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[March 9th, 2018] Sci-tech news megapack

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    [March 9th, 2018] Sci-tech news megapack

    Bioengineering team's 'circuit' work may benefit gene therapy

    (Nanowerk News) Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas have designed genetic "circuits" out of living cellular material in order to gain a better understanding of how proteins function, with the goal of making improvements.
    Tyler Quarton, a bioengineering graduate student, and Dr. Leonidas Bleris, associate professor of bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, said they hope their work, published in Systems Biology and Applications ("Mapping the operational landscape of microRNAs in synthetic gene circuits"), has a big impact on synthetic biology and gene therapy.

    Spacewatch: engine fuelled by air will enable low-flying class of satellites

    The European Space Agency (ESA) has test-fired an engine that opens the path for a novel class of low-flying Earth-orbiting space missions. Called an air-breathing electric thruster, it is designed to work at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. It sucks in the scarce air molecules and uses them as propellant. Low-flying satellites, those in orbits of about 200-300km altitude, are gradually pulled out of orbit by the drag of the residual atmosphere.

    For example, ESA’s GOCE mission operated in this region of space. It flew for five years thanks to an electric thruster that used xenon fuel to counteract the atmospheric drag. When the 40kg of xenon ran out, however, the spacecraft fell to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere.

    Nuclear fusion on brink of being realised, say MIT scientists

    The dream of nuclear fusion is on the brink of being realised, according to a major new US initiative that says it will put fusion power on the grid within 15 years.

    The project, a collaboration between scientists at MIT and a private company, will take a radically different approach to other efforts to transform fusion from an expensive science experiment into a viable commercial energy source. The team intend to use a new class of high-temperature superconductors they predict will allow them to create the world’s first fusion reactor that produces more energy than needs to be put in to get the fusion reaction going.

    Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni, said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”

    We Just Completed a Record-Breaking Test of a Revolutionary Ion Engine

    When it comes to the future of space exploration, a number of new technologies are being investigated. Foremost among these are new forms of propulsion that will be able to balance fuel-efficiency with power. Not only would engines that are capable of achieving a great deal of thrust using less fuel be cost-effective, they will be able to ferry astronauts to destinations like Mars and beyond in less time.

    This is where engines like the X3 Hall-effect thruster comes into play. This thruster, which is being developed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in conjunction with the US Air Force and the University of Michigan, is a scaled-up model of the kinds of thrusters used by the Dawn spacecraft. During a recent test, this thruster shattered the previous record for a Hall-effect thruster, achieving higher power and superior thrust.

    Hall-effect thrusters have garnered favor with mission planners in recent years because of their extreme efficiency. They function by turning small amounts of propellant (usually inert gases like xenon) into charged plasma with electrical fields, which is then accelerated very quickly using a magnetic field. Compared to chemical rockets, they can achieve top speeds using a tiny fraction of their fuel.
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