All posts by Callum Tyndall

Europe’s first spaceflight tourism centre announced in the UK

A UK-based company has unveiled plans to build Europe’s first space environment simulation facility.

Dedicated to commercial diving, space exploration and human extreme environment research, the overarching goal of the facility will be to prepare tourists for space travel and assist in the research and development needs of the spaceflight industry.

The UK Government announced their ‘Star Trek’ Bill this week as part of the Queen’s speech, which aims to set “the framework for the UK’s first spaceport… paving the way for commercial spaceflight” and secure the country a £40bn share of the global space market.

Blue Abyss, the company behind the new centre, plans to answer this need through the creation of the most comprehensive facility of its kind, housing the world’s largest and deepest indoor pool, alongside hyper and hypobaric chambers and a micro-gravity simulation suspension system for replicating the effects of weightlessness.

Astronauts train for spacewalks at the underwater facility in Moscow, Russia. Blue Abyss plans to build a similar facility in Colchester, Essex in the UK. Image courtesy of vicspacewalker / Shutterstock.com

Astronauts train for spacewalks at the underwater facility in Moscow, Russia. Blue Abyss plans to build a similar facility in Colchester, Essex in the UK. Image courtesy of vicspacewalker / Shutterstock.com

“Blue Abyss will be able to fully serve this new and exciting market as the UK establishes itself as Europe’s leading commercial space-faring nation,” said Blue Abyss CEO John Vickers.

“Together with our partners, we will offer end-to-end ‘ground’ services for Space tourists to safely and effectively prepare them for their once in a lifetime trip.”

Pre-spaceflight briefing and training will be a necessity for all ‘space tourists’, as with standard astronauts, and the Blue Abyss facility will look to provide this training primarily through ‘neutral buoyancy training’, in which the trainee will wear a spacesuit and perform physical tasks whilst submerged in water.

The principal challenges that the tourists will need to deal with are the rigours of launch and return to Earth, and the weightless “microgravity” experienced during spaceflight.

The UK is getting more involved in space than ever before, with Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to launch with the European Space Agency, currently aboard the International Space Station. Image and featured image courtesy of Tim Peake

The UK is getting more involved in space than ever before, with Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to launch with the European Space Agency, currently aboard the International Space Station. Image and featured image courtesy of Tim Peake

Dr Simon Evetts, space life scientist at Blue Abyss, said: “We plan to combine neutral buoyancy training in the pool with additional, cutting-edge technology never used in this way before. This will offer individuals the most incredible and realistic spaceflight experience before they even leave the ground.

“The same technique will be used to provide a valuable training tool for government astronauts preparing for Space missions.”

Additional to the training facilities, Blue Abyss will contain the ‘Kuehnegger Human Performance Centre’, which will focus on human spaceflight research and its benefits for terrestrial healthcare.

Beyond the complex itself, the company also hopes to encourage an interest in marine environments and provide the UK with an aquatic-oriented STEM education centre.

In the final stages of securing investment, the facility is schedule to be operational in mid-2018, and will be located in Colchester, Essex, in the University of Essex’s Knowledge Gateway Business Park.

Speaking on the possibilities of Blue Abyss, non-executive director and former NASA astronaut Dr. Scott Parazynski said: “Blue Abyss is uniquely positioned to provide a pioneering, state-of-the-art facility delivering ‘space-ready’ humans for flight. Moreover, Blue Abyss will have infinite opportunities to advance new space and sub-sea technologies, helping the UK play a key role in the space and tech sectors globally.”

Technology meets superheroes: The 10 most fantastic inventions in comics

Comic books are full of bizarre and wonderful characters capable of astonishing feats. For many of them, these feats are possible due to alien genetics, cosmic rays or the bite of a radioactive spider. However, not all characters are naturally blessed with super-powers, and some of them have to make do by creating devices that allow them to join the world of the superheroes.

The inventions created are often even more fantastical than super-powers alone and tantalise us with the possibility that maybe – just maybe- we could someday see actual technology make the world of comic books real.

Until then, we take a look at some of the most incredible inventions in comics.

Iron Man’s Suit

From Marvel's Tales to Astonish Vol 1, Issue 82

From Marvel’s Tales to Astonish Vol 1, Issue 82

One of the more obvious contenders, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit has come in a whole host of forms across the years, each design created to improve upon the last or serve a very specific function. From the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of space, the suit is seemingly capable of being adapted to any situation. And as time has gone by, it’s reached ever more incredible functions, to the point that, in its most modern forms, the suit is telepathically controlled by Stark. If an exo-skeleton with the power to operate in practically any environment, and reside in your skin as nano-tech when not in use, isn’t cutting edge, then I’m not sure what is.

Boom Tubes

From DC Comics' Mister Miracle, Vol 1, Issue 9

From DC Comics’ Mister Miracle, Vol 1, Issue 9

Created by famous artist and writer Jack Kirby, boom tubes operate as a form of teleportation. The capability of boom tubes far exceeds
the usual, fairly terrestrial abilities of teleportation;  they function as an extra-dimensional portal, allowing the user to travel across vast distances in space, or even between dimensions. Used primarily by the New Gods, the travel capabilities of a boom tube far exceed those of more, ‘conventional’ teleportation devices, and can accommodate users ranging from tens of feet tall to tens of thousands of miles tall.

Mother Box

From DC Comics' Infinity Man and the Forever People, Vol 1, Issue 1

From DC Comics’ Infinity Man and the Forever People, Vol 1, Issue 1

Boom tubes, however, would be nothing without a Mother Box. Mother Boxes are another Kirby invention used by the New Gods, and are devices with capabilities that not even their users fully understand. To give a brief overview of their capabilities, a Mother Box can: sense life, sense danger, create force fields, create Boom Tubes, communicate telepathically, control machines, heal their host and even change the gravity of an area. The easiest way of understanding the technology is as a sentient, minituarised and portable supercomputer, but when looking at a device with the immense powers of a Mother Box, it’s hard to fit it into a simple definition.

T-Spheres

From DC Comics' Mister Terrific, Vol 1, Issue 7

From DC Comics’ Mister Terrific, Vol 1, Issue 7

Created by Mister Terrific, the T-Spheres are small spheres which possess artificial intelligence and can be controlled via Terrific’s mask and earpieces. The Spheres’ uses are varied and seem to be limited only by the imagination of their creator. In the past, the spheres have been used for everything from creating holograms, hacking bank vaults and the release of electrical charges, to cloaking against all technological detection and scanning blood down to three parts per million.

Pym Particles / The Atom’s White Dwarf Star Belt

From Marvel's Tales to Astonish, Vol 1, Issue 27

From Marvel’s Tales to Astonish, Vol 1, Issue 27

When it comes to miniature wonders, though, there are a couple of standouts. Taking joint place due to their similarity, the Atom’s White Dwarf Star Belt and Ant-Man’s Pym Particles both enable their user to manipulate their own size, most commonly shrinking to microscopic sizes. Ant-Man has an obvious tendency towards the size of an ant, but Pym Particles have been used to go even smaller, travelling through bloodstreams and, on the opposite side of the scale, growing to giant proportions. The Atom meanwhile has utilised his abilities to go so small as to manually interact with molecules or, in his signature trick, ride phone lines to any handset he calls.

Green Lantern Rings

From DC Comics' Green Lantern Corps, Vol 3, Issue 12

From DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, Vol 3, Issue 12

Perhaps one of the most powerful items on the list, the Power Rings were created for the Green Lanterns by the Guardians of the Universe. While simple in design, a Green Lantern Ring is incredible in the possibilities contained within. Essentially, if the wearer can imagine it, the Ring can create it. Tapping into the user’s willpower, the Rings can theoretically do anything, given their ability to affect and use the fundamental forces of the universe, but their primary function is the creation of energy constructs. Perhaps the most notable of these is the time that Hal Jordan recreated an entire city with his ring.

Captain America’s Shield

From Marvel's Captain America, Vol 1, Issue 196

From Marvel’s Captain America, Vol 1, Issue 196

Created from an alloy of vibranium and steel, Captain America’s shield is not quite so fantastical for what it is used for so much as for the simple nature of what it is. Given vibranium’s ability to absorb all vibrations in the vicinity and any kinetic energy directed at it, the shield is near physically indestructible. Across its history, while broken by opponents of cosmic-level power, this simple disk has proved more than strong enough to absorb blows from both Thor and the Hulk.

Adamantium

From Marvel's Wolverine, Vol 3, Issue 43

From Marvel’s Wolverine, Vol 3, Issue 43

Continuing the trend of unbreakable metals, this entry could arguably have been titled Wolverine’s Skeleton for its most famous application. The metal was created in an attempt to replicate the alloy that Captain America’s shield is made of and is similarly near-indestructible. Additionally – as seen with Wolverine’s claws -when moulded to a point or edge, adamantium is capable of cutting through almost any other material with ease.

Doctor Doom / The Fantastic Four’s Afterlife Transporter

ff edit

From Marvel’s Fantastic Four, Vol 1, Issue 511

Initially created by Dr Doom to communicate with the dead in an attempt to locate his mother’s soul, the machine was later taken possession of by Reed Richards following a series of events that resulted in the death of the Thing. Reed believed that, with some tinkering to correct the mistakes in Doom’s equation, he could use the machine to travel to the afterlife and recover the Thing’s soul. The transporter – perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not because this is comics – worked. The Transporter carried the three living members of the Fantastic Four to Heaven, where they were ultimately able to meet a God who looked surprisingly like Jack Kirby and return to Earth with the Thing.

Batman’s Utility Belt

From DC Comics' Star-Spangled Comics, Vol 1, Issue 89

From DC Comics’ Star-Spangled Comics, Vol 1, Issue 89

It’s a wonderfully straight-forward thing, a belt. That said, I’m not sure that the laws of physics have ever quite been able to explain just how Batman can fit everything in his. The arsenal contained within is huge, from batarangs to a rebreather to a chunk of kryptonite. The capacity of the belt seems improbably large and yet, there is forever just one more item to pull out. One more cryptographic sequencer; one last glue globule; a final can of shark repellent.