Tech Universe: Monday 3 December

By Miraz Jordan

Landing the rovers on Mars has been quite a feat. Photo / AP
Landing the rovers on Mars has been quite a feat. Photo / AP

DREAMS OF MARS: Landing the rovers on Mars has been quite a feat. But Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has much bigger plans: landing 80,000 people to form a colony. He says each fare could cost less than
$500,000 — the cost of a house in many places. The plans would require fully reusable rockets and spacecraft, capable of vertical landings. What an enormous challenge that could initiate.

KEEPING PLACE: GPS systems use a large number of satellites that all transmit highly accurate time signals. Such systems have been put in place or are being developed by half a dozen countries: the USA, Russia, Europe, China, Japan and India. All those satellites are extremely expensive. Now Chinese researchers have a potential money-saving idea: transmit highly accurate time signals from the ground and route them through geostationary satellites already in orbit.

While that could give accurate east-west positions, the north-south positions are a bit harder to achieve. As satellites reach their end of life though they do move around a bit into an inclined plane. The researchers say they could exploit that movement to get the rest of the data. Yet you still need to have a bunch of satellites that just happen to be available.

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET TRAIN: Japan's Bullet Train may be fast, but the Series L0 maglev, scheduled to go into use in 2027 between Tokyo and Nagoya, will be faster. The Bullet does the trip in 90 minutes, but the new train will cover the distance in 40 minutes — at almost 500 Kph. The front car is about 30 metres long, but half of that length is an aerodynamic streamlined nose. The train can carry almost 1,000 passengers per journey. That train would cover Auckland to Wellington in less than 90 minutes.

BREAKING POWER: The breakwater off Mutriku in northern Spain does double duty. On the one hand it keeps vicious waves from thrashing the shore; on the other it uses the power of those waves to generate power. The breakwater's hollow, and contains a wave energy plant.
Incoming waves compress the air in 16 cylinders, driving turbines and generating electricity. The plant produces 300 Kw — enough for 600 residents. Nice to see the combination of purposes there.

SPIT ON A CHIP: Researchers at Aarhus University have developed a way to diagnose malaria from a single drop of blood or saliva. The new microfluidics lab-on-a-chip test is quick, effective and low cost and doesn't need trained medical staff to make it work. The new test could help detect outbreaks of malaria in areas where it has nearly been eradicated. Simple, cheap tests like this can make dramatic changes.

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