Moon Express Incorporated has become the first-ever private company to be granted permission to land on the moon. On August 3rd, its executive team announced that the U.S. Government approved their 2017 robotic lunar landing in an attempt to commercialize missions to the moon and exploit its resources. For some time, private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have been conducting missions on and around Earth, mostly to send cargo to the International Space Station. However, never before has a company presented a viable application to explore the lunar surface via a robotic lander (in this case Moon Express’ MX-1, the lunar lander that will be used for the first mission).
International engineers Naveen Jain, Barney Pell, and Robert D. Richards founded Moon Express in August 2010 with the goal of winning Google’s Lunar X Prize. The X Prize was created in 2007 in order to incentivize space entrepreneurs to build a new wave of affordable access to the Moon. The contest challenges teams to form privately financed projects and race to not only land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, but to travel 500 meters and transmit high-definition videos and images back to Earth. Teams have until December 2016 to present a federally verified launch contract to Google and must prove that at least 90% of their mission costs were funded by private sources. The competition offers a total of $30 million in prize money, with the winning organization attaining $20 million of that pot.
Since Moon Express was the first association with an approved mission, it is clear that their team of innovators is moving at an extraordinary pace. Moon Express’ application was submitted in April to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In just four months, the proposal went through a number of federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and the Federal Communications Commission, clearly exhibiting the fortitude of their plan. Only one other organization, SpaceIL, has been granted a verified launch contract for 2017. In an interview with Space.com, Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said, “This is not only a milestone, but really a threshold for the entire commercial space industry,” (1).
The ultimate goal of Moon Express’ expedition stretches far beyond winning Google X Prize’s prestigious award. The Moon holds a surface that has been virtually untouched and constant for billions of years. Moon Express aims to launch multiple robotic landers (contingent on the success of MX-1) with mining capabilities to retrieve the Moon’s resources and put them to use on Earth. The most notable of these resources is helium-3, an energy source that is abundant on the Moon but scarce on Earth. Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain believes that using helium-3 as a nuclear fuel could potentially solve the demand for energy on Earth for 10,000 years. To a lesser extent, platinum is also believed to be applicable to various energy sources on Earth. With our world’s natural resources depleting at a rate that is unhealthy for mankind, the benefit of extracting the Moon’s materials could be monumental.
When asked about the excitement of the launch, Bob Richards stated, “Nobody’s had a deep-sea voyage yet. We’re still charting those waters. Somebody had to be first,” (1). For years, aerospace engineers and researchers have been longing for a way to thoroughly explore depths of the Moon. While NASA has been executing missions as often as possible, still only 5% percent of the earth’s neighbor has been explored (3). Furthermore, almost all of this exploration has come at the cost of government funds. Space exploration is indeed one of the most intriguing and pressing advancements that the U.S. is committed to. However, it is also one of the most costly. Extending the opportunity to private companies, through competitions such as X Prize, will rapidly help to U.S. to become an even greater pioneer in space voyage. It will also open the door for exceptional innovators and engineers to consolidate their theories on how to unlock the mysteries of space.
(1) Fox, Stuart. "6 Private Companies That Could Launch Humans Into Space." Space.com. N.p., 4 June 2010. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(2) Atkinson, Nancy. "Is the Moon Really a 'Been There Done That' World?" Universetoday.com. Universe Today, 24 Dec. 2015. Web 28 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Giovanni Gagliardi | Dreamstime.com - Airplane and the Moon, Oslo
On Tuesday, August 16th, China launched Micius, the world’s first quantum satellite from the heart of the Gobi Desert. According to Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist from the University of Geneva, “There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite…[Micius] shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realize them,” (1). In March, China released a five-year economic development plan with quantum technology as its top strategic focus. While it is unknown exactly how much was put towards the Micius project, Beijing disclosed that $10.1 billion was put towards “basic research”, including quantum physics, in 2015. To put that in perspective, U.S. government funding for quantum physics is around $200 million a year.
The project is being headed by quantum physicist Pan Jianwei and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Over the past decade, Mr. Pan has been working closely with physicists and labs all around the world in order to acquire the most comprehensive research possible. He has been working most directly with his former Ph.D. adviser Anton Zeilinger, a physicist from the University of Vienna. As a result, Vienna will be the recipient of the quantum cryptographic key that Beijing shoots into space in order to test the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), which is another name for Micius. It is important to note that photons (quantum particles) have been used before relay information over short distances on earth. However, sending encryptions through space will open up a global scale of communication and allow messages to be sent across continents.
So what makes the launch of Micius so remarkable? The goal of the satellite (which weighs 1400-lbs and orbits the earth at an altitude of 300 miles) is to expand the range of unhackable communication through quantum encryption. Quantum encryption is an advanced form of cryptography because information encoded in a quantum particle is destroyed as soon as it is measured. Cryptography itself is the idea of encrypting a message so that only an encryption key, often a numbers pad, can decrypt the content. Quantum encryption uses a method called “entanglement” to make the process of decryption even more complex. Instead of using numbers, for example, quantum entanglement “fuses” two particles into complementary states that need one another in order to function.
Micius generates entangled particles by shooting a laser beam through a specially designed crystal towards two stations on Earth (sender and recipient), in this case located in Beijing and Vienna, respectively. Even though Micius “splits” these photons up and sends them to two locations, the laws of quantum communication state that they will remain entangled. So, physicists at both locations will be able to access these entangled systems that now mirror each other. If a third-party particle is detected, the quantum state of the two entangled particles collapses and is no longer available. This is what makes quantum communications virtually unhackable. If anyone or anything apart from the two sources of the message tries to penetrate it, the message vanishes without a trace. In simpler terms, Gregoir Ribordy, a quantum physicist who founded Geneva-based firm ID Quantique, compared it to writing a message on a soap bubble. He said “If someone tries to intercept it when it’s being transmitted, by touching it, they make it burst,” (1).
In today’s world of perpetual conflict, countries are striving to keep highly sensitive information classified at all costs. Advanced technology has unfortunately put us in danger of having such information exposed at the touch of a button. This complication is the exact reason why advancements such as quantum communication satellites are central to intelligence in the future. With China taking the first true step towards quantum teleportation of information, it opens the door for the rest of the world to have a more secure platform to relay information. If Micius turns out to be a success, countries across the globe will be able to efficiently formulate plans concerning global conflicts or innovations. Additionally, it will solidify the notion that we can use space as a medium to transfer such plans in a safe manner. Through QUESS, Mr. Pan and his colleagues will hopefully conquer the unknowns of space in a fashion we have never seen before.
(1) Chin, Josh. "China's Latest Leap Forward Isn't Just Great-It's Quantum." The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web.
(2) Lin, Jeffrey, P.W. Singer, and John Costello. "China's Quantum Satellite Could Change Cryptography Forever." Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation, 3 Mar. 2016. Web.
(3) Coldewey, Devin. "China Launches the First Quantum Communications Satellite – and What Is That, exactly?" TechCrunch. AOL Inc., 16 Aug. 2016. Web.
Image: © Jinying Du | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-china-s-changzheng-rocket-cz-new-launched-wenchang-hainan-successfully-image73483399#res14972580">China's Changzheng space Rocket CZ-7</a>
The use of sensor technology has subtly become commonplace in modern civilization. From motion-triggered floodlights that are placed around homes to the metal detectors at airports, scientists have been able to harness the complexities of sensors and apply them to daily needs. Not only are sensors becoming part of our everyday lives, but they are allowing us to reach heights in innovation that were not attainable before. The exposure of newfound opportunities that are made possible because of rapid technological advancements in this field is known as the sensor revolution.
The Obama administration has been making a strong push to bring the capabilities of smart sensor manufacturing into the limelight. Earlier this year, the administration announced a $70 million federal award to the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a nonprofit founded by the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition. The coalition consists of over 200 partners ranging from industry leaders such as Google and Microsoft, to government and education representatives from across the nation (1). Their goal is to show how smart sensors can both improve advanced manufacturing in the U.S. and the efficiency of technological devices as a whole.
One of the fastest-developing sensor technologies is known as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID equipment combines electromagnetic sensing with radio communications. The most common use of this technology is seen in toll collectors on highways. However, recent advancements have been able to make the detection of radio signals even more precise and place them in the shoelaces of competitive runners, for example. Like transponders placed in a car, RFID tags in a shoelace release a signal whenever it detects that it is near a reader (usually placed at the finish line). The reader processes the signal and is able to record the exact time that the runner crossed the finish line (2). Far more accurate than using the human eye and a stopwatch, RFID tags can be used to settle disputes and create a more uniform way to clock times in international track events.
In a different fashion, robotic sensor packages are being placed in forests to monitor the homes of endangered species. Known as fixed data-taking stations, these systems are strung from trees around a certain area and automatically lower themselves in an attempt to take temperature, humidity, and light measurements at different heights (3). This helps environmental scientists to measure the fluctuations in weak ecosystems so we can readily provide help to animals that may suffer from them. These devices are powered by solar-cell batteries and send the data to centralized locations in order to be processed.
In the realm of health, scientists at Case Western Reserve University, led by electrical engineer Darrin Young, are furthering research to use sensors as a means to predict heart attacks before they ensue. Young’s team is working on a pill-sized sensor that can be implanted in the skin to measure heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. At first, the sensor will be used only to keep constant tabs on the vital signs of patients with heart conditions. In the near future, Young hopes to use the device to help at-risk patients to identify the onset of a heart attack before it physically occurs (2).
(1) "FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces Winner of New Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute and New Manufacturing Hub Competitions." The White House. The White House, 20 June 2016. Web.
(2) "The Sensor Revolution: Environment & Civil | NSF - National Science Foundation." The Sensor Revolution: Environment & Civil | NSF - National Science Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.
(3) Platt, John R. "Remote Sensing Emerges as an Important Tool for Habitat and Species Conservation." Earthzine. N.p., 26 June 2012.
Image: © Ldprod | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-man-paying-nfc-technology-mobile-phone-restaurant-b-male-close-up-electronic-payment-hand-cell-market-image35345885#res14972580">Man paying with NFC technology on mobile phone, in restaurant, b</a>
Carlos was born in Chicago, Illinois and came to USC to study psychology with a minor in Business Administration. He has worked in healthcare and finance for the past two summers. Carlos also helped co-found Trojan Marketing Group, a group that develops marketing strategies for large companies. Carlos has been with Global Intelligence Trust since summer of 2016. He am most interested in writing about innovation in the technology sector and aerospace developments. Apart from academics, Carlos enjoys playing volleyball, hiking, and traveling.