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NASA engineer invents physics-breaking new space engine – Newshub

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It doesn’t look like this, but this is what it might let us do.

Photo credit: Getty

Star Trek‘s Montgomery Scott famously said “ye cannot change the laws of physics”, but a real-life space engineer says he might have just done that.

David Burns of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama has unveiled what he’s calling the ‘helical engine’, which could potentially power flights across space without using any fuel at all.

There’s just one small problem – it breaks the laws of physics as we know them.

“I’m comfortable with throwing it out there,” Burns told magazine New Scientist. “If someone says it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to say it was worth a shot.”

The simple version of how the helical engine works – or doesn’t work – is like this: a ring inside a box is sprung in one direction, the box recoiling in the other, just as Isaac Newton’s laws of motion say they should.

“When the ring reaches the end of the box, it will bounce backwards, and the box’s recoil direction will switch too,” New Scientist explains.

A simplified version of the engine.

A simplified version of the engine.

Photo credit: David Burns/NASA

But if the box and ring are travelling near the speed of light, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity says as the ring approaches the front end of the box it will increase in mass because it’s going faster than when it’s going backwards – so it’ll hit harder, resulting in forward momentum. 

The actual engine itself will use a particle accelerator and ion particles, but that’s the basic gist. 

“Chemical, nuclear and electric propulsion systems produce thrust by accelerating and expelling propellants,” Burns’ paper reads. “Deep space travel is often a trade-off between thrust and large propellant storage tanks that eventually limit performance. The objective of this paper is to introduce and examine a unique engine that uses a closed-cycle propellant.”

According to Burns it could produce a forward thrust up to 99 percent the speed of light without breaking Einstein’s rules, but totally breaching Newton’s third law of motion – that an action always has an opposite and equal reaction.

There are other hurdles to overcome too – it would have to be 200m long and 12m wide to work, and would only operate effectively in the frictionless environment of deep space.

David Burns.

David Burns.

Photo credit: NASA

Burns isn’t worried if it turns out not to work at all, like others’ attempts at fuel-free propulsion, such as the microwave-powered EM drive. 

“I know that it risks being right up there with the EM drive and cold fusion,” he told New Scientist.

“But you have to be prepared to be embarrassed. It is very difficult to invent something that is new under the sun and actually works.”

Burns’ full paper can be read online here.

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China tests Mars lander in international co-operation push – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Samuel McNeil, The Associated Press


Published Thursday, November 14, 2019 11:42AM EST

HUAILAI, China – China showed off its Mars spacecraft during a landing test Thursday as the country pushes for inclusion in more global space projects.

The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the red planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet, one of four scheduled missions. The U.S. and Europe are also sending rovers to Mars next year, and the United Arab Emirates plans to launch an orbiter.

China’s burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone earlier this year by landing a spacecraft on the mysterious far side of the moon.

It has developed rapidly, especially since it conducted its first crewed mission in 2003, and has sought co-operation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere.

The U.S., however, has banned most space co-operation with China out of national security concerns, keeping China from participating in the International Space Station.

Despite that, China’s ambitions continue to grow as it seeks to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space and cement its position as a regional and global power. It is gradually constructing its own larger, more permanent space station in which it has invited foreign participation.

The lander on Thursday successfully avoided ground obstacles during a simulated low-gravity descent, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the Chinese space program’s main contractor.

The refrigerator-sized craft was lowered gently on 36 cables through the air for about a minute and used onboard jets spraying rust-colored fumes to alter its downward course.

“After the probe is launched, it will take about seven months to reach Mars, and the final procedure of landing will only last about seven minutes, which is the most difficult and the most risky part of the whole mission,” said the Mars mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao, standing before the 140-meter (460-foot) -tall testing facility.

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russia and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years. Only the U.S. has pulled it off and has made eight successful landings.

The remote test site lies an hour north of the Great Wall from Beijing.

Guests at Thursday’s event came from 19 countries and included the ambassadors of Brazil, France and Italy.

“This event is the first public appearance of China’s Mars exploration mission, also an important measure for China to pragmatically carry out space international exchanges and co-operation,” the China National Space Administration said in a statement.

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Genes borrowed from bacteria allowed plants to move from sea to land – Folio – University of Alberta

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Natural genetic engineering allowed plants to move from water to land, according to a new study by an international group of scientists from Canada, China, France, Germany and Russia.

“This is one of the most important events in the evolution of life on this planet—without which we as a species would not exist,” said University of Alberta genomicist and study co-investigator Gane Ka-Shu Wong

“The movement of life from water to land—called terrestrialization—began with plants and was followed by animals and then, of course, humans. This study establishes how that first step took place.”

The movement of plants from water to land was made possible when genes from soil bacteria were transferred to algae through a process called horizontal gene transfer. Unlike vertical gene transfer, such as the transfer of DNA from parent to child, horizontal gene transfer occurs between different species.

New algae species discovered

“For hundreds of millions of years, green algae lived in freshwater environments that periodically fell dry, such as small puddles, riverbeds and trickling rocks,” explained Michael Melkonian of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. “These algae mingled with and received key genes from soil bacteria that helped them and their descendants to cope with the harsh terrestrial environment and eventually evolve into the land plant flora that we see today.”

The study is part of an international project focused on sequencing the genomes of more than 10,000 plant species. The discovery was made in the process of sequencing two particular algae—including a newly identified species called Spirogloea muscicola.

“The approach that we used, phylogenomics, is a powerful method to pinpoint the underlying molecular mechanism of evolutionary novelty,” said Shifeng Cheng, first author and principal investigator from the Agricultural Genome Institute at Shenzhen at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The study, “Genomes of Subaerial Zygnematophyceae Provide Insights Into Land Plant Evolution,” was published in Cell.

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China tests Mars lander in push for inclusion in more international space projects – The Globe and Mail

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A lander sits before being lifted for a test at a facility in Huailai, China, on Nov. 14, 2019.

The Associated Press

China invited observers to a successful test Thursday of its Mars lander as the country pushes for inclusion in more global space projects.

The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the Red Planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail.

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China’s burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone earlier this year by landing a probe on the mysterious far side of the moon.

It has developed rapidly, especially since it conducted its first crewed mission in 2003 and has sought co-operation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere.

The U.S., however, has banned most space co-operation with China out of national security concerns, keeping China from participating in the International Space Station.

Despite that, China’s ambitions continue to grow as it seeks to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space and cement its position as a regional and global power. It is gradually constructing its own larger, more permanent space station in which it has invited foreign participation.

The lander on Thursday successfully avoided ground obstacles during a simulated low-gravity descent, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the Chinese space program’s main contractor.

The refrigerator-sized craft was lowered gently on 36 cables through the air for about a minute and used onboard jets spraying rust-coloured fumes to alter its downward course.

“After the probe is launched, it will take about seven months to reach Mars, and the final procedure of landing will only last about seven minutes, which is the most difficult and the most risky part of the whole mission,” said the Mars mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao, standing before the 140-meter-(460-foot-) tall testing facility.

Story continues below advertisement

Recent rover crashes on the moon by Israel and India highlight the difficulties of safe landings from space.

The remote Comprehensive Testing Ground for Landing on Extraterrestrial Bodies run by CASC lies an hour north of the Great Wall from Beijing.

Guests at Thursday’s event came from 19 countries and included the ambassadors of Brazil, France and Italy.

“This event is the first public appearance of China’s Mars exploration mission, also an important measure for China to pragmatically carry out space international exchanges and co-operation,” the China National Space Administration said in a news release.

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