface of the moon and send photographs back to Earth." But Paul Spudis, a senior staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and an adviser to Moon Express suggests it has bigger commercial interests.
One plan is to harvest valuable water, and energy on the moon surface and make them available to whatever organizations or companies need them for their space exploration programs. Water of course can be used to create oxygen both for breathing and fuel. And the lighter gravity of the moon makes it far cheaper to get those things into space--meaning a potential for profit. "Effectively, you can make the moon a refueling station," Spudis said.
Once the basics are in place, a moon base could expand to include mining valuable minerals and eventually to manufacturing items. With new 3D printing technologies, intricate parts could be manufactured for space craft, the space station, and other space projects right on the moon--and then made available without having to factor in expensive lift costs.
Though not mentioned in the article, year round solar power would be readily available if the base were placed at the right location. And underground facilities would provide better radiation protection than artificial satellites like the space station. And the existence of at least some gravity makes many things easier than strict 0 g environments.
A moon base also has far more potential for an eventual tourist market than Mars, which would require many months of travel and far greater risk. If space costs continue to plummet, there are likely thousands who could afford a quick trip to the moon and a couple weeks vacation. The moon is the perfect base!
From my limited perspective, it seems technology exists to begin this process relatively quickly on the moon. A strong moon base could then make a more serious and sustainable mars project feasible. It would generate considerable excitement in the interim and allow for the development and testing of the kinds of technologies required for long space flights and colonization of other planets/moons. Moon Express is just collecting data at this point. Here's to hoping some big player will catch this vision and make it happen.Leave a comment
|Posted June 2, 2016|
ExtremeTech just reported on a test by NASA of a revolutionary "quantum" space thruster. All current rocket engines work by ejecting propellant out one end, to produce thrust in the opposite direction. The problem is, the rocket must carry that propellant with it, adding more weight to the rocket, which requires still more propellant, and so on--in what becomes a difficult, and compounding problem. Imagine being able to skip all of that!
The new thruster, ridiculed by many scientists as violating known physical laws, appears to produce thrust using electricity alone. Here's NASA's conclusion from the experiment however:
Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.
While NASA has not yet proposed an explanation for the engine, others theorize it works using quantum vacuum fluctuations. According to quantum physics, particles are constantly appearing and disappearing throughout the universe. The quantum thruster simply converts these short-lived particles to plasma as soon as they appear, and ejects them like normal propellant--creating thrust.
The technology, if verified, could potentially be of great value to satellites, which could be equipped to maneuver around using power from solar panels alone--making them smaller, cheaper, and extending the length of their usefulness. Some theorists believe a large quantum thruster could get us to Proxima Centauri in as little as thirty years!
|Jun 01, 2016||Seasteading and Liberty|
|Jun 01, 2016||Olo--Amazing 3D Printer|
|May 27, 2016||Future of Public Transit?|
|May 25, 2016||Wireless Charging--For Cars!|
|May 22, 2016||Universal Translator Gets Closer|
|May 22, 2016||Space Race Goes International|
|May 13, 2016||Solar Plane Crosses Atlantic|
|May 12, 2016||The End of Graphical Interfaces|
|May 12, 2016||A Bio-Engineered Future|
|May 11, 2016||Firefly Spot Now Live!|
|Apr 19, 2016||Bigelow's Expandable Habitat|
|Apr 19, 2016||A Golden Age of Space Travel|
|Apr 11, 2016||The Coming "Tech"-tonic Shift|