Humanity’s First Interstellar Space Flight is Powered by Lasers

Space provides us with endless opportunities to explore the vastness beyond our atmosphere. However, escaping the gravitational pull of Earth has proven difficult. Scientists may have come up with a solution to this problem by asking: instead of flying into space, what if we could sail there? Researchers working for the company Breakthrough Initiatives are developing a method of space travel utilizing modified solar sails to capture laser light to provide propulsion. The project, dubbed Breakthrough Starshot, is testing this method by sending a probe weighing about 1 gram to Proxima Centauri b in approximately 20 years. By contrast, traditional chemical rockets would take thousands of years to travel the same distance. To achieve this, the probe will be propelled to 20% the speed of light by a 100GW, 1km square array of lasers. The sail attached to the probe captures this laser energy and is pushed by the force it generates, like a traditional sailing ship using the wind. 

Researchers Ho-Ting Tung and Artur Davoyan wondered if similar methods could replace our current chemical and electric rockets in the future. Calculations showed that even a probe powered by a much smaller 1m square, 100kW laser array could far exceed the current record for velocity, with minimal exposure time, in the range of hours to minutes. The team landed on silicon nitride or boron nitride as the best material for the sails due to their high reflectivity and cooling capabilities. They speculate that probes like these could easily be maneuvered between earth orbits within a day, a feat not possible with traditional propulsion methods. They also calculated that the probes could travel fast enough to escape our solar system, reaching up to 5 times the speed of the New Horizons probe.  

If you want to learn more about the Starshot project, click here, to read the original article. 

Or, click here, to read about the project on Breakthrough Initiatives’ website. 

Click here, for past Lenox Laser posts about space exploration. 

Recent Study Verifies Vacuum Decay Method for Detecting Packaging Leaks

Lenox Laser was recently involved in a study dedicated to testing the viability of an ASTM standard Vacuum Decay method of detecting leaks as put forth in their Abstract:

Preface: Vacuum decay, an ASTM standard method (F2338-09) has been well known in the industry as a reliable leak detection method for flexible non-porous pouches, as described in section 3.2.3i. Because the method-study for precision and bias has not been performed yet, as stated in section 1.2.5,ii this sometimes raises questions and doubts on the method itself. This paper can help to take away these questions and/or confusion/skepticism and provide some best practices and steps for product validation. To validate the vacuum decay method on flexible pouches, the most reliable ways are using capillaries or using a micro calibrator. Other methods might be cheaper, but cannot give reliable and reproducible results. In order to calculate flow rates, the Hagen-Poiseuille formula is explained. Moreover, the assumptions and limitations of this formula are covered.

Jobse, Pim & Renema, Andro. (2021). Verifying the Vacuum Decay Method with artificial leaks on flexible pouches.

If you are interested in learning more about this study, you can request the full-text PDF here.

Do you want more information about Lenox Laser’s involvement in the CCIT process? Visit our services page.

AI Powered Typing Assistant could Improve how We Use Keyboards

For most of us typing is second nature, we don’t have to think about where to place our hands, or when and where to move our fingers along the keyboard. A team at Waterloo School of Computer Science is looking to improve upon this process with a program called Typealike. The prototype program utilizes a webcam that monitors the user’s hands as they type and adjusts elements on-screen accordingly. This allows users to set up unique gestures to perform tasks that aren’t strictly available on the keyboard itself, similar to the gestures built in on most laptop trackpads. The goal is to make things as easy and streamlined for users as possible, to improve efficiency and reduce strain.

The program has a built in learning AI that learns gestures and improves its ability to recognize them as it continues to monitor a user’s inputs. It can track explicit motions to control things like zoom or volume, but it also has the ability to monitor subtle things like a user’s fatigue to adjust screen brightness or their keyboard’s backlighting. The researchers believe that the best way to improve the program is have users interact with it and expand the database of information the AI has to learn from. The team also hopes that it can be used for medical assistance as well as for everyday use as development continues.

To read more about the prototype, click here.

Or, click here, to read past Lenox Laser blog posts covering recent innovations.

SpaceX Starship Update

SpaceX constantly astounds the world, and their most recent feat is no exception. The company’s rocket, Starship, is continuing its journey towards its maiden launch. Starship will be used as a reusable mass transportation vessel for staffed and unmanned missions to space as part of Space X’s massive rideshare program that would allow astronauts and scientists from other companies to hitch a ride into space for their respective missions. The Starship rocket is the tallest ever built in the world thus far at a staggering height of 165 feet. Starship’s booster rocket, nicknamed Super Heavy, is 229 feet tall and weighs over 3 million pounds. Several trips to Mars have also become of interest when Starship is fully functional. It is also said that should civilians be able to explore Mars one day, that the rocket could carry up to 100 people per trip.  

The FAA was expected to complete its initial review of Starship by the end of February but pushed it back to March 28th at the latest. The massive rocket is the leader of this epic vision by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who said that one of Starship’s first missions will be to transport more Starlink satellites into orbit. It is estimated that astronaut crews could start using Starship sometime in 2025. Announcements of this massive achievement go back all the way to 2012 when the idea of the Raptor engines for Starship was first brought to light to the public. When the rocket was recently loaded onto its launchpad it took a lengthy three hours to do due to its weight and size. This was done with the aid of massive robotic arms that would hoist the rocket’s pieces into place. In this moment in time, starship is expected to reach orbit by the end of March. 

Do Our Brains Keep Us in the Past?

We don’t often think about our ability to perceive depth and color when observing the world; for us it is second nature. We also don’t realize just how much information our brain filters out to provide a stable field of view. The amount of information that our eyes take in on a day-to-day basis would overload the brain. To combat this, during periods of low movement, the brain takes segments of time and averages out the information provided by our eyes, compensating for the natural shakiness of the human body. This gives us a smooth view of the world that would otherwise overwhelm or cause vertigo. Thanks to a new study conducted by professors at Berkeley and Aberdeen Universities, we now have better insight into how our brains accomplish this. 

They asked hundreds of participants to look at close-up videos of human faces aging over time. After watching the video, the subjects were asked to approximate how old the face in the video was at the end. On average they gave a number that correlated to the face shown 15 seconds earlier in the video, not the one at the end. This concluded that subtle changes in our perception occur on roughly that amount of time, our brains average 15 second periods of time to give us a stable view. Acute changes such as an object being thrown towards us get updated more frequently, but changes that occur over longer stretches of time get simplified. 

 While this process has its benefits, it means that our brains gloss over a lot of minuscule details in trying to prevent visual clutter. This can cause us to miss important changes if they are too subtle for our brains to pick up.  

To check out the study for yourself, click here.

Or, click here, to read past Lenox Laser blogs about new research.

Unusual Radio Frequency Pattern has Astronomers Stumped

Scientists working at Curtin University recently stumbled across a baffling phenomenon in their data that has their team of radio astronomers scratching their heads. An honors student named Tyrone O’Doherty discovered the source while using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in Western Australia. The mystery object gave off intense light in approximately 20-minute intervals, which had previously been unheard of for a ‘transient’, the field’s term for objects that pulse on and off. Most transients either flicker much slower, in the range of days to months, or extremely rapidly, in seconds or even milliseconds. The object also emitted frequencies at a much greater intensity than expected, possibly outshining even the immense power of a supermassive black hole. Lead astrophysicist Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker poured over 8 years of data recorded by the MWA and found 70 more instances of the phenomenon over a 3-month period in 2018 after which the object stopped picking up, adding to the confusion. Scientists were able to determine the object is approximately 4000 lightyears away from us, based on the transmission frequencies present in the pulses. They also concluded the pulses were polarized, meaning they likely came from a source of strong magnetism, and the shape of the pulses indicated the object that produced them was much smaller than our sun.

These factors lead astrophysicists to believe the object is either a white dwarf or neutron star, the remnants of a star dying and collapsing into itself. And while they have never been observed, theorists believe neutron stars called “ultra-long period magnetars”, objects that behave similarly to the unknown phenomenon, could exist. They however did not predict that they could be so bright. Dr Hurley-Walker is continuing to monitor the object to see if it begins emitting energy again, with plans to search for more object that behave in this manner.

Click here, for an article by Dr Hurley-Walker on the discovery, or here for another article.

For past space blogs by Lenox Laser, click here.

Scientists Discover Breakthrough in the Moon Magnetism Mystery

A new study researching one of the moon’s biggest mysteries may have been solved; how did the moon form a temporary magnetic field? A team of experts at Stanford and Brown Universities are now seeking answers with rock samples taken from the surface and their formations. According to early evidence, it was theorized that the field came from the liquid mantle of the moon during its first billion years of existence, when several rocks sank into it. The magnetic fields would be strong, but sporadic. It is unable to exist now because the moon’s frigid temperatures. To help find further proof of this theory, rocks from all the past Apollo missions from 1968 to 1972 were studied thoroughly. The rocks had signs of the magnetic field, but it does not explain how it could exist when it’s not even as strong as Earth’s.

Another theory the researchers have is planets and planetary bodies that surround the moon could have given these magnetic fields, however temporary, energy. The slow dispersal of heat from this activity could have given the moon’s then molten core enough heat and energy to help aid in the production of temporary magnetic fields. Minerals like anorthosite floated to the moon’s crust surface, along with titanium from the molten core. A process known as gravitational overturn would happen causing the rocks to sink into the moon’s mantle. Using these findings new models within created giving the team simulations of what happened. Scientists found that all cooling layers of magma led to a convection process that laid the foundation for the magnetic field.

For further reading on this discovery, click here, and here.

Click here, to read other Lenox Laser posts covering recent aerospace developments.

Looking Back to the Beginning of Our Universe

The Big Bang theory states that the universe we know today emerged from extremely hot temperatures that began approximately 13 billion years ago. However, there is one important question still trying to be answered today. How was The Big Bang randomly started from nothing? Nobel laureate John C. Mather took on the Big Bang in his own way when he visited us for Lenox Laser’s second annual light seminar back in October of 2011, celebrating our 30th anniversary. The speech was titled “History of the Universe in a Nutshell: The Big Bang to Life and the End of Time.” Mather was also one of the brilliant minds that help design the James Webb telescope that just launched on Christmas 2021. Mather’s genius led him to help create a telescope that would examine galaxies and stars. Measuring things like their heat wavelength from the oldest of galaxies to the newest. He set out to find proof of predictions of the beginning and end of the universe and life itself. He stated that astronomers discovered many years ago the galaxies were made of stars and galaxies are moving away from us at insanely high speed. Mather mentioned scientists wanting to get to stars quicker but have no ways of accomplishing this, even to this day. He also discussed Einstein’s theories of the universe and how most scientists’ theories were thought of as fantastical nonsense. 

Mather asserted that the center of the Big Bang, its exact origin, could not be located, but according to a map of the Big Bang he was able to demonstrate that there were galaxies that were in the process of falling into themselves and headed into a dark void of nothingness and that the planets and stars could come from the beginning of minute particles almost impossible to see by the naked eye. With the Big Bang, the idea of its existing in one section of space and not expanding Mather stated as unacceptable and that it is ever-expanding with the end of it being potentially the end of the universe.

To watch the original recording of his speech, please visit our Youtube channel.

Or click here, to read our previous blog post discussing Dr. Mather’s speech.

Advancements in Microscope Calibration could Provide a Better Look at Viruses

Microscopes reveal many things in the world of science, such as organisms and cells, giving us an up close and personal look at tiny lifeforms. Using new techniques, the accuracy of microscopes could be enhanced to view the cell makeup of a sneeze by studying the volume of micro droplets. This is done by methodically tinkering with the calibration of optical microscopes. Most importantly this new venture could give insight into how airborne viruses evolve and spread so rapidly. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is spearheading the research, with measurements of volume being tested on samples that are 1e-11mL, around the volume of a red blood cell. With these optical microscopes, scientists can see the various dimensions and positions of droplets, within a potential tolerance of less than 1%. The method utilized to accomplish this is known as gravimetry which relates to the measurement of weight, giving them the ability to weigh droplets and see how much could fit into specially designed containers. Some of the test tools used were calibrated plastic spears to simulate the boundaries of an image once captured.

It was found that whenever the droplets landed on the surface the liquid evaporation trail could be used for study. It is not yet known how these images will be captured and what resolutions they will be. Focus and distortion were a couple of variables that were calibrated in the microscopes to improve the captured results. While this breakthrough is still in the initial stages, it is hoped that once perfected, we can have a more complete picture of diverse types of viruses, how they function, and how we can stop them in their tracks. This is an especially huge breakthrough that could end up being a great defense against coronaviruses. We wish everyone involved the best of luck on this ongoing research.

Click here, to read previous blog entries covering recent innovations.

James Webb Telescope Launch is Successful

The James Webb space telescope successfully launched into the vastness of space Christmas day this year. This journey was long in the making, beginning back in 1996 when the telescope was first conceived by NASA. The shuttle transporting Webb took off at 12:20am UTC in French Ghana and the telescope is now on its way to becoming the successor to the Hubble. The initial live stream on YouTube ran for 2 hours and 17 minutes, allowing people around the globe to watch the journey unfold in real time. Webb will travel 100 million miles into orbit, taking approximately 29 days to reach its intended target, but will not be officially declared fully operational until approximately 180 days after the launch. Multiple attempts to launch have happened in the last few years, but with equipment delays, storms, and the ongoing pandemic, it was postponed several times. But all that waiting has finally paid off and the telescope is now on its way into orbit. The next step, which will take over six months, will be gradually unfolding the telescope’s massive mirrors, which are each the size of several football fields. Following that is aligning the mirrors and cooling them to an immensely cold -380°F.

Lenox Laser was directly involved in manufacturing components for the Webb, providing precise alignment targets for the infrared imaging system to assist with the readings it takes while scanning for the innermost secrets of our universe. You can read about other NASA projects we have been involved in on our blog. It has been an immense honor for us to be part of such an important scientific endeavor. The telescope is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and is expected to take on the task of filling in missing pieces of the Big Bang mystery that have eluded scientists for many years.

Webb marks the largest telescope ever put in space, being roughly the size of a large truck at 43.5 feet long and 14.2 feet in diameter, and cost of over $10 billion to construct. Scientists are looking at the 344 mechanisms on board the telescope as potentially 344 points of failure, meaning that each of them must strike the right balance in the first attempt, with no chance at sending repair crews to the telescope if a fault occurs. Everyone on the team at NASA are optimistic that deployment will be successful however, and with any hope the James Webb Space Telescope will revolutionize our understanding of the universe, giving us viewpoints never before possible.

Visit NASA’s website for more information and to keep up with all the latest updates on this monumental journey.

NASA Chief discusses the James Webb Telescope after launch
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