Bad News for US Science, Good and Bad News for Rockets, and Great News for Wind Power | Vol. 4 / No. 15

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0

The troubles continue for science in America thanks to the current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, SpaceX has good news (and Russia not-so-good), and MHI Vestas has some great news about achievements in wind power. It’s the weekly roundup for Sunday, February 5, 2017.

Trouble for Science in America

Things are getting dicey in the US for noncitizen workers, especially in academia. Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration is still up in the air, with a federal judge ruling Friday for a nationwide stay on the order, but there are reports that 100,000 visas have already been revoked. Also, as I reported earlier this week, the new H1-B legislation raising the minimum H1-B wage to roughly $130,000 is making its way through the House, making it virtually impossible for the majority of universities to hire talented individuals from other countries going forward. It’s unclear whether or not many foreign-born workers, many of whom are scientists, engineers, and mathematicians at America’s universities, will be able to stay in the country, or if already away, able to return. As a result, scientists around the world are offering up lab space for those stranded, and I’ve heard a number of first-hand reports of labs setting up Canadian-based satellite locations for their foreign-born members. Time will only tell how bad it will really get, but make no mistake: this is already hurting US science.

 

A Proton-M in 2008. Photo: Flickr user Alex Lane, CC BY 2.0

Good and Bad News in Rocketry

There are two big stories this week related to rockets, one very good, the other not so much. First we have the good news: we’re getting close to seeing the first flight of a reused Falcon 9 first-stage. Before every SpaceX launch, rockets are test-fired at the company’s McGregor, Texas site, after which they’re shipped to their launch sites. SpaceX has completed this test-firing step for the first planned first-stage reuse launch and is shipping the rocket to Cape Canaveral. There are still two launches ahead of it on the manifest, an ISS resupply mission and the launch of EchoStar 23 (both scheduled for this month), but we’re getting closer and closer to watching the first reuse mission for a Falcon 9 first stage. If all goes well, it should carry the SES 10 communications satellite to orbit in March. You can read more at Spaceflight Now.

Second, there’s the bad news: Russia has grounded all of its Proton rockets after a review found “flaws” in the rocket engines. There are parts that need replacing, and it could hold back launches as far back as June. There are even reports circulating that expensive parts were illegally replaced with cheaper, failure-prone replacements to cut costs. This follows hard on the heels of the January 28 launch of a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from French Guiana, the first Soyuz launch since the December 1 loss of a Progress resupply mission grounded that fleet for an investigation. According to Spaceflight Now, Russian officials have blamed that failure on “foreign object debris or poor workmanship… traced to an older-generation third stage engine.” That engine was not used in the January 28 launch. You can read more about the Proton launch freeze at Spaceflight Now.

 

Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm | Photo: NHD-INFO, Harald Pettersen/Statoil, CC BY 2.0

Great News for Renewables

You wouldn’t know it from the news in the US, but green and renewable energy sources are enjoying a meteoric rise in adoption and technological success worldwide. Take a look at the latest news out of Denmark, where MHI Vestas Offshore Wind just ran its 9 MW prototype wind turbine at pretty much max load for 24 hours, breaking the record for the most electricity generated by a single wind turbine in a 24 hour period. At its theoretical max capacity of 9 MW, it can in theory generate a possible 216 MW-hours in a day (as much as roughly 7300 average US homes use in a day). Back on December 1, it generated 215.9991 MW-hours. That’s one turbine. Honestly, this thing’s enormous: each of its three blades is 80 metres long (262.5 feet) and weighs 35 tons. Its hub sits at 140m (459 feet), meaning that its full height is 220m (721 feet), or taller than every building in Boston but the Prudential Center and the John Hancock Tower (and the Pru is only 25 feet taller). And offshore wind farms are finally getting a toehold in the US, with the 90MW, 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm (30 miles southeast of Long Island) approved just last week. According to EIA statistics, since 2005 the number of non-hydroelectric renewables power plants has risen from 781 to 3043, and the number of coal-fired plants has dropped from 619 to 427. We currently generate 72GW (72,000MW) of wind power in the US — and that number is rising. So congratulations to MHI Vestas, and congratulations to all of us — we are making the shift. Here’s hoping it keeps speeding up.

 

ICYMI

In case you weren’t paying attention to this tiny team blog amid all the chaos in the world this week, here’s what we got up to:

If you missed any of it, go check it out!

 

Best of the Rest

And of course there’s always more to read than we have time to write about, so here it is, your weekly linkspam:

And now, while you’re trying to decide whether the next doctor should be Helen Mirren or Chiwetel Ejiofor (or Sue Perkins! SUE PERKINS!) watch this video of a banana, courtesy of Kevin Folta’s facebook page.

You’re welcome.

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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

 

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