All posts by Pete Lobner

70th Anniversary of Nineteen Eighty-Four and it’s Still a Cautionary Tale for Our Own Future

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published 70 years ago, on 8 June 1949. Together with his political allegory Animal Farm published in 1945, Nineteen Eighty-Four brought Orwell worldwide fame. As I hope you know, Nineteen Eighty-Four describes a dystopian future occurring in 1984 (now 35 years in our past) in which a totalitarian government imposes repressive regimentation on all persons and behaviors through prescriptive laws, propaganda, manipulation of history, and omnipresent surveillance.  Fortunately for us, the real year 1984 fared much better.  However, Orwell’s vision of the future, as expressed in this novel, still may be a timely and cautionary tale of a future yet to come.

First edition cover.
Source: Wikipedia
George Orwell.  Source: BBC

You’ll find an interesting collection of quotations attributed to George Orwell on the AZ Quotes website here:

https://www.azquotes.com/author/11147-George_Orwell

You can read Nineteen Eighty-Four chapter-by-chapter online on The Complete Works of George Orwell website at the following link, which also contains other Orwell novels.

https://www.george-orwell.org/1984

You also can read Nineteen Eighty-Four as one file on the Project Gutenberg Australia website at the following link:

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100021.txt

Here, it’s easy to search the whole novel for key words and phrases, like “Though Police,” “Big Brother,” “Ministry of Truth,” “thoughtcrime,” and “crimethink,” and see how they are used in context.

Orwell was right about the concept that an entire population can be kept under constant surveillance.  However, he probably didn’t appreciate the commercial value of such surveillance and that people voluntarily would surrender so much information into an insecure (online) environment, thereby making it easy for agents to legally or illicitly collect and process the information they want. Today, it’s hard to know if Big Brother is the government or anonymous aggregations of commercial firms seeking to derive value from your data and influence your behavior.

With the increasing polarization in our society today, it seems to me that we are entering more precarious times, where our own poorly defined terms, such as “politically correct” and “hate speech,” are becoming tools to stifle alternative views and legitimate dissent.

I remember in the late 1970s when I first read the words “politically correct” in Jim Holman’s local San Diego newspaper, Reader. My first reaction to this poorly defined term was that it will lead to no good.  Since then, use of  “politically correct” has grown dramatically, as shown in the following Google Ngram.  While I agree that political correctness has its place in a polite society, the muddled jargon of political correctness easily can becomes a means to obfuscate a subject under discussion.

Ngram 1800 – 2008.  Source: Google

In the past two decades, use of the term “hate speech” has become commonplace, as shown in the following Google Ngram. While laws have been written to define and combat actual “hate speech,” this term is easily misused to stifle dissent, even legitimate dissent, by forcefully mischaracterizing one side of a discussion that never was intended to be hateful.  Our ability to hold opposing views without being mischaracterized as a “hater” is being eroded in our increasingly polarized society, where self-appointed (and often anonymous) Thought Police are using social media (What an oxymoron!) to punish the perceived offenders. Such “policing” is not centralized, as in Orwell’s novel, but its effects can be very damaging to its victims.

Ngram 1800 – 2008.  Source: Google

Of course, the word “dissent” has been in common usage for a very long time and is a fundamental right of American citizens.

Ngram 1800 – 2008.  Source: Google

Seventy years after first being published, Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four still stands as a relevant cautionary tale for our own future.  I encourage you to read it again, keep an open mind, and piss off the self-declared Thought Police from time to time.

Source: Libertymaniacs.com, 2011

Higgins Landing Craft had a Major Impact on the Outcome of World War II

Higgins landing craft are the ubiquitous, flat-bottomed, shallow-draft, barge-like boats used widely throughout WW II to deliver troops, vehicles and supplies from offshore ship to the beach during opposed (the enemy was shooting back) amphibious landings.  Designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins, these boats were built in large quantities at the Higgins Industries shipyard in New Orleans, LA, using a diverse labor force. 

The Higgins Memorial Project provides a biography of A. J. Higgins at the following link:

http://www.higginsmemorial.com/higgins.asp

The biographer notes: “In 1964, Dwight D. Eisenhower called Andrew Jackson Higgins ‘the man who won the war for us’.  Without Higgins’ famous landing crafts (LCPs, LCPLs, LCVPs, LCMs), the strategy of World War II would have been much different and winning the war much more difficult.”

Andrew Jackson Higgins
Source: Higgins Memorial Project

Higgins designed more than 60 types of landing craft, all built largely of mahogany plywood (same as the Higgins and other WW II PT boats), with a strong, internal wooden frame structure, and limited use of steel.  By the end of WW II, Higgins Industries has built more than 20,000 boat, 12,500 of them were LCVPs.

The first Higgins boats be used were the LCPs (Landing Craft, Personnel) and LCP(L)s (Landing Craft, Personnel, Large), which did not have a bow loading ramp. Men had to jump over the gunwales after the boat landed on the beach.

Higgins LCP(L).  Source: Wikipedia

Higgins LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) were the primary way that soldiers, sailors, Marines and supplies got to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  The LCVPs has a steel bow loading ramp and steel armor plate added on the exterior of the hull.  They could ferry a platoon-sized complement of 36 soldiers with their equipment to shore at 9 knots (17 kph).  LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized) carried larger vehicles, including tanks, to shore. 

Source:  https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/courses/ww2/projects/fighting-vehicles/higgins-boat.htm
LCVP, circa April 1945.  Source: U.S. Navy photo

At the following link, you can read a 3 June 2019 article by David Kindy, “The Invention That Won World War II – Patented in 1944, the Higgins boat gave the Allies the advantage in amphibious assaults.” 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/invention-won-world-war-ii-180972327/

That article notes one of the few surviving LCVPs is now on display outside of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters and National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia.

A surviving LCVP on display in Alexandria, VA. 
Source:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/

A replica of a Higgins LCVP is at the National WW II Museum in New Orleans.

You can watch a 10-minute YouTube video history of the Higgins boats here:

The men who rode into combat during WW II in these little vessels were very brave men.  We owe them a debt of gratitude for their costly success in storming the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago and turning the tide of WW II.

The Huge Scale of the Latest Generation of Wind Turbines is Challenging Available Manufacturing and Transportation Infrastructure

In an effort to improve the generating and economic performance of wind turbines, manufacturers have been designing and building increasingly larger machines.  Practical limits on transporting these very long and heavy components between the factories and the installation sites may limit the scale of the wind turbines selected for some applications and may require novel solutions that affect component design, factory siting and choice of transportation mode.  In this post, we’ll take a look at these issues.

1. The latest generation of wind turbines

1.1 GE Cypress platform

On 13 March 2019, General Electric (GE) Renewable Energy announced that its largest onshore wind turbine prototype, named Cypress, started commercial operation in the Netherlands.  Unlike other large wind turbines, the prototype Cypress composite turbine blades come in two pieces and are assembled on site. Cypress was announced in September 2017 and construction of the prototype began in 2018.

The 5.3 MW Cypress prototype wind turbine. Source:  GE

The Cypress 5.3-158 prototype has a nominal generating capacity of 5.3 MW.  A smaller Cypress 4.8-158 (with a 4.8 MW rating) is currently under production at GE’s Salzbergen, Germany factory, and it is expected to be commissioned by the end of the 2019.  Both have a rotor diameter of 158 meters (518.3 ft).

Anatomy of a GE Cypress wind turbine. Source:  GE

GE reports that the Cypress platform is “powered by a revolutionary two-piece blade design that makes it possible to use larger rotors and site the turbines in a wider variety of locations. The Annual Electricity Production (AEP) improvements from the longer rotors help to drive down Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE), and the proprietary blade design allows these larger turbines to be installed in locations that were previously inaccessible.” Site accessibility can be limited by the practicality of ground transportation of single-piece blades that can be nearly 91.4 meters (300 feet) long.

1.2 GE LM 88.4 P, the longest one-piece rotor blade in the world

LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy business, has delivered the longest one-piece wind turbine blades built to date, the LM 88.4 P, which measure 88.4 meters (290 ft) long.  Three of these giant blades are installed onshore in Denmark on an Adwen’s AD 8-180 wind turbine, which has an 8 MW nominal generating capacity and a 180 meter (590.5 ft) rotor diameter.  You can get a sense of the size of an LM 88.4 P in the following photo showing a rotor blade leaving the factory.

88.4 meter (290 ft) LM 88.4 P wind turbine rotor blade 
leaving the factory.  Source: LM Wind Power

1.3 GE Haliade-X platform

GE is developing an even larger wind turbine platform, the Haliade X, which will become the world’s largest wind turbine when it is completed.  This 12 MW platform, which is being developed primarily for offshore wind farms, features 107 meter (351 ft) long one-piece blades and a 220 meter (722 ft) rotor diameter. The first prototype unit will be installed onshore near Rotterdam, Netherlands, where it will stand 259 meters (850 ft) tall, from the base of the tower to the top of the blade sweep.

Anatomy of a GE 12 MW Haliade-X wind turbine. Source: GE

Construction of the prototype Haliade-X wind turbine began in 2019.  The first blade is shown in the photo below. After securing a “type certificate” for the Haliade-X platform, GE plans to start selling this wind turbine commercially as early as 2021. The near-term market focus appears to be new wind turbines sited in the North Sea.

The first 107 meter (351 ft) Haliade-X blade at the factory in Cherbourg, France.  Source GE Renewable Energy

1.4 Siemens Gamesa SG 10.0-193 DD platform

In January 2019, Siemens Gamesa launched its next generation (Generation V) of very large offshore wind turbines, the SG 10.0-193 DD, which has a nominal generator rating of 10 MW, blade length of 94 meters (308 ft) and a rotor diameter of 193 meters (633 ft).  The nacelle housing the wind turbine hub and generator weighs up to 400 tons.

You’ll find the Siemens product brochure for this Generation V wind turbine here: https://www.siemensgamesa.com/en-int/-/media/siemensgamesa/downloads/en/products-and-services/offshore/brochures/siemens-gamesa-offshore-wind-turbine-sg-10-0-193-dd-en-double.pdf

The 10 MW Siemens SG 10.0-193 DD. Source: Siemens Gamesa

1.5 Vestas EnVestusTM platform

The EnVestusTM platform, which was introduced in 2019, is Vestas’ next generation in its evolution of wind turbines. The V162-5.6 MW has a rotor diameter of 162 meters (531 ft), which is the largest rotor size offered in the current EnVestusTM product portfolio.  Various tower sizes are offered, with hub heights up to 166 meters (545 ft).  With this tallest tower, the blade sweep of a V162-5.6 MW wind turbine reaches a height of 247 meters (810 ft).

V162-5.6 MW nacelle.  Source:  Vestas

The trend in Vestas wind turbine maximum rotor size is evident in the following diagram.  In comparison, the largest GE wind turbine, the Haliade-X will have a rotor diameter of 220 meter (722 ft), and the largest Siemens Generation V wind turbine will have a rotor diameter of 193 meters (633 ft).  

Source: Vestas

You can read and download the EnVestusTMproduct line brochure here: https://nozebra.ipapercms.dk/Vestas/Communication/Productbrochure/enventus/enventus-product-brochure/?page=1

2. Transporting very large wind turbine components

The manufacturer’s efforts to improve wind turbine generating and economic performance has resulted in increasingly larger machine components, which are challenging the limits of today’s transportation infrastructure as the components are moved from the manufacturer’s factories to the installation sites.  Here, we’ll look at the various ways these large components are transported.

2.1 Transportation of wind turbine components by landPopular Mechanics reported that, “Moving long turbine blades is such a logistical nightmare that the companies involved sometimes resort to building new roads for the sole purpose of moving blades.” Transporting wind turbine tower and nacelle components can be equally challenging.  You’ll find an interesting assessment by CGS Labs of the challenges of wind farm ground transportation planning at the following link: https://www.cgs-labs.com/Software/Autopath/Articles/Windturbinetransport.aspx

As noted previously, the GE one-piece LM 88.4 P, which is 88.4 meters (290 ft) long, is the longest wind turbine rotor blade currently in service.  You can watch a short video of a single LM 88.4 P blade being transported 218 km (135 miles) to the construction site at the following link.  Total transport weight was 60 tons (120,000 lb, 54,431 kg). https://www.lmwindpower.com/en/products-and-services/blade-types/longest-blade-in-the-world

88.4 meter (290 ft) LM 88.4 P wind turbine blade during transport. 
Source: Screenshot from LM Wind Power video

Specialized trucks are employed to negotiate existing roads. Examples of difficult transportation situations are shown in the following photos.

Siemens 75 m (243 ft) rotor blade was transported 320 km (199 miles) by road.  Source: utilities-me.com, 14 Aug 2012
Making a sharp turn with a specialized truck for transporting a
 Vestas V117 57.5 meter (189 ft) wind turbine blade.  
Source: CNN.com, 5 October 2017

Watch a short 2017 video of this maneuver here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxvuMv2MED0

Specially-designed trucks move 52.4 meter (172 foot) long wind turbine blades on narrow roads on Baoding Mountain in China.  Source:  Business Insider, 2 Mar 2017

Watch a short 2015 video of this amazing truck convoy here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cnHui4pFBU

2.2. Transportation of wind turbine components by sea

The single-piece blades for the GE Haliade X wind turbine are so long that they couldn’t be transported by land from GE’s existing factories.  Therefore, a new LM Wind Power blade factory for the offshore wind market was built in Cherbourg, France, on the banks of the English Channel in Normandy.  This factory can load blades directly onto ships for delivery to offshore wind turbine sites.

GE wind turbine blades shipped by sea.  
Source:  LM Wind Power

In December 2016, Siemens Gamesa reported, “When our new factories in Hull, England and Cuxhaven, Germany become fully operational, and both Ro-Ro (“roll-on, roll-off”) vessels are in service as interconnection of our manufacturing and installation network, we expect savings of 15-20 percent in logistics costs compared to current transport procedures. This is another important contributor reducing the cost of electricity from offshore wind.”

The Hull, UK rotor blade factory, located at the Alexandra Docks on the harbor, was completed in 2016.  The Esbjerg, Denmark factory also is located on the harbor with direct access to shipping.

In 2018, Siemens Gamesa opened its modern factory in Cuxhaven, Germany for manufacturing offshore wind turbine nacelles.  These three Siemens wind turbine factories have direct Ro-Ro access to shipping.In November 2016, Siemens commissioned its first specialized Ro-Ro transport vessel, the Rotra Vente.  This ship is designed to transport multiple heavy nacelles, or up to nine tower sections, or three to four sets of rotor blades, depending on what else is being transported.  A second specialized Ro-Ro transport vessel, the Rotra Mare, was commissioned in the spring of 2017 to transport tower sections and up to 12 rotor blades.  These specialized transport vessels link the Siemens factories and transport the finished wind turbine components to the respective installation harbor.

The Rotra Vente provides Ro-Ro access for large Siemens wind turbine components.  Source: Siemens

2.3. Transportation of wind turbine components by airship

For more than two decades, there has been significant interest in the use of modern lighter-than-air craft and hybrid airships in a variety of heavy-lift roles.  One such role is the transportation of large wind turbine components.  Airships offer the potential to transport the components quickly between factory and installation site without the constraints of current ground and sea transportation networks.

Three examples of airship concepts for transporting wind turbine components are described below. 

Hybrid airships

In 2017, Lockheed-Martin proposed its LMH-1 hybrid airship to deliver large wind turbine components weighing up to 23.5 tons (47,000 lb; 21,000 kg).  The LMH-1 will be capable of flying 1,400 nautical miles (2,593 km) at a speed of about 70 knots (80 mph, 129 kph).  Lockheed-Martin is expected to fly the commercial prototype of its LMH-1 hybrid airship in 2019. You can read Lockheed-Martin’s proposal for airship transport of wind turbine components here: https://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed-martin/eo/documents/webt/transporting-wind-turbine-blades.pdf

This type of airship conducts short takeoff and landing (STOL) operations when transporting heavy loads, but can operate from relatively unprepared sites.  When off-loading heavy cargo, this airship must take on ballast at the landing site. 

After LMH-1, Lockheed Martin has plans to build a medium-size (90 ton cargo) hybrid airship that would be more competitive with trucking and rail transport.  

Anatomy of the LMH-1 hybrid airship.  Source:  Lockheed Martin

Variable buoyancy airships

In January 2013, Worldwide Aeros Corp. (Aeros), located in Montebello, CA, conducted the first “float test” of their Dragon Dream variable buoyancy airship.  More recently, Aeros has reported that they are working on the first commercial prototype of a larger variable buoyancy airship to be known as the ML866 / Aeroscraft Gen 2, which will be 169 meters (555 ft) long.  This airship is being designed with great range (3,100 nautical miles; 5,741 km) and a cruise speed of 100 – 120 knots.  The ML866 will have a cargo capacity of 66 tons (132,000 lb; 59,874 kg).  The first ML866 prototype is not expected to fly before the early 2020s.

This type of airship is designed to conduct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) operations with a full cargo load, and can hover above a site and take on or deliver cargo without landing and without transferring ballast to/from the ground site.

Concept drawing of an Aeroscraft variable buoyancy airship delivering wind turbine blades to a site.  Source: Worldwide Aeros Corp.

Semi-rigid airships

The KNARR initiative is a project created by two Danish design architects, Rune Kirt and Mads Thomsen to design a freight solution using modern airships to reduce the cost and energy consumption of today’s wind turbine freight business and make the logistics for wind turbine freight simpler and more efficient.  Their main point is that transportation and installation costs can be up to 60% of the total cost of a new wind turbine, and these activities have a large carbon footprint.  Their solution is a modern airship that is designed specifically for transporting very large and heavy wind turbine components directly from the manufacturer’s factory to the installation  site. For their work, they were awarded both the Danish Design Center’s Special Prize and the International Core77 Design “Speculative Concept.”.  You can read more about the firm, KIRT x THOMSEN aps, and the KNARR initiative here: https://www.kirt-thomsen.com/case10_airship-knarr

and here: https://projectknarr.wordpress.com/what-is-knarr/

The KNARR semi-rigid airship would be 360 meters (1,181 ft) long and would carry the wind turbine components in a large internal cargo bay. This type of airship is designed to conduct VTOL operations with a full cargo load.  When off-loading heavy cargo, this airship must take on ballast at the landing site.

The KNARR airship is a concept only.  No prototype is being built at this time.  You can view a short video defining the wind turbine transport application of KNARR airship here: https://vimeo.com/21023051

Concept drawing of a KNARR airships it lifts off after making a delivery.
Source: https://www.kirt-thomsen.com/
Concept drawing of a KNARR airship flying over a wind farm.
Source: https://www.kirt-thomsen.com/

3. Conclusions

The scale of the latest generation of wind turbines, particularly the GE LM 88.4 P, which measure 88.4 meters (290 ft) long, is approaching the limits of existing ground transportation infrastructure to handle delivery of such blades from the factory to the installation site.  GE’s introduction of two-piece blades on their new Cypress platform will significantly improve the logistics for delivering these large blades to installation sites.

Siemens’ practice of siting its wind turbine component factories with ready access to Ro-Ro shipping at an adjacent port facility greatly reduces the complexity of delivering large components to a port near an installation site.  GE has adopted the same approach with their latest factory for manufacturing the Haliad-X rotor blades in Cherbourg, France, on the English Channel.

Airships could revolutionize the transportation of large, heavy items such as wind turbine components.  However, the earliest likely candidate, the Lockheed Martin LMH-1 will not be available until the early 2020s and will  be limited to a maximum load of 23.5 tons (47,000 lb; 21,000 kg).  It seems unlikely that larger heavy-lift airships will be introduced before about 2025. 

So, in the meantime, we’ll see the largest wind turbines being installed in offshore sites.  For onshore sites, we’ll see more creative ground transportation schemes, and, probably, a broader introduction of multi-part rotor blades.

4. Recommended additional reading on wind turbines:

Exascale Computing is at the Doorstep

The best current supercomputers are “petascale” machines.  This term refers to supercomputers capable of performing at least 1.0 petaflops [PFLOPS; 1015  floating-point operations per second (FLOPS)], and also refers to data storage systems capable of storing at least 1.0 petabyte (PB; 1015  bytes) of data.

In my 13 November 2018 post, I reported the latest TOP500 ranking of the world’s fastest supercomputers.  The new leaders were two US supercomputers: Summit and Sierra.

  • Summit:  The #1 ranked IBM Summit is installed at the Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.  It has a LINPACK Benchmark Rmax (maximal achieved performance) rating of 143.5 PFLOPS and an Rpeak (theoretical peak performance) rating of 200.8 PFLOPS.
  • Sierra:The #2 ranked IBM Sierra is installed at the DOE Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. It has an Rmax rating of 94.64 PFLOPS and an Rpeak rating of 125.7 PFLOPS.

The next update of the TOP500 ranking will be in June 2019. Check out their website here: 

http:// https://www.top500.org

New exascale machines are only a year or two away

The next big step up in supercomputing power will be the arrival of “exascale” machines, which refers to supercomputers capable of performing at least 1.0 exaflops (EFLOPS; 1018  FLOPS), and also refers to data storage systems capable of storing at least 1.0 exabyte (EB, 1018  bytes) of data.  As you might suspect, there is intense international completion to be the first nation to operate an exascale supercomputer.  The main players are the US, China and Japan.

In the US, DOE awarded contracts to build two new exascale supercomputers: Aurora (announced in March 2019) and Frontier (announced in May 2019).

Aurora supercomputer concept drawing.
Source: DOE / Argonne National Laboratory

The Aurora supercomputer is being built at Argonne National Laboratory by the team of Intel (prime contractor) and Cray (subcontractor), under a contract valued at more than $500 million. 

The computer architecture is based on the Cray “Shasta” system and Intel’s Xeon Scalable processor, Xe compute architecture, Optane Datacenter Persistent Memory, and One API software. Those Cray and Intel technologies will be integrated into more than 200 Shasta cabinets, all connected by Cray’s Slingshot interconnect and associated software stack. 

Aurora is expected to come online by the end of 2021 and likely will be the first exascale supercomputer in the US.  It is being designed for sustained performance of one exaflops.  An Argonne spokesman stated, “This platform is designed to tackle the largest AI (artificial intelligence) training and inference problems that we know about.”

Frontier supercomputer concept drawing.
Source:  DOE / Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Frontier supercomputer is being built by at ORNL by the team of Cray (prime contractor) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD, subcontractor), under a contract valued at about $600 million. 

The computer architecture is based on the Cray “Shasta” system and will consist of more than 100 Cray Shasta cabinets with high density “compute blades” that support a 4:1 GPU to CPU ratio using AMD EPYC processors (CPUs) and Radeon Instinct GPU accelerators purpose-built for the needs of exascale computing. Cray and AMD are co-designing and developing enhanced GPU programming tools.  

Frontier is expected to come online in 2012 after Aurora, but is expected to be more powerful, with a rating of 1.5 exaflops. Frontier will find applications in deep learning, machine learning and data analytics for applications ranging from manufacturing to human health.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise acquires Cray in May 2019

On 17 May 2019, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced that it has acquired Cray, Inc. for about $1.3 billion.  The following charts from the November 2018 TOP500 report gives some interesting insight into HPE’s rationale for acquiring Cray.  In the Vendor’s System Share chart, both HPE and Cray have a 9 – 9.6% share of the market based on the number of installed TOP500 systems.  In the Vendor’s Performance Share chart, the aggregate installed performance of Cray systems far exceeds the aggregate performance of a similar number of lower-end HPE systems (25.5% vs. 7.3%).  The Cray product line fits above the existing HPE product line, and the acquisition of Cray should enable HPE to compete directly with IBM in the supercomputer market.  HPE reported that it sees a growing market for exascale computing. The primary US customers are government laboratories.

TOP500 ranking of supercomputer vendors, Nov 2018
Source:  https://www.top500.org
 

Meanwhile in China:

On 19 May 2019, the South China Morning Post reported that China is making a multi-billion dollar investment to re-take the lead in supercomputer power.  In the near-term (possibly in 2019), the newest Shuguang supercomputers are expected to operate about 50% faster than the US Summit supercomputer. This should put the new Chinese super computers in the Rmax = 210 – 250 PFLOPS range. 

In addition, China is expected to have its own exascale supercomputer operating in 2020, a year ahead of the first US exascale machine, with most, if not all, of the hardware and software being developed in China.  This computer will be installed at the Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing.

You’ll find a description of China’s three exascale prototypes installed in 2018 and a synopsis of what is known about the first exascale machine on the TOP500 website at the following link:

https://www.top500.org/news/china-spills-details-on-exascale-prototypes/

Where to next?

Why, zettascale, of course.  These will be supercomputers performing at least 1.0 zettaflops (ZFLOPS; 1021  FLOPS), while consuming about 100 megawatts (MW) of electrical power.

Check out the December 2018 article by Tiffany Trader, “Zettascale by 2035? China thinks so,” at the following link:

https://www.hpcwire.com/2018/12/06/zettascale-by-2035/

Phoenix Makes Its First Flight With Variable Buoyancy Propulsion. What’s Old is New Again!

The Phoenix Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is a small, autonomous airship designed to serve as a very long endurance, high-altitude “atmospheric satellite” that is capable of station keeping using an innovative variable buoyancy propulsion system.  The UAV is intended for use in telecommunications and a range of other civil and military applications.

Phoenix development is being lead by a consortium of UK universities, businesses, and innovation centers, with a distribution of roles and responsibilities as shown in the following graphic.

Source:  https://phoenixuas.co.uk

This project runs for three years. It is one of several projects supported the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and Innovate UK, to invest in “research and technology projects to deliver world leading aerospace technologies in the UK.”

The Phoenix project website is here: https://phoenixuas.co.uk

The Phoenix UAV is a small, variable buoyancy airship measuring 15 meters (49 feet) long, with a wingspan of 10.5 meters (34 feet).  The UAV’s teardrop-shaped fuselage is constructed from a Vectran fabric, with short wings and a cruciform tail made of carbon fiber composite material. Thin film solar panels on the wing and horizontal stabilizer surfaces generate electric power for the UAV’s systems and to charge an onboard battery that provides continuous power at night and during inclement weather.

Source:  https://phoenixuas.co.uk
Source:  https://phoenixuas.co.uk

The fuselage contains 120 cubic meters (4,238 cubic feet) of helium lifting gas (hydrogen is an alternative), a supply of lifting gas, and a separate inflatable 6 cubic meter (212 cubic feet) cell containing heavier air.  I would expect that the Phoenix is ballasted for near neutral buoyancy so that the control span of the buoyancy control system can produce both positive and negative buoyancy.

To increase buoyancy, air in the inflatable cell is released to the atmosphere via a vent in the tail.  If needed, lifting gas can be released to the gas envelope to gain positive buoyancy.  As the lighter-than-air Phoenix gains altitude, the aerodynamic surfaces generate forward momentum, propelling the UAV forward during the unpowered climb.  

At the top of the climb, buoyancy is decreased by pumping outside air into the inflatable cell, increasing the gross weight of the UAV. As the now heavier-than-air Phoenix enters an unpowered dive, the aerodynamic surfaces continue generating forward momentum to propel the UAV.

During an extended mission, the climb-dive cycle is repeated as often as needed to provide propulsion for controlling the position of the UAV.

First indoor flight.  Source: https://phoenixuas.co.uk

On 21 March 2019, the Phoenix UAV made its first successful flight indoors, covering about 120 meters (394 feet) and becoming the world’s first large variable buoyancy powered autonomous UAV. Outdoor tests will be conducted after the UK Civil Aviation Authority certifies the UAV.  As currently configured the developers expect that Phoenix can operate at altitudes up to about 914 meters (3,000 feet).

You can watch a short video of the first flight here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcqPvKfZjac

But was it the first ever flight of an airship using variable buoyancy propulsion?

No it wasn’t.  

Back in the 1860s, Dr. Solomon Andrews invented the directionally maneuverable, hydrogen-filled airship named Aereonthat used variable buoyancy and airflow around the airship’s gas envelope to provide propulsion without an engine.  The gas envelope on the original Aereon airship consisted of three side-by-side, cigar-shaped balloons, each with seven internal cells containing the hydrogen lifting gas. The balloons formed a gas envelope measuring 80 feet (24.4 meters) long and 13 feet (4 meters) wide. 

  • Buoyancy of the airship was controlled by venting some hydrogen lift gas or dropping some sand ballast.  
  • The angle-of-attack (pitch angle) of the gas envelope was controlled by moving the center of gravity of the gondola (i.e., by moving people in the gondola fore and aft as needed)
  • Propulsive force was generated by alternating between positive buoyancy (lighter-than-air) flight and negative buoyancy (heavier-than-air) flight, and by coordinating the pitch angle of the gas envelope. 
    • During a buoyant ascent, the pitch angle was adjusted to as much as 15 degrees up.  Air flow along the top surface of the envelope moved from bow to stern and drove the airship forward.   The airship can continue to ascend until it reaches its “pressure altitude” where the decreasing atmospheric air density reduces airship buoyancy from positive to neutral.
    • During a semi-buoyant descent, the pitch angle was adjusted to as much as 15 degrees down.  Air flow along the bottom surface of the envelope moved from bow to stern and continued to drive the airship forward.
  • Direction was controlled by a rudder at the stern of the airship
Source:  Popular Science Monthly, January 1932

Andrews first flew Aereon over Perth Amboy, NJ on 1 June 1863 and flew at least three times more.  With Aereon, he demonstrated the ability to fly in any direction, including against the wind, make broad 360 degree turns, and navigate back to and land at his starting point.  Aereon’s gondola could carry the pilot and three passengers.

On 5 July 1864, the US Patent Office issued Patent # 43,449 to Solomon Andrews for his invention of a balloon that was capable of directed flight and could even be flown against the wind.  You can read the patent here: https://patents.google.com/patent/US43449

Lithograph of Solomon Andrews’s first airship “Aereon”
Source: United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division,
digital ID cph.3b01438.

Andrews’ second airship, Aereon 2, had a different gas envelope design, described as “a flattened lemon, sharply pointed at both ends.”  Aereon 2 also used a different approach for controlling buoyancy.  The new approach used a complex set of ropes and pulleys to squeeze or release external pressure on the hydrogen gas bags, thereby changing their volume and how much air was being displaced.  Aereon 2 flew over New York City on 25 May and 5 June 1866. The second trip ended up about 30 miles away with a landing in Oyster Bay, Long Island. This was Andrews’ last flight. 

Source: Skinner Auctioneers

Andrews organized the Aerial Navigation Company, which was chartered in November 1865 for “the transportation of passengers, merchandise and other matter from place to place.”  The firm intended to build commercial airships and establish regular airship service between New York and Philadelphia.  During the post-Civil War economic crisis, many banks failed and Aerial Navigation Co. went bankrupt, ending the plans for the first commercial passenger and freight air service in the world.

Source: Worthpoint

What’s old is new again!

In the past two decades, winged underwater gliders implementing Andrews’ basic variable buoyance propulsion principle have been developed.  See the 2001 article, “Autonomous Buoyancy-driven Underwater Gliders,” which you can read here:

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8b21/111dee323c13a57079767b4973ce30bc6c24.pdf

Now, the UK Phoenix team has demonstrated variable buoyancy propulsion in a small, unmanned airship, 156 years after Solomon Andrews first flew the much larger Aeron with passengers in Perth Amboy, NJ.

Additional resources on the Phoenix UAV

Additional resources on Solomon Andrews and the Aereon

Additional resources on buoyancy-driven airships

Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Aircraft Makes its First Flight, but With an Uncertain Business Plan

Background

The firm Orbital ATK (formerly Orbital Sciences Corporation) was the first to develop a commercial, air-launched rocket capable of placing payloads into Earth orbit.  Initial tests of their modest-size Pegasus launch vehicle were made in 1990 from the NASA B-52 that previously had been used as the “mothership” for the X-15 experimental manned space plane and many other experimental vehicles.

Since 1994, Orbital ATK has been using a specially modified civilian Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, a former airliner renamed Stargazer, as a mothership to carry a Pegasus launch vehicle to high altitude, where the rocket is released to fly a variety of missions, including carrying satellites into orbit.  With a Pegasus XL  as its payload (launch vehicle + satellite), Stargazer is lifting up to 23,130 kg (50,990 pounds) to a launch point at an altitude of about 12.2 km (40,000 feet).

Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket released from Stargazer.  
Source: NASA / http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov

You can watch a 2015 video celebrating 25 years of Orbital ATK’s Pegasus air-launched rocket at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0L47cpXTzQU

Paul Allen’s firm Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (https://www.stratolaunch.com) was founded in 2011 to take this air-launch concept to a new level with their giant, twin-fuselage, six-engine Stratolaunch carrier aircraft.  The aircraft has a wingspan of 385 feet (117 m), which is the greatest of any aircraft ever built, a length of 238 feet (72.5 m), and a height of 50 feet (15.2 m) to the top of the vertical tails. The empty weight of the aircraft is about 500,000 pounds (226,796 kg).  It is designed for a maximum takeoff weight of 1,300,000 pounds (589,670 kg), leaving about 550,000 pounds (249,486 kg) for its payload and the balance for fuel and crew.  It will be able to carry multiple launch vehicles on a single mission to a launch point at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,700 m).  A mission profile for the Stratolaunch aircraft is shown in the following diagram.

Typical air-launch mission profile. Source: Stratolaunch Systems

Stratolaunch rollout – 2017

Built by Scaled Composites, the Stratolaunch aircraft was unveiled on 31 May 2017 when it was rolled out at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA.  Following is a series of photos from Stratolaunch Systems showing the rollout.

Stratolaunch ground tests – 2017 to 2019

Ground testing of the aircraft systems started after rollout. By mid-September 2017, the first phase of engine testing was completed, with all six Pratt & Whitney PW4000 turbofan engines operating for the first time.  The first low-speed ground tests conducted in December 2017 reached a modest speed of 25 knot (46 kph).  By January 2019, the high-speed taxi tests had reached a speed of about 119 knots (220 kph) with the nose wheel was off the runway, almost ready for lift off. Following is a series of photos from Stratolaunch Systems showing the taxi tests.

Stratolaunch first flight

The Stratolaunch aircraft, named Roc, made an unannounced first flight from the Mojave Air & Space Port on 13 April 2019.  The aircraft stayed aloft for 2.5 hours, reached a peak altitude of 17,000 feet (5,180 m) and a top speed of 189 mph (304 kph). Following is a series of photos from Stratolaunch Systems showing the Stratolaunch aircraft during its first flight.

Stratolaunch posted an impressive short video of the first flight, which you can view here:

Stratolaunch family of launch vehicles: ambitious plans, but subject to change

In August 2018, Stratolaunch announced its ambitious launch vehicle development plans, which included the family of launch vehicles shown in the following graphic:

  • Up to three Pegasus XL launch vehicles from Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (formerly Orbital ATK) can be carried on a single Stratolaunch flight. Each Pegasus XL is capable of placing up to 370 kg (816 lb) into a low Earth orbit (LEO, 400 km / 249 mile circular orbit).
  • Medium Launch Vehicle (MLV) capable of placing up to 3,400 kg (7,496 lb) into LEO and intended for short satellite integration timelines, affordable launch and flexible launch profiles.  MLV was under development and first flight was planned for 2022.
  • Medium Launch Vehicle – Heavy, which uses three MLV cores in its first stage. That vehicle would be able to place 6,000 kg (13,228 lb) into LEO.  MLV-Heavy was in the early development stage.
  • A fully reusable space plane named Black Ice, initially intended for orbital cargo delivery and return, with a possible follow-on variant for transporting astronauts to and from orbit.  The space plane was a design study.

Stratolaunch was developing a 200,000 pound thrust, high-performance, liquid fuel hydrogen-oxygen rocket engine, known as the “PGA engine”, for use in their family of launch vehicles.  Additive manufacturing was being widely used to enable rapid prototyping, development and manufacturing.   Successful tests of a 100% additive manufactured major subsystem called the hydrogen preburner were conducted in November 2018.

Stratolaunch Systems planned family of launch vehicles announced in August 2018.
Source: Stratolaunch Systems

After Paul Allen’s death on 15 October 2018, the focus of Stratolaunch Corp was greatly revised. On 18 January 2019, the company announced that it was ending work on its own family of launch vehicles and the PGA rocket engine. The firm announced, “We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle.”    

You’ll find an article describing Stratolaunch Systems’ frequently changing launch vehicle plans in an article on the SpaceNews website here:

https://spacenews.com/stratolaunch-abandons-launch-vehicle-program/

What is the future for Stratolaunch?

With only the Pegasus XL as a launch vehicle, and Northrop Grumman having their own Stargazer carrier aircraft for the Pegasus XL, the business case for the Stratolaunch aircraft has been greatly weakened.  Air launch certainly offers a great deal of flexibility for launching small satellites. However, it appears that the newest generation of small orbital launch vehicles, like Electron (Rocket Lab, New Zealand) and Prime (Orbix, UK) will be able to offer similar launch services at lower cost.  Electron is operational now, and Prime is expected to enter service in 2021.  

In a cost competitive launch services market, Stratolaunch does not seem to have an advantage with only the Pegasus XL in its launch vehicle inventory.  Hopefully, they have something else up their sleeve that will take advantage of the remarkable capabilities of the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft.

Stratolaunch’s main competition:  The Northrop Grumman Stargazer at the Mojave Air and Space Port in January 2019, available for its next Pegasus XL launch mission.  Source: Author’s photo

JASON and NRAC Contracts Cancelled by the Pentagon

JASON is an independent advisory panel of elite scientists that was created in 1960 to address a wide range of scientific and technical issues, primarily for the U.S. military. Originally, the JASON panel had about 20 members, known informally as Jasons, increasing to about 40 members by the 1970s.  JASON maintains its independence by requiring that new members be selected by its existing members rather than by external sponsors.  

JASON is a very controversial organization with a very low public profile.  For a good introduction to JASON, I recommend Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book, “The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite,”  which is available from Amazon and other booksellers. You can watch an hour-long video created by Microsoft Research with Ann Finkbeiner providing an excellent narrative overview (no Powerpoint slides) on JASON here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV1TBiwdZeg

Ann Finkbeiner notes: “Working in secrecy to solve highly classified problems for the Department of Defense, CIA, and NSA is an elite group of scientific advisors who provide the government with analyses on defense and arms control and they call themselves JASON.  Named for the hero in Jason and the Argonauts, the group grew out of the Manhattan Project and counts as its members scientists such as Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann.  Of the roughly one hundred Jasons over time, 43 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, eight have won MacArthur awards, one a Field’s Medal, and 11 have won Nobel Prizes.  Its members have gathered every summer since 1960, working in absolute secrecy and with unparalleled freedom.  The Jasons’ work poses vital questions: what role should the government play in scientific research? At what point is the inventor accountable for the hazards of the invention?”

You’ll find a list of JASON research topics compiled on Wikipedia here:

https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/JASON_(advisory_group).html

Most of the resulting JASON reports are classified.  You’ll find a list of unclassified JASON reports (and links) on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website at the following link:

https://fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/

Since the late 1970s, the JASONs have been assigned tasks and been funded via Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts managed by MITRE Corporation.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) issued MITRE’s most recent five-year IDIQ contract for managing JASON tasking and funding.   Task Orders are issued under the main IDIQ contract and the actual work is performed according to the individual task orders. The IDIQ contract structure broadly allows government agencies to commission a JASON study and fund it via a new task order.  MITRE’s IDIQ contract expired on 31 March 2019.  A follow-on IDIQ contract was in the works, but OSD cancelled that solicitation on short notice on 28 March 2019. 

On 10 April 2019, the article, “Pentagon Cancels Contract for JASON Advisory Panel,” written by Steven Aftergood, was posted on the FAS website at the following link:

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/04/pentagon-jason/?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=495e653a5b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-495e653a5b-222204421

FAS speculated that, “The Pentagon move to cancel the JASON contract appears to be part of a larger trend by federal agencies to limit independent scientific and technical advice.”  This trend appears to include the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), which is the Navy counterpart to the Army Science Board and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. 

On 5 April 2019, Steve Aftergood reported that, “This week the U.S. Navy abruptly terminated its own scientific advisory group, depriving the service of a source of internal critique and evaluation. The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) was established by legislation in 1946 and provided science and technology advice to the Navy for the past 73 years. Now it’s gone.  The decision to disestablish the Committee was announced in a March 29 Federal Register notice.”  You can read this report on the FAS website here:

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/04/nrac-terminated/?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=495e653a5b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-495e653a5b-222204421

You can get an understanding of NRAC’s advisory role by visiting their website, which is still online at the following link:

https://www.nrac.navy.mil

NRAC published reports from 1988 are available online here:

https://www.nrac.navy.mil/reports.asp

Efforts are underway on several fronts to attempt to restore funding for JASON and NRAC.  Hopefully funding can be restored and these independent advisory groups can continue providing important scientific and technical advice to the U.S. government.

Additional resources related to JASON:

  • Joel Shurkin, “True Genius: The Life and Work of Richard Garwin, the Most Influential Scientist You’ve Never Heard of,” Prometheus Books, 21 February 2017      

Lyncean link

At meeting #65 of the Lyncean Group in August 2011, the subject of our presentation was “Experience with the JASONs.”  See more at the following link: https://lynceans.org/talk-65-82411/

Update 26 April 2019

It appears that the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)  intends to take over the contract for the Jason Group. See the article, “After Pentagon Ends Contract, Top-Secret Scientists Group Vows To Carry On,” on the NPR website at the following link:

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/25/717225118/after-pentagon-ends-contract-top-secret-scientists-group-vows-to-carry-on

The Event Horizon Telescope Team has Produced the First Image Showing the Shadow of a Black Hole

The first image of a black hole was released today at a press conference in Washington D.C. held by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The subject of the image is the supermassive black hole located near the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy.  This black hole is about 55 million light years from Earth and is estimated to have a mass 6.5 billion times greater than our Sun.  The image shows a glowing circular emission ring surrounding the dark region (shadow) containing the black hole.  The brightest part of the image also may have captured a bright relativistic jet of plasma that appears to be streaming away from the black hole at nearly the speed of light, beaming generally in the direction of Earth.

The first ever image showing the shadow of a black hole (M87), which remains unseen at the center of the dark circular region.
Source:The EHT Collaboration, et al.

The EHT is not one physical telescope.  Rather, it an array of millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelength radio telescopes located around the world.  The following map shows the eight telescopes that participated in the 2017 observations of M87.  Three additional telescopes joined the EHT array in 2018 and later.  

The EHT array as used for the April 2017 observations.  
Source: The EHT Collaboration, et al.

All of the EHT telescopes are used on a non-dedicated basis by an EHT team of more than 200 researchers during a limited annual observing cycle.  The image of the M87 black hole was created from observations made during a one week period in April 2017.

The long baselines between the individual radio telescopes give the “synthetic” EHT the resolving power of a physical radio telescope with a diameter that is approximately equal to the diameter of the Earth. A technique called very long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) is used to combine the data from the individual telescopes to synthesize the image of a black hole. EHT Director, Shep Doeleman, referred to VLBI as “the ultimate in delayed gratification among astronomers.” The magnifying power of the EHT becomes real only when the data from all of the telescopes are brought together and the data are properly combined and processed. This takes time.

At a nominal operating wavelength of about 1.3 mm (frequency of 230 GHz), EHT angular resolution is about 25 microarcseconds (μas), which is sufficient to resolve nearby supermassive black hole candidates on scales that correspond to their event horizons.  The EHT team reports that the M87 bright emission disk subtends an angle of 42 ± 3 microarcseconds.

For comparison, the resolution of a human eye in visible light is about 60 arcseconds (1/60thof a degree; there are 3,600 arcseconds in one degree) and the 2.4-meter diameter Hubble Space Telescope has a resolution of about 0.05 arcseconds (50,000 microarcseconds).

You can read five open access papers on the first M87 Event Horizon Telescope results written by the EHT team and published on 10 April 2019 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters here:

You’ll find more information on the Event Horizon Telescope website, here:  https://eventhorizontelescope.org/about

There are ongoing efforts to improve the performance of the EHT.  Key areas for improvement include:

  • Operating the telescopes in the array at a shorter wavelength of 0.87 mm (frequency of 345 GHz) will improve angular resolution by about 40%.  This is expected to start after 2020 and take 3 – 5 years to deploy.
  • Adding terrestrial telescopes to the array will improve image fidelity and lengthen some baselines to improve angular resolution.
  • Collecting data over wider bandwidths (several frequencies)
  • Enabling dynamic imaging of time-variable phenomena, which will be very useful for observing the dynamic black hole known as Sgr A* at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
  • In the longer term, adding orbital radio telescopes to EHT will greatly expand the observation baselines and significantly improve angular resolution.

Congratulations to the EHT Collaboration for their extraordinary success in creating the first-ever image of a black hole shadow.

For more background information on the Event Horizon Telescope, see the following Lyncean post:

5 May 2019 Update:  Photo of the M87 galaxy released by NASA

On April 25, 2019, NASA released the following composite image showing the M87 galaxy, the position of the black hole and large relativistic jets of matter being ejected from the black hole.  These infrared images were made by NASA’s orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope.  

The M87 galaxy, with two expanded views, first showing the location of the black hole and two plasma jets (orange) at the center of M87, and second, the closeup EHT image of the black hole’s shadow.  
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC/Event Horizon Telescope


Israel Poised to Become the 4th Nation to Land a Spacecraft on the Moon

In my 6 August 2016 post, “Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE and Lunar XPrize are Paving the way for Commercial Lunar Missions,” I reported on the status of the Google Lunar XPrize, which was created in 2007 to “incentivize space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the Moon and beyond,” and actually deliver payloads to the Moon.  In addition, the lunar payloads were tasked with moving 500 meters (1,640 feet) after landing and transmitting high-definition photos and video back to Earth. Any additional science data would be a plus.  In January 2018, after concluding that none of the remaining competitors could meet the extended 31 March 2018 deadline for landing on the Moon, the Google Lunar XPrize competition was cancelled, with the $30M in prizes remaining unclaimed. You can read this post here:

https://lynceans.org/all-posts/lunar-lander-xchallenge-and-lunar-xprize-are-paving-the-way-for-commercial-lunar-missions/

One of the competing Lunar XPrize teams was SpaceIL from Israel, which was developing a small lunar spacecraft named Beresheet (originally named Sparrow), that was designed to hitch a ride into an elliptical Earth orbit as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 commercial launch vehicle and then transfer itself to a lunar orbit and finally land on the Moon.  

The SpaceIL lunar landing program continued after cancellation of the Lunar XPrize competition.  You’ll find details on the SpaceIL lunar program here:

http://www.visit.spaceil.com

As completed by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Beresheet spacecraft has a launch mass of 600 kg (1,323 pounds) and a landing mass of about 180 kg (397 pounds).  The lander carries imagers, a magnetometer, a laser retro-reflector array (LRA) provided by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and a time capsule of cultural and historical Israeli artifacts.

The Beresheet spacecraft.  Source:  by Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE

After landing on the Moon, the Beresheet spacecraft electronic systems are expected to remain operational only for a few days. The original Lunar XPrize plan to demonstrate mobility and move the spacecraft after landing on the Moon has been dropped.  The laser retro-reflectors will enable the spacecraft to serve as a fixed geographic reference point on the lunar surface long after the mission ends.While not designed for a long lunar surface mission, Beresheet is intended to demonstrate advances in technology that enable low-cost, privately-funded missions to another body in the solar system.  Beresheet was developed and constructed for about $100 million.  You’ll find more information on the Beresheet spacecraft here:

https://directory.eoportal.org/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/content/-/article/beresheet-lunar-lander

Beresheet was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL on 21 Feb 2019 into an initial elliptical Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) that was dictated by the requirements for the Falcon 9 booster’s primary payload. Once in GTO, Beresheet used its small rocket engine to gradually raise its orbit to a 400,000 km (248,548 mile) apogee to intersect the Moon’s circular orbit, and phase its orbit so the spacecraft passed close to the Moon and could maneuver into a transfer orbit and be captured by the Moon’s gravity.  This mission profile is illustrated below.

Source:  SpaceIL

You can watch a short video with an animation of this mission profile here:

On 4 April, SpaceIL tweeted: “Critical lunar orbit capture took place successfully. #Beresheet is now entering an elliptical course around the #moon, as we get closer to the historical landing #11.4″

After circularizing its lunar orbit, Beresheet is scheduled to land on the Moon on 11 April 2019.  NASA is providing communications support during the mission.

Artist’s concept of the Beresheet lander on the lunar surface.  
Source: Israel Aerospace Industries(IAI)

On 28 March, the X Prize founder and Executive Chairman Peter Diamand announced that, if the lunar landing is successful, the Foundation would award a $1 million “Moonshot Award” to Beresheet’s builders. Peter Diamand noted, “SpaceIL’s mission represents the democratization of space exploration.”

Best wishes to the SpaceIL team for a successful lunar landing.  If successful, Israel will become the 4thnation, after Russia (Soviet Union), USA and China to land spacecraft on the Moon.

Update 12 April 2019:  Beresheet spacecraft crashed during Moon landing attempt

The Beresheet spacecraft successfully initiated its descent from lunar orbit on 11 April 2019.  Initial telemetry indicated that the landing profile was proceeding as planned.

Beresheet status graphic during landing sequence.  
Source: IAI / SpaceIL
Photo taken from Beresheet during the descent, from an altitude of about 22 km. Source:  IAI / SpaceIL

Communications with the spacecraft was lost when Beresheet was about 489 feet (149 meters) above the moon’s surface.  Opher Doron, the general manager of IAI, reported during the live broadcast, “We had a failure in the spacecraft; we unfortunately have not managed to land successfully.” 

X Prize founder and Executive Chairman Peter Diamandis announced that SpaceIL and IAI will receive the $1 million Moonshot Award despite failing to make the planned soft landing on the Moon.

Update 14 May 2019:  Preliminary failure analysis

On 17 April 2019, SpaceIL announced that its preliminary failure analysis indicated that a software command uploaded to restart a failed inertial measuring unit (IMU) may have started a sequence of events that ultimately shut down the main engines prematurely during the landing attempt, resulting in the crash of the Beresheet spacecraft.

Morris Kahn, SpaceIL’s primary source of funding, pledged that the team will try again for a Moon landing with a new spacecraft dubbed “Beresheet 2.0,” which will incorporate lessons learned from the first lunar landing attempt.

For more information on the Beresheet mission, see The Planetary Society mission report at the following link:

http://www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/space-missions/beresheet.html

Verizon became the first wireless carrier to deliver 5G service in the U.S.

On 3 April 2019, Verizon reported that it turned on its 5G networks in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis, becoming the first wireless carrier to deliver 5G service to U.S. customers with compatible wireless devices in selected urban areas.  In its initial 5G service, Verizon is offering an average data rate of 450 Mbps (Megabits per second), with plans to achieve higher speeds as the network rollout continues and service matures.  Much of the 5G hype has been on delivering data rates at or above 1 Gbps (Gigabits per second = 1,000 Megabits per second). 

In comparison, Verizon reports that it currently delivers 4G LTE service in 500 markets.  This service is “able to handle download speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps …. and upload speeds between 2 and 5 Mbps, with peak download speeds approaching 50 Mbps.”  Clearly, even Verizon’s initial 5G data rate is a big improvement over 4G LTE. 

At the present time, only one mobile phone works with Verizon’s initial 5G service: the Moto Z3 with an attachment called the 5G Moto Mod.  It is anticipated that the Samsung’s S10 5G smartphone will be the first all-new 5G mobile phone to hit the market, likely later this spring.  You’ll find details on this phone here:

https://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/galaxy-s10/

Other U.S. wireless carriers, including AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US, have announced that they plan to start delivering 5G service later in 2019.

5G technology standards

Wireless carriers and suppliers with a stake in 5G are engaged in the processes for developing international standards. However, with no firm 5G technology standard truly in place at this time, the market is still figuring out what 5G features and functionalities will be offered, how they will be delivered, and when they will be ready for commercial introduction.  The range of 5G functionalities being developed are shown in the following ITU diagram.

Range of 5G applications

Verizon’s initial 5G mobile phone promotion is focusing on data speed and low latency.

The primary 5G standards bodies involved in developing the international standards are the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  A key international standard, 5G/IMT-2020, is expected to be issued in (as you might expect) 2020.  

You’ll find a good description of 5G technology by ITU in a February 2018 presentation, “Key features and requirements of 5G/IMT-2020 networks,” which you will find at the following link:

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Regional-Presence/ArabStates/Documents/events/2018/RDF/Workshop%20Presentations/Session1/5G-%20IMT2020-presentation-Marco-Carugi-final-reduced.pdf

DARPA Spectrum Collaboration Challenge 2 (SC2)

In my 6 June 2016 post, I reported on SC2, which eventually could benefit 5G service by:

 “…developing a new wireless paradigm of collaborative, local, real-time decision-making where radio networks will autonomously collaborate and reason about how to share the RF (radio frequency) spectrum.”

SC2 is continuing into 2019.  Fourteen teams have qualified for Phase 3 of the competition, which will culminate in the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge Championship Event, which will be held on 23 October 2019 in conjunction with the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles, CA.  You can follow SC2 news here:

https://www.spectrumcollaborationchallenge.com/media/

If SC2 is successful and can be implemented commercially, it would enable more efficient use of the RF bandwidth assigned for use by 5G systems.

For more background information on 5G, see the following Lyncean posts: