NASA’s NEXT ion thruster sets new world record

NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) ion engine has set a new world record by clocking up 43,000 hours of continuous operation at NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Electric Propulsion Laboratory. The seven-kilowatt thruster is intended to propel future NASA deep space probes on missions where chemical rockets aren’t a practical option.

Ion propulsion has come a long way from the 1960s when it was an engineering curiosity with a cool Star Trek name. Instead of burning fuel, an ion thruster gets its electrical power from solar panels or a nuclear power source. It uses this electricity to ionize molecules (in NEXT’s case, xenon) and then a cathode to accelerate them electrostatically. As the molecules shoot out the back of the engine, they create thrust.

That sounds simple, but the amount of thrust is tiny – about the equivalent of the weight of a coin resting on a table. Where the ion thruster has it over chemical rockets is, firstly, in terms of efficiency – ion thrusters are 10 to 12 times as fuel efficient as chemical rockets. Secondly, an ion thruster can run for a much longer period of time. Where chemical rockets burn for minutes, ion thrusters can burn for thousands of hours, which allows that tiny amount of thrust to build up into speeds needed for deep space missions…

Its current record of 43,000 hours is the equivalent of nearly five years of continuous operation while consuming only 770 kg of xenon propellant. The NEXT engine would provide 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to a spacecraft. What this means in simple terms is that the NEXT engine can make a spacecraft go (eventually) very far and very fast.

The nicest thing about a constant rate of acceleration is that even a little bit over a very long period of time gets you traveling unbelievably fast.

Beancounters will make dogs redundant as well as coppers!

They are the fearless and loyal public servants whose roles include rescuing mountaineers, keeping public order and fighting organised crime.

But even Scotland’s much-loved police dogs are not immune to the cuts and economies sweeping through the nation’s eight forces as the move to merge them into one continues.

The unprecedented operation will eventually see thousands of jobs go as savings of £1.7 billion are sought over the next 15 years through more efficient working and reducing duplication. Positions from the rank of chief constable downwards are being axed.

Now the focus has turned to the country’s dog units, with the number of dogs operating in Scotland to be reduced next year.

While it is unclear at this stage how many dogs will be made redundant, one senior officer warned that when the country’s eight forces merge into one single police authority cover must not be compromised, particularly where the dog units are used in year-round mountain rescue search efforts.

Scotland’s forces currently have 135 dogs, including breeds such as German shepherds, Belgian shepherds, Labradors and spaniels used in a wide variety of roles from mountain rescue to drug detection.

Dogs that are retired will be found new homes or stay with their handlers…

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “One of the main aims of police reform is to increase access across Scotland to the wide catalogue of specialist operational support functions, which includes mounted sections and dog units.

“Currently all eight forces maintain their own specialist functions and if further assistance is needed, for example from mounted policing from Strathclyde Police, it is done through mutual aid request.”

Just fill out the appropriate form in triplicate and pop it into the interdepartmental email queue.

The beancounter’s pledge of efficiencies – of course – is only measured in gold and silver. Number of lives saved, criminals apprehended, safety aided by prompt and skilled response means something to the grunts in police work and line officers. Certainly.

Bureaucrats who spend their entire career stuffing lives and deaths into a spreadsheet can’t be counted on to recognize the usefulness of a human being in the right place at the right time. Or a dog.

Time to overhaul, rationalize the U.S. Commerce Department

President Barack Obama said that the most “salient message” from the election was the voters’ demand that all levels of government and the private sector work together to “help the middle class move forward”. He’s right.

Real unemployment, in all categories, remains above 16 per cent; wages for 90 per cent of workers remain stagnant; there is little business confidence despite cash-rich treasuries; and the trade deficit in manufactured goods is a persistent $300bn each year.

Voters, particularly those in the industrial heartland, and only slightly less so on each coast, have demanded a more balanced economy. They want an economy that restores the vitality of the manufacturing sector. These workers supported the bailout of the auto industry because they believed there was no reasonable alternative. And they feel that the private sector, acting alone, cannot sufficiently advance the economy or protect their interests.

It is no surprise then that during the campaign Mr Obama called frequently for combining the executive branch’s nine distinct department and agency commerce-related efforts into a reconfigured “department of business”. It is not a new department but, rather, under a reconstituted and renamed commerce department, a consolidation of responsibilities and activities.

Given the complexity of the steps that need to be taken to speed up economic recovery, Mr Obama’s proposal is not just practical and expedient, it is also imperative.

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Iran Civil Aviation Organization bans flights during calls to prayer

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization announced aircraft will be prohibited from flying across the country during the call to prayer five times a day.

The new directive…will also prevent aircraft from taking off until at least 30 minutes after the day’s first call to prayer, al-Fajr, at 5:38 a.m., local time, The New York Times reported…

Hamid Reza Pahlevani, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, told the Iranian Students’ News Agency the move is meant to give air travelers time “to carry out their religious duties.” The directive is apparently part of an effort to improve obedience to orthodox Islamic codes of conduct…

The announcement by the aviation organization did not explain how the new rules will affect flight schedules, or whether flights would be forced to land or be rerouted during times of prayer.

A delightful example of how some humans think their gods must be appeased. The affairs of ordinary people trying to get from place-to-place in the Islamic Nation are meaningless compared to edicts from the all-powerful representatives of that mythical guy in the sky.

Absurd.

Italy starts taxing Catholic Church — when will the US?

Italy’s Catholic Church will be forced to pay taxes starting in 2013 after the EU pressured the country’s government to pass a controversial law stripping the Church of its historic property tax exemption.

The Catholic Church in Italy is excluded from paying taxes on its land if at least a part of a Church property is used non-commercially – for instance, a chapel in a bed-and-breakfast. “The regulatory framework will be definite by January 1, 2013 – the start of the fiscal year – and will fully respect the [European] Community law,” Italian premier Mario Monti’s government said in a statement…

The move could net Italy revenues of 500 million to 2 billion euros annually across the country, municipal government associations said. The extra income from previously exempt properties in Rome alone – including hotels, restaurants and sports centres – could reach 25.5 million euros a year…

The measure came after the country’s leadership decided in February to alter Italy’s property tax code, ending the Church’s longstanding privileges due to the severe debt crisis.

Last December, after new austerity measures were adopted in the country, 130,000 Italians signed an online petition urging the government to strip the Church of its tax exemption.

“It was time that they paid, too, with all the exemptions they’ve had throughout the years,” Marco Catalano, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Rome, told the New York Times in February, adding that he goes to church twice a month. “They own the most beautiful buildings in downtown Rome, on Italian soil, and rent them out at market prices…

Overdue. Not only in Italy. Not only regarding the Catholic Church.

Living in a nation with a constitution requiring separation of church and state, it is truly absurd that we still don’t collect property taxes, business taxes on the money-making, profit-generating properties owned by religious institutions.