Also sprach Zarathustra

July 22, 2010

No comment…  Just some silence and you will start to hear the music in your head.

Raw image of Enceladus

Credits Cassini Team

Found on wanderingspace. And it is a raw image.


Ikaros: the path to follow

July 22, 2010

I react to this article from space.com on Ikaros.

“Researchers from around the world are celebrating what they’re calling a new dawn for spaceflight following the success of a Japanese craft propelled by a solar sail.”

Ikaros is the example of what research and development in astronautics should be. What did the JAXA engineers developed? A giant multi-thousand kilograms probe targeting a tour of the inner solar system? A state-of-the art spaceship combining all possible trendy technologies with multi-purpose capabilities bother for engineering and scientific purposes? No. what they developed is a simple demonstrator with just the technology they want to test. In other words, they focus on the real engineering problems, a very pragmatic approach far from most of the strategies used by the architecture astronauts from the industry or some national or international space agencies. And they did not launch either a gigantic international PR campaign to promote this experiment. Most of the first news were available to us thanks to japanophiles who translated the mission status updates. They had specific technical targets, they focused on it, providing the community with the relevant data and no more. And such a project is sufficient to rise the interest of the whole community because there are technical concrete results, no more Powerpoint hypothetical orders of magnitudes.

And this is a lesson, that is not new, but that we have to keep in mind: it is important to develop ambitious projects, to create new mission analysis, to plan every part of a project but,  if you have no experimental data to second them, they are useless. In a time where abstract disciplines like system engineering, mission analysis are the most attractive to engineers, mastering the  technology remains the key to success.


tour of tokamaks: GOLEM aka CASTOR

July 20, 2010

This is a new post of our tour of tokamaks. Today a Czech one.  It is located at the Faculty of Nuclear Sciences and Physical Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague and is called GOLEM. It is dedicated to educational purposes; you can imagine the chance of the Czech students to have their own tokamak! It is by the way a strange fact: the nations with the biggest tokamaks do not have such small-scale machine dedicated to training and education. For instance, in France where ITER will be built and where TORE-SUPRA is still in activity, we can notice the tokamak ToriX of LPP, but it is dedicated to research and available only for some few PhD students and post docs. As a result, in the future it can be expected that the major engineering jobs will be occupied by people from countries without big tokamaks (Czech Republic, Portugal, …)

To go back to Golem, this tokamak has already a long history behind it. It was built in the early sixties in Moscow under codename TM-1 (tokamak malyj,  a small tokamak). In 1975 it was offered to the Institute of Plasma Physics in Prague where it underwent a major refurbishment and renamed CASTOR (Czech Academy of Sciences TORus); it was operational until 2006 and was replaced by COMPASS, a middle-sized tokamak, transferred from Culham, UK.

The tokamak Golem

GOLEM - Credits Czech Technical University

It has a major radius of 40cm and works with a magnetic field of 1.5T. The maximal plasma current is 25kA. It has a feedback for plasma position control and auxiliary power heating by Lower-Hybrid waves.

To finish, I’d like to emphasize the quote chosen to illustrate the name GOLEM, a very beautiful and inspiring one:

… somewhere, in the ancient cellars of Prague, there is hidden indeed „infernal“ power. Yet it is the very power of celestial stars themselves. Calmly dormant, awaiting mankind to discover the magic key, to use this power for their benefit…


Once upon a time on the moon

July 15, 2010

The Lunar Reconnaissance Observer stroke again with this picture of the Apollo 16 landing site.

Credits NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

This picture is touching, not only because Apollo 16 is one of my favourite moon missions (yes, John Young was the commander) but also because it is appealing to see the whole equipment still on location as if the time did not passed on. In one sense, it is like a sanctuary.


European scientists, please give a part of your budget for ITER

July 15, 2010

An Agriculture and Fish Council took place on the 12th of July. What is the link with ITER? no idea, but the funds for ITER were on the A-list of priorities and it an agreement was found on the extra 1.4 billions euros.  And this money comes from a variety of sources (an appropriate mix of financial resources), among  them, the Framework Program 7.

Several sources report on these news:

EU member states agree on Iter funding shortfall

Europe-based Fusion Project Draws Heat Over Funding

Fusion reactor gets EU go-ahead

EU states say no to more fusion money

How a flagship fusion project became ‘a small catastrophe’ for research

Member states refuse ‘fresh’ funding for ITER

Well, as explained before, it is a small catastrophe: first, the increase of budget is taken for granted and we do not know what kind of extra measures are taken to avoid another slip in the costs (cost containment). Second, the image of fusion research is tarnished.

As a basic researcher, I could say, “well, this is politics, I am not responsible for this kind of decision, anyway it is better for me, I can keep my job”. It can be a common attitude when we are bogged down in the details of the day-to-day work on nuclear fusion: we are facing so many problems, most of the researchers are dealing only with a tiny fraction of the whole physics and engineering and tends to forget the big picture: the achievement of a new huge source of energy, as green as possible.

But it is the wrong approach: politicians gave us, with this decision, a huge responsibility: to make nuclear fusion work. We have to keep it in mind. We have to do our best efforts to achieve this goal. ITER is certainly a model of wrong management but it remains the symbol of the political support. We have to use all the resources available to make it work, not only from ITER but from other tokamaks, test benches, computational infrastructures… At the end of the day, we should think: “today I did my best to understand and improve tokamaks”. Only with highly skilled and motivated people, we will be able to harness this energy.


Big plasma physics

July 13, 2010

A nice shot from the NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Credit: NASA/Goddard/SDO

This is how a real fusion nuclear plant works! We still have some work ahead to reach such level of efficiency!


Solar thrust

July 13, 2010

Some news from the Japanese solar sail Ikaros on space.com:

JAXA engineers used Doppler radar measurements of the Ikaros craft to determine that sunlight is pressing on the probe’s solar sail with a force of about 1.12 millinewtons (0.0002 pounds of force).

This demonstrates that the probe can be accelerated without fuel, only through solar pressure.


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