Another Flying Car on the Horizon!

This story made me immediately think of my Slovenian-made moped, a Tomos. Well, the wily Slovakians are giving my neighbors the Terrafugia people a run for their money on the race to develop a practical flying car. (A race that’s been on for, what, sixty or seventy years? About as long as the race to develop practical fusion power.)

Take a look at this beauty, the Aeromobil 3.0.

(Best viewed at full-screen size.)
View on Washington Post

Estimated to cost only a few hundred thousand dollars! (But I’ve already got the pilot’s license, so I’m partway there.) Woo-hoo!

Antares Explosion

I’ve written from time to time about the encouraging progress being made in privately funded efforts to get us into space. SpaceX has certainly had some great successes lately. And so has Orbital Sciences. But I suppose I should note the bad along with the good. This failure of the Antares cargo rocket bound for the ISS, yesterday, had to be a huge blow to the folks at Orbital Sciences. But thankfully no one was hurt.

It’s yet another reminder that space travel isn’t easy, and won’t be for a long time to come. Let’s hope they can find the cause of this, fix it, and get back onto the Star Road. Because as Tsiolkovsky said, we can’t live in the cradle forever.

Addendum: The Antares rocket was powered with refurbished Soviet-made rocket engines. This in itself isn’t unusual, since several of our major launch vehicles, the Atlas and Delta, are now powered by Russian-made rocket engines (though I believe of a later design). Whether this is a good idea or not is an entirely different question.

3D Printing Now—and Then

I was reading recently about the delivery of the first 3D printer in space to the International Space Station, by the SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship. You can read all about it here, and it’s pretty cool.

Not long after, I was reading a piece of fiction I’ve had around for a while that included this paragraph:

Igor’s countrymen, though lacking many earth techniques, were far ahead of earth in manufacturing skill. They used a single general type of machine to manufacture almost anything. They fed into it a plan which Igor called for want of a better term the blueprints—it was in fact, a careful scale model of the device to be manufactured; the machine retooled itself and produced the artifact. One of them was, at that moment, moulding the bodies of fighting planes out of plastic, all in one piece and in one operation.

That’s from Robert Heinlein’s “Elsewhen,” first published in 1941. It’s included in the collection Assignment in Eternity.

That man had some vision. 

Surplus Energy!

Yesterday was our first full day of generating power from our solar panels. It was a pleasant, mostly sunny day. I just checked our energy output for the day, and we seem to have generated a cool 30 kilowatt hours of current total. Here’s the graph, peaking between noon and 3 p.m.:

According to a recent electric bill, last fall we used on average around 20 kilowatt hours per day. I have no way of checking directly, but if that pattern still holds, we generated half again as much electricity yesterday as we used. We sold power to the grid!

Power too cheap to meter! Power from the people!

IT’S ALIVE!!! Bzzzz-t-t-t!

Our solar panels went live today, shooting electricity to to the grid! And to us! Time to celebrate!

Besides saving the Earth, we have a new way to waste time: logging in to see exactly how much power we’re generating (12 kwh for the afternoon, the last time I checked). It’s a cloudy day, and we were already past peak sun when the switch was thrown. I hope we get a sunny day this weekend, so we can stand around and look at the meter.

The switch is ON!

Fun fact: While the technician was showing me the website, a graphic informed me that we had, in effect, charged 4400 AA batteries since he’d switched it on. Or charged 2500 cell phones. Or burned a gallon of gas, but without the carbon emissions.

Solar rocks.

So does this movie.

Solar Panel Installation – Pt. 2

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve just done my day’s writing, and tomorrow’s and the next day’s, as well…

It’s all done, except for the final inspections—first by the town inspector, and then by Nstar. After that, we throw the big red switch, and electricity starts flowing from the rooftop!

Update Oct. 3 — The inspection is done, and now we’re just waiting for Nstar to sign off on the paperwork. I’m told that can take anywhere from ten minutes to two months, but averages a week or two.

Solar Panel Installation – Pt. 1

For the past three days, a crew of two men from Solar Flair Energy has been working on our house, preparing the installation of rooftop solar panels. So far, they’ve got the framework up on the roof, and part of the wiring in the attic. They should finish off the job by Monday, after which the town inspector and the Nstar inspector have to sign off on the installation. And then, we go live with power from the sun!

Here’s what we’ve got so far.

What makes this feasible is a combination of tax credits and a mind-twisting system of utility rebates (called SRECs) for renewal energy. It’s a substantial upfront investment from us, with a projected payback period of 7-10 years, after which it should start earning us money as we feed electricity into the grid (whatever we generate beyond our own needs). It should lower our energy bills, while reducing our carbon footprint, dependence on fracking and foreign oil, contribution to nuclear waste, and so on.

It’s all part of a program called Solarize Arlington, in which residents and business owners in town joined together with one provider to gain quantity discounts on the solar panels and other equipment. Other towns in Massachusetts are following suit. Our installer told me today that they’ve got jobs ahead of them as far as the eye can see.

Stay tuned!

Fusion Power from Skunk Works?

posted in: science, technology 0

Ever since the 1950s, the promise of unlimited power from controlled nuclear fusion has been just around the corner—or, to be more precise, about fifty years in the future. It’s still fifty years in the future, according to most experts.

Well, the people at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (creators of the famed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane), say they’re going to do it a lot faster. Here’s a talk by Charles Chase, of the Skunk Works. You can skip the first half of it, if you know more or less what fusion research is all about.

A lot was left unsaid, obviously, such as how close they have come to break-even—i.e., more energy coming out of the system from fusion reactions than is being put in. I’m skeptical of the claim, myself, but I would love to be proven wrong. For one thing, the application to space travel could be fantastic.

I guess we’ll wait and see. Usually the Skunk Works doesn’t advertise what they’re up to. Why is this different?

The Yin-Yang of Technological Advance

posted in: technology 0

Lots of interesting stuff has passed across my desktop since I got back from P.R., but the contrast of these stories really struck me:

First, we have a micro-satellite from Tartu University in Estonia, just launched into space on a European Vega rocket, designed to test an innovative new design to harness solar protons for propulsion, by repelling them. It’s interesting to see something like this come from a first-time space-faring country like Estonia. It’ll be even more interesting if it works. The concept might help us explore the solar system.

If we don’t kill ourselves first, that is. Our second, and definitely yang entry, is a plastic handgun made almost entirely in a 3D printer. Just what we need, handguns that may be undetectable by existing screening methods.

But then again, let’s cheer ourselves up with news that the flying car continues to approach reality (if not affordability). In fact, Terrafugia, creators of the soon-to-be-released Transition flying car, announced recently that they’re now working on a vertical takeoff and landing model, so you could theoretically take off in your driveway and land in a parking lot. Whee!

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