Engineers to Fight Space Garbage with Giant Harpoon

There are 23,000 tracked objects in space traveling at 18,000 miles per hour, let's catch them with a giant space harpoon. Also, the 10,000,000th patent, and a bionic cuttlefish.

Bionic Cuttlefish is an Autonomous Underwater Robot

Only two months ago, Festo debuted two new feats of bio-mimicry with the Bionic Flying Fox and a Bionic Rolling Spider. The fox is a semi-autonomous aircraft modeled after a giant fruit bat with a 7.5-foot wingspan, and the spider, also known as the BionicWheelBot, that tucks in its legs so that it can roll over the ground.

Now, the mad geniuses at Festo have created an autonomous underwater robot inspired by the cuttlefish. The fish is called the BionicFinWave and it is shown navigating a series of water-filled pipes

Like the cuttlefish, the BionicFinWave uses its fins to generate a continuous wave that propels the underwater robot forward. The robot can wirelessly transmit data. For example, it has onboard sensors that can take temperature, pressure measurements, and make sure that it doesn't run into walls.

The side fins are cast from silicone and don't have any support elements. The are fastened to nine small, 3D-printed lever arms that are driven by a pair of servo motors in the robots body. So, when it needs to turn, the outer fin moves faster than the inner one. When it needs to move up and down, a third servo motor controls the robot head.

Most of the body was 3D printed. In fact, the crankshafts, joints, and the connecting rod are made out of a single piece of 3D printed plastic.

The BionicFinWave and similar concepts could soon show up in inspection and measuring applications. Perhaps they could even be enlisted to help cleanup efforts following the Fukushima disaster. Similar robots have been used, but most have failed due to the high levels of radiation.

A World With 10 Million Patents

This week, the U.S. Patent Office granted the 10,000,000th patent. The honor went to Raytheon for a laser radar data system that can collect speed and distance information in real time.

Patent No. 10,000,000 went to Joe Marron, Ph. D, an optical engineer at Raytheon who applied for the patent back in 2015. Marron holds more than 20 patents, including his first in 1991 for a new type of bifocal lenses.

His latest invention improves laser radar to use reflected light to measure speed and distance to identify and track objects.

A problem with large laser sensors is that they create an enormous amount of data to process, which makes it card to create a picture of what they're seeing.

To get that information faster, Marron redesigned the laser radar to work like a digital camera. He spread that data out across many pixels. In essence, it's a form of data compression, and it could have a huge impact on autonomous cars and how the A.I. sees objects and makes decisions.

After Raytheon was founded in 1922, its first invention was a vacuum tube that made it easier to run home radios from a wall socket rather than large batteries.

We wanted to take a moment and recognize some of the notable patents that have changed the world.

Here's to the next 10 million. I’m sure they’ll all be as important as the 10 million before them. I wonder what number they gave Bike Balls?

Airbus to Fight Space Garbage with Giant Harpoon

In 1967, Sputnik was the only man-made object in orbit that was large enough to be tracked. Now, there is 6,800 tons of space debris in Low Earth Orbit, 23,000 tracked objects, traveling 17,895.5 miles per hour, that are a threat to space objects. The trash includes everything from destroyed spacecraft and old rocket stages. The mass is the equivalent to the Eiffel Tower.

A joint venture that includes Airbus and the the University of Surrey in England has created RemoveDEBRIS, a low cost R&D satellite that could be the solution for the great landfill in the sky that poses a constant threat to space stations and other satellites.

RemoveDEBRIS, which deployed this month, will be managed by the University's Space Center. It will test four different methods for active debris removal, a giant fishing net, a harpoon, a drag sail, and a vision-based navigation system. What I find interesting is that the experiment won't actually try to catch pieces of the 6,800 tons already in the sky. Instead, it's going to fire out it's own space junk, and then try to capture it. So, if it all goes wrong, we'll have 23,004 tracked pieces of space rubbish.

The net is pretty straight forward. In September, a cubesat will deploy from the main vessel, which will fire a giant net at it from seven meters away. They then come crashing down and burn up upon re-entry.

In October, The vision-based nav system will deploy a cubesat that will relay it's position to the main craft before it comes down and burns up in the atmosphere. The measurements will hopefully lead to new rendezvous techniques with space debris. So really, just a fire it out there and see what happens.

The harpoon is pretty simple. They're going to shoot a five-foot harpoon at 45 miles per hour at a target in March 2019. The hope is to grab it and drag it down.

Finally, the RemoveDEBRIS will be the fourth and final experiment. After performing all planned tests, the spacecraft will deploy a drag sail that will force the craft to deorbit in eight weeks. The process typically takes 2.5 years. The concept could be designed into future satellites to drag them out of the sky after their missions have been completed.

This is Engineering By Design. 

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