Four teams will race tiny vehicles made of a single molecule at The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Toulouse on April 28. The competition will be broadcast live on YouTube for fans of both motorsports and cutting-edge science.
Aside from putting on a spectacle, the competition is aimed at demonstrating the growing capabilities of so-called molecular machines. Three European academics won the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry for demonstrating the ability to design and build devices at the molecular level that work like traditional machines by converting input energy into mechanical work. [Magnificent Microphotography: 50 Tiny Wonders]
Several of the nanocars taking part in the race have a similar layout to conventional car designs, but others are mimicking the motion of things as varied as caterpillars, hovercraft and windmills. Christian Joachim, a senior researcher at CNRS and director of the NanoCar Race, told Live Science the organizers were keen to maintain the innovative spirit of early motorsports.
レースに参加する複数のナノカーは、従来の自動車のデザインに似たレイアウトを録っていますが、他のものは、キャタピラーやホバークラフト、あるいは風車のような動きを真似ています。CNRSの上級研究者でNanoCarレースのディレクターである Christian Joachim は、主催者は初期のモータースポーツの革新的な精神を維持することに熱心だったとLive Science に語りました。
“In 1894, the first ever car race was organized between Paris and Rouen and if you look carefully, they decided at that time to keep all kinds of propulsion,” he said. “In our competition, three cars from three different teams have wheels, a chassis, things like that. Three are nothing like that. We accepted a large variation of molecular designs on purpose to try to understand what works best.”
The race is made possible by a one-of-a-kind scanning tunneling microscope (STM). An STM allows researchers to image and manipulate individual atoms using an ultrafine metallic tip, but the device housed at CNRS has four tips, allowing four different users to work on the same surface simultaneously.
These tips will be used to deliver tiny electrical pulses to the vehicles — each consisting of just a few hundred atoms — to power them around a racecourse made of gold atoms. The chemical structure of each nanocar has been specially designed so that the energy from these pulses propels it forward, Joachim said.
Nine teams initially applied to take part, and six were selected to go forward to the final stages of the race. Only four nanocars will be able to take part on the day, so the best-prepared teams will be chosen shortly before the race, according to the race organizers. Unlike other motor sport competitions, there’s no prize money at stake for the teams; the researchers are just vying for a trophy and bragging rights.
The technology at the heart of the race has potentially transformative applications in fields ranging from medicine to microelectronics. Advances in electronics have traditionally relied on the ever-increasing miniaturization of components like transistors, Joachim said, and continuing this trend will eventually require the ability to construct devices atom by atom.
This technological reality may be a long way off and it is hard to predict the ultimate potential of the molecular machines, but the race will help answer important questions about their robustness to sustained pulses from the STM and the ability to coordinate multiple devices on the same surface, Joachim added.
“One lesson we will learn will be, can we really put four different molecules on the same surface and drive them on the same surface?” he said. “This has never been done before so we will learn the machinery, the software, the technology that enables us to do that.”
SpaceX makes aerospace history with successful launch and landing of a used rocket
After more than two years of landing its rockets after launch, SpaceX finally sent one of its used Falcon 9s back into space. The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this evening, sending a communications satellite into orbit, and then landed on one of SpaceX’s drone ships floating in the Atlantic Ocean. It was round two for this particular rocket, which already launched and landed during a mission in April of last year. But the Falcon 9’s relaunch marks the first time an orbital rocket has launched to space for a second time.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appeared on the company’s live stream shortly after the landing and spoke about the accomplishment. “It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight,” he said.
This evening’s mission was a critical milestone for SpaceX, which has been working to make its rockets partially reusable since as early as 2011. Up until now, practically all orbital rockets have been expendable, so they’re basically thrown away once they launch into space. That means an entirely new rocket — which can cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make — has to be built for each mission to orbit. SpaceX’s strategy has been to land its rockets after launch in an effort to fly them again and again. That way the company can partially save on manufacturing costs for each mission.
SpaceX doesn’t save the entire Falcon 9 rocket after each launch though. It saves the first stage — the 14-story core of the Falcon 9 that contains the main engines and most of the fuel needed for launch. About a few minutes after takeoff, the first stage separates from the top of the rocket and makes a controlled descent back to Earth — either landing on solid ground or on one of the company’s autonomous drone ships in the ocean. Prior to tonight’s launch, SpaceX had attempted 13 of these rocket landings and eight vehicles had successfully stuck the touchdown. But as SpaceX slowly acquired a growing stockpile of recovered rockets these last two years, the company had yet to actually reuse one of these vehicles.
Now with today’s launch, SpaceX has proven that part of a used Falcon 9 can successfully launch to space again. And the fact that the vehicle successfully returned to Earth in one piece means that the rocket is poised to launch for a third time. Now SpaceX can boast nine successful rocket landings, as well as a Falcon 9 that has gone to and from space two times now.
“It’s been 15 years to get to this point, it’s taken us a long time,” Musk said. “A lot of difficult steps along the way, but I’m just incredibly proud of the SpaceX for being able to achieve this incredible milestone in the history of space.”
The rocket used for today’s launch was the second Falcon 9 that SpaceX ever recovered. It was the vehicle used for CRS-8, the company’s eighth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. On April 8th, the rocket sent nearly 7,000 pounds of supplies — including an inflatable habitat module called the BEAM — to the station for NASA. After launch, the rocket then landed on SpaceX’s drone ship, titled Of Course I Still Love You. SpaceX decided to launch this Falcon 9 again first, since the company wanted to save the first rocket it ever landed — a vehicle that sent 11 satellites into orbit for the company ORBCOMM in December 2015. That stage is now on display at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Though today’s launch was historic for the aerospace industry, it was otherwise routine for SpaceX. The Falcon 9 help to loft a communications satellite for the company SES, which is based out of Luxembourg. The satellite, called SES-10, will eventually sit in a high orbit 22,000 miles up and deliver communications services exclusively to Latin America. SpaceX confirmed that SES-10 was successfully deployed shortly after the launch.
SES had been very vocal about its desire to be the first company to launch on a used rocket. And there is certainly financial incentive for customers. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell has said that customers that fly on a used Falcon 9 could eventually get discounts of up to 30 percent. Since the cost to launch a Falcon 9 starts at around $60 million, launching on a used rocket could start at around $40 million. For the first few relaunches, though, Shotwell told Space News that the discounts will be more in the order of 10 percent. Neither SpaceX nor SES disclosed how much money was saved for this flight.
“We did receive a discount. Obviously to fly this there was some interest and there was some incentive to do so,” Martin Halliwell, CTO of SES, said in a press conference prior to the launch. “But it is not just the money in this particular case. It’s really, ‘let’s get this proof-of-concept moving.’ Someone has to go first here and SES has a long history of doing this.”
If SpaceXwants to maximize the economic benefits of its reusable rockets, the best method is to launch these vehicles as frequently as possible. But before a rocket can launch again, it has to be inspected, refurbished, and tested a few times to ensure that it’s ready for spaceflight. It took SpaceX up to four months to get this rocket ready for flight today, according to Shotwell, but the company is working to trim down that turnaround time. SpaceX could have a lot of practice on that front soon, as it expects to launch up to six pre-flown Falcon 9s this year.
SpaceX is about to make history by relaunching a used Falcon 9 rocket
And the vehicle’s going to attempt another landing, too
The Falcon 9 first stage that is relaunching this week. Photo: SpaceX
On Thursday, SpaceX is set to launch yet another satellite into orbit from the Florida coast — but this mission will be far from routine for the company. The Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX is using for the launch has already flown before. Around the same time last year, it sent cargo to the International Space Station for NASA, and then came back to Earth to land upright on a floating drone ship at sea. This is the first time that SpaceX will attempt to reuse one of its rockets.
It’s a feat that SpaceX has been working toward for more than five years now, and it could be a watershed moment for the aerospace industry. Up until now, practically all rockets that can achieve orbit are either destroyed or go unrecovered after each mission. That means an entirely new rocket — which costs tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make — has to be built for each launch. But SpaceX’s plan has been to recover its rockets after launch rather than throw them away, so that the vehicles can be used again. That way, the company can save on manufacturing a completely new vehicle, and potentially lower the cost of each mission.
A WATERSHED MOMENT FOR THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY 航空宇宙産業としての評価の分かれ目
In truth, only part of the Falcon 9 is being reused on this upcoming mission. After each launch, SpaceX tries to save just the first stage of its vehicles. That’s the 14-story-tall main body of the Falcon 9 that contains the primary engines and most of the fuel. About 10 minutes or so after each launch, the first stage separates from the top portion of the rocket and makes a controlled dive back to Earth. The leftover fuel is used to reignite the engines on the rocket in a series of burns, to help the vehicle reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and then slow down for landing. This technique is known as supersonic retro propulsion.
It’s “an approach that requires minimal modification,” Bobby Braun, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, tells The Verge. “You don’t need to add wings, you don’t need to add a parachute. You’re using the same systems you would use for launch. So in terms of the investment required, I would think it would be the most straightforward and the lowest investment.”
それは「最小の変更が必要なアプローチ」だと、ボルダーにあるコロラド大学の工学部長 ボビー ブラウンが The Vergeに語ります。
SpaceX has tried landing most of the rockets it has launched over the last two years, either by having them touch down at a ground-based landing site or by landing them on one of two autonomous drone ships in the ocean. Out of 13 attempts, eight of the rockets have stuck the touchdown. SpaceX has been testing the recovered stages to see if they are capable of spaceflight again and to figure out how much repairs and refurbishment are needed to make them fly again.
THE SECOND FALCON 9 THAT SPACEX EVER RECOVERED HAS BEEN PICKED TO BE THE FIRST ONE TO FLY AGAIN SpaceXが回復させていた2つ目のFalcon 9が初めての再利用打上げに選ばれた。
Now, the second Falcon 9 that SpaceX recovered has been picked to be the first one to fly again. It’s the same rocket that was used for CRS-8, the company’s eighth cargo resupply mission to the ISS for NASA. Launched on April 8th, 2016, the rocket lofted nearly 7,000 pounds of supplies to the crew of the space station, including a new inflatable habitat, and then landed on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX decided to reuse this booster first, partly because it wanted to hold onto the first Falcon 9 the company landed in December 2015. That one was deemed special by CEO Elon Musk and is currently on display at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
The customer flying on this first “flight-proven” rocket is SES, a satellite operator based out of Luxembourg. And the cargo is the SES-10 satellite, which is meant to provide communications services to Latin America. SES-10 will eventually sit in a super high orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, known as geostationary orbit. On this path, the satellite follows the Earth’s rotation, allowing it to continuously hover over the same patch of the planet at all times.
A rendering of the SES-10 satellite on-screen. Photo: SES
SES has been very vocal about its desire to be the first company to launch on a landed rocket, and announced in August that it would be the one to fly on this inaugural mission. “Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket,” Martin Halliwell, CTO of SES, said in a statement. “We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management.”
Not only is this Falcon 9 rocket launching for a second time, but it’s landing again, too. The first stage will attempt another drone ship landing in the Atlantic Ocean after takeoff, meaning this particular vehicle could see even more flight time in the future. It’s still unclear just how many times a single first stage of a Falcon 9 can be used again. In the past, Musk has boasted that parts of the Falcon 9 could be reused up to 100 times, but he expects 10 to 20 reuses out of a single vehicle.
THE MORE FREQUENTLY SPACEX CAN REUSE ITS FALCON 9S, THE GREATER THE ECONOMIC BENEFIT TO THE COMPANY SpaceXがさらに頻繁にFalcon 9を再利用できるなら、同社により大きな経済的恩恵をもたらす
The more frequently SpaceX can reuse its Falcon 9s, the greater the economic benefit to the company. The rocket’s engines and tanks are the most expensive part of the vehicle to make, whereas refueling and refurbishing the vehicle could cost as little as a few million dollars. It’s not known just how much launching a used rocket saves the company, but SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell estimated that customers could see a price reduction of about 30 percent for launches that use landed rockets. (In October, however, she told Space News that SpaceX is only offering 10 percent discounts for the time being.) That means the Falcon 9, which starts at a little more than $60 million, could eventually go for $40 million if it’s a reused vehicle. And lowering the cost of access to space could make spaceflight a more affordable investment for companies in the long term.
“We could open the space frontier,” says Braun, who added that reusing the entire rocket would mean even greater cost savings. “Then you’re talking about a different set of economics for space transportation, and that’s really the key to access to space and what’s been holding us back for decades.”
SpaceX performed a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 engines on Monday, and right now, takeoff of SES-10 is scheduled for 6PM ET on Thursday from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. There’s a two-and-a-half-hour launch window, so the Falcon 9 can conceivably take off anytime until 8:30PM ET. So far there’s a 70 percent chance that weather conditions will be favorable, according Patrick Air Force Base. Check back here about 20 minutes before the launch window opens on Thursday to watch the launch live.