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August 22nd, 2012

Midweek news roundup

Published on August 22nd, 2012 | By: Eileen De Guire

Some pretty cool stuff is going on out there…

MIT ‘microthrusters’ are the size of a penny, could reposition tiny satellites

Bus-sized satellites require massive engines for even the slightest movements, but as far smaller structures become a possibility, a tiny driving mechanism can offer usable thrust. To serve this next-gen tech, MIT saw a need to develop “microthrusters,” which are each the size of a penny and can be mounted to tiny cubed satellites. With thruster components measuring a few microns each, the magnetic levitation system is able to accommodate 500 microscopic tips that emit ion beams in a very small package, serving to push two-pound structures through space. The tiny devices have not made their way into orbit yet, but they have been tested in a vacuum chamber. Because of their size, it’s possible to add several to each satellite, then enabling sophisticated movements for more precise turns.

Samsung invests $4bn in US chip-making plant renovation

Samsung will invest between $3-4 billion in an Austin, Texas, plant to renovate a chip-making production line facility in efforts to meet burgeoning demand for its smartphones. It adds to a $1.98 billion investment in South Korea earlier this year to build a new chip-making facility, reports Reuters. The Korea-based smartphone maker will invest the money over the next year in a bid to turn the Austin chip-making plant into a more profitable venture. To put the $3-4 billion investment into sense, Samsung reported a $4.5 billion profit in its Q2 earnings alone.

More evidence for Russian quasicrystal meteorite

An unusual type of rock known as a quasicrystal was found deep in the Russian mountains in 2010—the first known naturally occurring quasicrystal. And the most likely origin of that rock was a meteorite from outer space. Now physicist Paul Steinhardt is back with new evidence that his theory about the origin of that Russian quasicrystal is correct, and that meteorite responsible for its transport likely hit Earth around 15,000 years ago, during the last glacial period. Those findings just appeared in the journal Reports on Progress in Physics, published by the Institute of Physics in England.

Mars rover Curiosity to take 1st Martian drive Wednesday

After more than two weeks of sitting still, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is finally set to roll out on the Red Planet with its debut drive on Wednesday. Engineers successfully tested the rover’s steering abilities Monday, Aug. 20, and now they’re ready to turn its six wheels for the first time since Curiosity landed on Mars on Aug. 5, officials announced Tuesday. Curiosity’s first drive on Mars will be a short one. The rover will move about 10 feet (3 meters) forward, turn in place to the right, and then back up a few meters. The whole operation should take the rover about 30 minutes.

NASA Wallops set to launch its biggest rocket

Virginia’s “Space Coast” ambitions are getting a big boost as NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore prepares to launch the biggest rocket in its 67-year history. Called the Antares, the rocket is expected to become a workhorse in the commercial space industry over the next several years, ferrying cargo to the International Space Station. The Antares can launch about 13,000 pounds of cargo, or roughly the size of three Volkswagen Beetles, into low-earth orbit. By comparison, last year the biggest private rocket ever to lift off from the West Coast carried 50,000 pounds of cargo. The October launch will be a shakedown cruise not only for the rocket and its spacecraft, but for the new launch pad and its accompanying liquid-fuel complex, which is the first built from scratch in this country in 40 years.


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