Reusable spacecraft to make space travel more affordable and accessible

Today, space missions and satellite launches take years of planning and hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses. While we certainly benefit from these explorations, their time and cost slows progress.

To increase efficiency, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is beginning work on a reusable spacecraft that could change the way we think about space travel.

The vehicle, called the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1), aims to make space exploration faster and more affordable, which will result in more frequent spaceflights.

DARPA has contracted three leading aircraft systems companies to design the spacecraft: The Boeing Company, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman Corporation.

“We chose performers who could prudently integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies and operations, while making XS-1 as reliable, easy-to-use and cost-effective as possible,” explained DARPA program manager Jess Sponable.

“We’re eager to see how their initial designs envision making spaceflight commonplace—with all the potential military, civilian and commercial benefits that capability would provide.”

The XS-1 will fly unmanned at hypersonic speeds to execute its main purpose, deploying satellites into orbit. After releasing the satellites, the body of the spacecraft will return to earth and be readied for its next launch.

For now, goals of the XS-1 mission are more developmental. The program will attempt to fly 10 times in 10 days, reach hypersonic speeds and deploy a small payload into orbit, all while drastically reducing the cost.

To achieve these goals, DARPA will evaluate each company’s designs throughout the process, performing risk assessments and analysing how the technology can be pushed further.

reusable-spacecraft

The companies are also expected to have alternative approaches for both technical aspects and affordability. These high expectations mean that the development of the XS-1 will not be easy, but its systems should be sound.

A final part of the development process is determining how the reusable spacecraft design can be used for military, civilian and commercial purposes.

Indeed, the prospect of this inexpensive vehicle stirs futuristic visions of space tourists exploring the galaxy recreationally, with space travel becoming as accessible as flying in an airplane.

While this use of DARPA’s reusable spacecraft is a ways off, more practical applications are within reach. The XS-1 will increase the number of missions that launch each year with its quick turnaround rate.

Subsequently, the amount of data collected by those missions will increase, giving us a more comprehensive, detailed understanding of space.


Images and video courtesy of DARPA.


Steve “Woz” Wozniak to advise hologram emoji company that he calls “groundbreaking”

Apple’s co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak has found himself a new gig; Woz has joined the hologram emoji company, Mojiit, as an adviser.

In his role as advisor to Mojiit, the legendary entrepreneur and engineer will help assemble a world-class engineering team in addition to bringing investors and partnerships to the newly launched startup. Wozniak will also serve as mentor to Mojiit founder, Jeremy Greene.

“I’m thrilled to join Mojiit as an advisor,” said Wozniak. “Jeremy is a natural leader, the company is groundbreaking, it’s going to change the ecommerce space, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Created in 2017, Mojiit is the latest startup technology venture from Greene. The company’s tech essentially enables users to project and share 3D hologram emojis via smartphones.

The platform turns users into emojis by scanning their face, which can then be sent to loved ones and friends. Once a Mojiit message is received, it will map the area where it is received and place the Mojiit hologram there in real time, so it works in a similar way to Pokemon Go.

“Steve is one of the best and brilliant engineers in the entire world. But outside of that, he’s a wonderful man,” said Greene. “There isn’t anyone I’d want to be in business with more than this guy. He’s a legend. Who better to learn from than the guy who created the computer?”

Image courtesy of Nichollas Harrison. Featured image courtesy of Mojiit

In addition to consumer use, businesses of all kinds can tap into hologram emojis with Mojiit’s technology.

Mojiit investors already  include NFL alum Ed Reed, and the company was able to raise a total of $1 million in its seed round of funding.

Alongside the appointment of Woz, Entourage and Ballers producer Rob Weiss recently joined the company as a creative director.

“It’s exciting to expand beyond television and film to digital platforms,” said Weiss. “Hologram technology brings incredible opportunity to entertainment and media. I’m thrilled to be leading creative at Mojiit.”

Nanoengineers send antibiotic-delivering micromotors into the body to treat cancer-causing infection

Nanoengineers have demonstrated for the first time how “micromotors” that measure half the width of a human hair can be used to transport antibiotics through the body.

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego tested the micromotors in mice with Helicobacter pylori infections, which can also be found in about two-thirds of the world’s population and while many people will never notice any signs of its presence it can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

The mice received the micromotors – packed with a clinical dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin – orally once a day for five consecutive days.

Afterwards, nanoengineers evaluated the bacterial count in each mouse stomach and found that treatment with the micromotors was slightly more effective than when the same dose of antibiotic was given in combination with proton pump inhibitors, which also suppress gastric acid production.

Micromotors administered to the mice swam rapidly throughout the stomach while neutralising gastric acid, which can be destructive to orally administered drugs such as antibiotics and protein-based pharmaceuticals.

Because gastric acid is so destructive to traditional antibiotics drugs used to treat bacterial infections, ulcers and other diseases in the stomach are normally taken with additional substances, called proton pump inhibitors.

But when taken over longer periods or in high doses, proton pump inhibitors can cause adverse side effects including headaches, diarrhea and fatigue. In more serious cases, they can cause anxiety or depression.

The micromotors, however, have a built-in mechanism that neutralises gastric acid and effectively deliver their drug payloads in the stomach without requiring the use of proton pump inhibitors.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralisation with therapeutic action,” said Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a postdoctoral scholar in Wang’s research group at UC San Diego and a co-first author of the paper.

The nanoengineers say that while the present results are promising, this work is still at an early stage.

To test their work, the team is planning future studies to into the therapeutic performance of the micromotors in animals and humans, and will compare it with other standard therapies used to combat stomach diseases.

UC San Diego nanoengineers also plan to test different drug combinations with the micromotors to treat multiple diseases in the stomach or in different sections of the gastrointestinal tract.

Overall, the researchers say that this work opens the door to the use of synthetic motors as active delivery platforms in the treatment of diseases.

Image and video courtesy of the Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics at UC San Diego.