Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Some Thoughts on Modern Spaceflight...

The last year, in particular the last few months, has produced some exciting developments in space flight. Is it all leading to a manned mission to Mars? I think so, but no time soon!

The media coverage of Tim Peake, Britain's first 'official' astronaut (the second British national to fly in space after Helen Sharman) has sparked an interest in space, or at least greater awareness, and I must confess it has made me keep more up to date with space advancements. For example, I now know that anyone can listen in to ISS radio communications with amateur radio equipment (145.800 MHz!), and that thunderbirds has come true 50 years later. No, really - we now have a space station, and this:

SpaceX have successfully built a reusable rocket, the Falcon 9. In fact, a Falcon 9 was used to deliver 11 satellites into orbit last week - and then return to the launch site. A large chunk of the cost of spaceflight is in designing and building rockets, so making them reusable in this way could reduce the cost of the next flight by a factor of up to 100! 

SpaceX are also developing a manned version of the Dragon spacecraft, which has been previously used to take supplies to the ISS. A crewed Dragon will provide an alternative to the Soyuz for getting people into space, and should be ready by 2018. It will also be capable, theoretically, of taking people to Mars. NASA have a similar project underway, Orion.

The problems with a Mars mission are not entirely technological. The rockets and spacecraft required to get people there either already exist or are in development. The main barrier is that, unless fuel is taken with them (not a viable option), the rocket will need refueling using materials found on Mars in order to return. Either that, or the mission is one way. There is a pool of volunteers for a one way mission, although it clearly isn't ideal! The other major issues are biological. What is the effect of spending years in space? Astronauts are now spending up to one year on the ISS to investigate how best to prevent muscle and bone loss, and the psychological impact of being confined for that long. Perhaps a settlement on the moon would be a first stepping stone?

So do I think that humans will visit Mars? Yes, absolutely. But not for a few years yet!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Emirates to fly the A380 into BHX!

As of 27/03/16, the lunchtime EK39/40 rotation will be operated by an Airbus A380. This will be the first regular A380 service to Birmingham.

Emirates currently operate 3 daily 777 flights to Dubai. The A380 has visited BHX once before, in 2009, when Emirates flew it in to celebrate the airports 70th anniversary and opening of the international pier. This was a one off, and due to runway length at the time, payload restricted. Since then, there have been alterations to stands, taxiways and of course the runway has been extended, meaning the A380 can now operate regularly into BHX.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

BHX New Routes Round-Up

Since I haven't done one in a while, here's a round-up of the recently announced new routes from Birmingham (the route development team have been busy!):

 - Blue Air to Bucharest (Starts 29/03/16)
 - Czech Airlines to Prague (Starts 22/04/16)
 - Flybe to Rotterdam (Starts 05/09/16)
 - Iberia Express to Madrid (Starts 27/06/16)
 - Norwegian to Las Palmas, having established a base at BHX this year (Starts 06/11/15)
 - Qatar Airways to Doha (Starts 30/03/16)
 - Ryanair to Madrid, Verona, Vilnius and Corfu (all late March/April 2016)
 - Thomson Airways to Punta Cana, Agadir, Alghero, Izmir and Split (For summer 16 season)
 - VLM to Antwerp (with connections to Geneva)
 - Vueling to Alicante (Starts 17/06/16), in addition to the recently commenced Barcelona service
 - Wizz Air to Budapest and Warsaw has already started. Poznan starts 18/12/15 and Bucharest starts 22/05/16.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Qatar Airways launch BHX flights!

It's official, as of 30/03/16, Qatar Airways will fly 8 times a week to Doha from Birmingham (daily with an extra on Saturdays). As with the Emirates flights, these will provide connectivity on-wards to Asia and Oceania. All flights will be operated by Boeing 787-8 'Dreamliner' aircraft.

BHX airport official announcement here

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Mystery of KIC 8462852

Just a couple of days ago, a paper was published in the MNRAS journal, and quite frankly it's one of the most interesting astronomy papers of recent years. The findings are so bizarre, the possibility of aliens being involved has been raised...

OK, so aliens are unlikely, but something odd has been found orbiting KIC 8462852. The star was observed as part of the Kepler mission to find exoplanets, and the strangeness of this particular star was found through the Planet Hunters Zooniverse project (which the public can get involved with). 

The transit method was used to measure the dips in intensity of light when exoplanets cross the face of a star along our line of sight. In most cases, such light curves are smooth and periodic (with a time period equal to the orbital period of the eclipsing planet). However, this star showed a bizarre light curve which was (a) not periodic and (b) extremely deep. The deepest transit blocked 20% of the stellar flux - this is a ridiculous amount! Planets tend to be so much smaller than their parent stars that normally a 1% drop is considered large. Also, planets go round in nice Keplarian orbits, obeying Newtons laws... but this leads to periodic transit events. 

So how can we explain the odd light curve, shown below?

Well firstly, the non-periodicity suggests one of two things. Either the object is large and irregular in shape, or there are in fact many small objects, perhaps in clusters, for example 'swarms' of comets. Errors in the optics have been ruled out, the light curve really is like this and there isn't a mistake. The possibility that the star itself is unstable has been considered, and although some stars do pulsate, they too are periodic - furthermore KIC 8462852 is a main sequence star, like our Sun. So this scenario seems unlikely too.

We are left, realistically, with two possibilities. 

1 . The star is being orbited by a huge alien construction of some kind. Daft as this sounds, SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) have actually turned their radio telescopes towards KIC 8462852, just in case!

2. The star is being orbited by huge (and we mean HUGE) clouds of exocomets. This could reproduce the light curve, if the distribution of comet clouds around the star were irregular.

The latter seems the most plausible. Further observations will be made, but in truth either answer would be extraordinary. The team have looked through the entire Kepler data set and have found only a few remotely similar light curves, but KIC 8462852 stands out even among these as particularly strange. If one star is surrounded by comet clouds, why don't we see many like this? Whatever the answer, we're sure to learn something new from the curious case of KIC 8462852...

Reference: "Planet Hunters X, KIC 8462852 - Where's the flux?", Boyajian et al, (2015), MNRAS

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Waves in Space and Time: LIGO reopens UPDATED

Back in September I made the post below about LIGO reopening. Well, almost immediately after reopening, they made a discovery! The news made headlines and rightly so, they simultaneously confirmed that gravitational waves exist, added further credence to General Relativity, and made the first observation of a binary black hole system and merger.

It's worth pausing to consider what they have achieved here. Something that was first predicted in 1916 has been discovered 100 years later. The signal detected caused the length of LIGO's 4km long arms to change by a fraction of a protons width, the waves themselves originated from the merger of 2 black holes, each of about 30 times the mass of the Sun, which occurred 1.3 billion years ago. The event liberated something like 3 times the mass of the Sun in pure energy as gravitational waves, and the black holes reached velocities of ~ 60% of the speed of light immediately before their event horizons merged.

The next step is to carry on making observations - there are several sources that could be detected in theory, from compact object collisions, to the cosmological background thought to originate from quantum fluctuations during inflation!


LIGO (Laser-Interferometer-Gravitational-Wave-Observatory) in Louisiana has restarted after a 5 year hiatus. It is now around 10 times more sensitive. But what does LIGO do?

LIGO is an experiment to detect gravitational waves (GWs), ripples in space-time predicted by General Relativity. They have never been directly detected, although their existence has been strongly inferred from the mechanics of systems such as binary neutron stars. Essentially, GWs are though to be emitted from accelerating masses in much the same way electromagnetic waves are radiated from accelerating charges. The problem is, GWs are weak and the most powerful sources (e.g. black hole mergers) are so far away, the signal here on Earth is tiny.

LIGO aims to measure the stretching and compression of space caused by a GW passing through the experiment. It consists of two 4 km long evacuated tunnels, orientated at right angles and meeting at one end. From the corner they meet, laser beams from the same source are fired along the tunnels at right angles. The two beams are bounced off mirrors at the far ends. They come back along the tunnels and recombine very near to where they started. If the experimental set up is perfect (ie perfect vacuum, no vibrations, exact distances), each beam will travel exactly the same distance and thus when they recombine, they will be perfectly in phase still. Another way of thinking of it is to say that the time of flight of the photons is identical for each beam. The diagram below shows the set up, which is very similar to a Michelson-Morley interferometer.

If one beam is shortened/ lengthened (an interference pattern produced), we can determine that a GW has passed along one of the beams. The ideal situation is a GW parallel to one tunnel and perpendicular to the other.

LIGO should now be capable of detecting GWs of frequency ~100Hz, which is similar to the lower end of human hearing (hence 'listening to the comos'). For different frequencies, and more sensitivity, the next experiment will be LISA (Laser-Interferometer-Space-Antenna), now eLISA (e for evolved). This will involve 2 spacecraft separated by millions of km. The same principle will be used, but now the 'arm length' is millions of km, not 4 km. Hence greater sensitivity can be achieved. The first prototype of this experiment, LISA pathfinder, is in construction and will be launched later this year. 

It's an exciting time: we are on the eve of testing one of the final predictions of General Relativity, and opening up a whole new type of astronomy.

Concorde to the Sky?

Apparently, a 'group of British enthusiasts'  have raised £120 million, enough to purchase and restore to airworthy condition, one of the Concordes! If so, it will be certainly be a popular airshow attraction and a nice Vulcan replacement! The issue will likely be finding suppliers of parts.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Farewell XH558

On Sunday 13th September, the last flying Avro Vulcan made a final flypast of Coventry airport.

The Vulcan is a long range delta wing aircraft of 1950's vintage, built primarily as a nuclear bomber. It thankfully never saw action in this capacity of course, but it was used during the 1980's Falklands conflict.

The last flying example, XH558 (G-VLCN) has been kept flying for the last decade or so by the Vulcan to the Sky trust, which has relied on charitable support and private funding. 2015 is its last flying season, with suppliers of parts needed to maintain the aircraft withdrawing their support.

It was announced (although very badly advertised I must say!) that the Vulcan was due to do a small display at Coventry on Sunday 13th. On the day, the expected time of fly past was announced as 15:45, and we were over there like a shot!

Special parking had been made available (a field opposite the airport) and there were alot of people there - remarkable, since as far as I can tell, the only advertising done was in a local paper and on Facebook & twitter. We walked down to get a good view, ending up outside the Coventry flying club, where we got a surprise:

Apologies for not zooming but those 2 dots are a Meteor and Venom, operated by Classic Air Force and flying in formation (callsign: Vintage Formation!). With so many people turning up to see the Vulcan, I suppose Airbase thought it a good day to give some of the other jets a run!

On schedule, I heard 'Vulcan' on the scanner and we caught a glimpse of smokey-trailed triangle in the distance! A few minutes later...

I think most of us expected a fly by and nothing more, but we were treated to something like 5 or 6 fly pasts, it was a properly planned display:

A fantastic view of XH558 turning base leg for another low fly past along rwy23...

And, after one final flypast along rwy05, she climbed out on full power, up and away back to Doncaster, her home base. I can honestly say that standing below a Vulcan on full power, climbing out, is the best sound I have ever heard! And the loudest too!

I had the privilege of watching the same aircraft 5 years ago, from air-side:

So it was a bitter sweet experience really, sad to see the vintage jets (which are going up for sale) and the Vulcan airborne for the last time, but of course a pleasure to see them while we can! I have to conclude by saying how much of commercial opportunity operating these aircraft could be, and I can't help but think that if advertised and developed into a tourist attraction, Airbase and the Vulcan could have bright futures. Donations alone have kept them going this long, after all.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

3 Museums - 2 Coventrys and a Cosford

So I haven't posted in an age, largely because I haven't had very much to say! But over the last few weeks I've been to 3 local (ish) air musuems: Midland Air Museum, Classic Air Force Airbase, and RAF Cosford, so I thought I'd do a review of sorts.

Midland Air Museum (Coventry Airport) 

Although fairly small, this place packs in as much as it can with the space and is really worth a visit. It houses a variety of aircraft, from fighters to bombers to civilian aircraft. What I particularly like about this place, is that you can have a look inside a few of the aircraft, including a Vulcan. This sets it apart from other aviation museums I've been to as it makes a bit more interactive, clambering up ladders into cockpits!

Classic Air Force Airbase (Coventry Airport) 

This is a fantastic collection of old aircraft, a lot of which are not only airworthy, but still operating pleasure flights! I previously had a flight on their DeHavilland Dragon Rapide in 2012, here's a post about it. I've also been to airbase before, back in 2011, again here's a post. The museum is now free, everyone there is a volunteer, working to keep the aircraft airworthy or at least in good condition! Unfortunately though, the museum has moved out of the building it was in and is now in a cabin on the apron, and sadly it seem as though the museum may be shutting down (although this will be a slow process it will be around for while yet!). Round the corner from Airbase is restaurant, converted from a DC-6, which I visited here. Like I said at the end of that post, with the 2 museums (both nice set ups!), the diner and even pleasure flights, Coventry airport could be a real tourist and enthusiast attraction.

A nice scene from Airbase a few years back!
A nice bonus of Airbase is that you get a great view airside - here are a couple of BAe ATP's and in the background, a visiting Yak!
RAF Museum (RAF Cosford)

The RAF museum at Cosford is a huge site spanning 4 hangars, containing aircraft from WW1 through to modern fighters. Although you can't go inside any aircraft, it's great museum for people more interested in the historical side of aviation, with exhibits themed around the world wars and the cold war. They also have a few unique treats, such as a TSR2 prototype and the 1:1 scale Airfix model of a Spitfire made for James May's toy stories! Here's a few pics:

A Vulcan, suspended from the roof!

The Airfix Spitfire

A Comet in BOAC colours
So this another air museum absolutely worth visiting!

Friday, 24 July 2015

The discovery of Earth 2.0 (sort of)

NASA's Kepler space telescope has just discovered the most Earth-like exoplanet yet. Kepler 452b orbits a star very similar to our Sun and is at a comparable distance. For example, its orbital period is 385 Earth days. Not only that, it is rocky, albeit around 5 times more massive than Earth  - this corresponds to surface gravity of about 2g.

The next step will be to make further observations and potentially characterise its atmosphere - of course, it may be similar to Venus or Mars, but it could also be similar to Earth's atmosphere. If Oxygen and Nitrogen are key components of 452b's atmosphere, it seems so similar to Earth that life there is a real, if still slim, possibility!

It was also recently announced that a new hunt for alien radio signals will be initiated, supported by the likes of Professor Stephen Hawking. In addition to this, a new radio telescope called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is being built - consisting of over 1000 telescopes around the world with a equivalent collecting area of 1 square km, and based in Jodrell Bank, it too will be able to hunt for faint radio signals from other worlds. We live in an exciting time - perhaps evidence of alien life is only a matter of years or decades away...

Here's the link to the scientific paper, published in The Astronomical Journal:

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Airbus announce the A380neo

Airbus have announced that they are going to upgrade the A380, the largest passenger aircraft ever built. The upgraded A380neo will feature new engines (from a single supplier, likely RR) and a wing redesign. The decision may be surprising as the A380 has not been the best selling model and will face competition from Boeing's new 777-9X, which is not that much smaller in terms of seat capacity and is a twin!

Furthermore there are only 13 operators of the type, and of these 165 aircraft in service, Emirates has a whopping 64 of them (with 76 on order!). So it appears as though the success of the A380, and the A380neo, depends heavily on one airline. The A380 programme is only just breaking even, without Emirates, it surely would have been a commercial disaster.

Now Airbus claim that the A380 was brought to the market too early, and that there will be an increasing demand for larger aircraft in the future. This is seen to some extent at Heathrow, which sees the most A380 operators, largely because extra flights are out of the question and more seats are needed, the answer is larger aircraft. Some have said that the neo version is too soon, only 10 years after the original, however by the time the first neo flies it will have been something like 15 years and the oldest A380's will be nearing retirement age. It will be interesting to see who orders the A380neo though!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Pluto & Pentaquarks

So the 14th July 2015 has been a good day for physics & space science: CERN announced the discovery a new particle, the 'pentaquark', and NASA's New Horizons probe has made its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto completing our exploration of the original 9 planets. So without further ado let's get into the nitty gritty of the science!

CERN have announced the detection of pentaquark particles at the LHC. These are composed of 4 quarks & an antiquark, essentially a baryon (3 quarks with colour charge RBG adding up to colourless) bound to a  meson (a quark-antiquark pair). Not as fundamental as the Higgs Boson discovery but a nice find nonetheless!

Pluto used to be 9th planet and was demoted in 2006 to 'dwarf planet' for reasons which I personally think are very sensible. It should be said that the whole debate is just semantics and a lot of people, even notable scientists, would disagree - the late great Sir Patrick Moore would've kept Pluto as a planet. So there will be no explanation of it's new categorisation here!

New Horizons was launched in 2006, and is the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Even at 84,000km/h (52,000km/h) it took 9 years to reach its target. The probe is going so fast and Pluto's gravity is so weak it could not possibly go into orbit, instead it has sailed past and will head on out into the Kuiper Belt, joining the Voyager probes in their exploration of the outer solar system and beyond.

So here it is, in glorious colour (looking surprisingly red and Mars-like):


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Airbus E-Fan completes channel crossing!

The all electric Airbus built E-Fan has become the first electric aircraft to cross the English channel. Unlike the 'other' famous electric aircraft currently flying, Solar Impulse 2, the E-fan is a two seater light aircraft powered by batteries. Like Solar impulse and other electric vehicles (see Formula E), the E-Fan represents how far electric, and specifically battery, technology has advanced in recent years. The main downside to renewables is currently the inability to store the energy they produce when not needed - and these kinds of project are pushing that technology in the right direction.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Solar Impulse completes Pacific crossing

Solar impulse 2, piloted by Andre Borchsberg, has landed in Hawaii, after flying from Japan powered by nothing but sunlight. It is also the longest solo flight in history. Congrats to all involved!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Paris Airshow 2015 Summary!

So, last week was the 2015 Paris air show, and it was eventful in terms of new aircraft giving displays but perhaps underwhelming in terms of orders, anyway, here's a summary!

Firstly, the bad news: Aeroflot cancelled an order for 22 787-8 but this was most likely politically driven. Bomardier picked up no new orders for their C-series, despite both variants (CS100 and CS300) both displaying for the first time.

And Airbus didn't get any A380 orders, blaming the lack of demand  on introducing the A380 too early to the market. 

Now the good! Garuda Indonesia were a big spender at the show, ordering 30 737-8MAX, 25 787-9, and from Airbus 30 A350-900. Saudi Arabian were the first airline to order the A330R (Regional). Other big orders at the show included:

  • Aercap (leasing company) for 100 737-8MAX
  • Volga-Dnepr orders 20 747-8F, a boost for the 747-8
  • TACA & Avianca orders 62 A320neo
  • Wizzair order a whopping 110 A321neo
I'll leave you with the flying displays of newcomers, the A350-900 and 787-9:

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Philae's awake!

The Philae comet lander, that caused so much excitement last November when it made a bouncy landing on comet 67P, has just woken up after moving closer to the Sun.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The future of spaceflight

One of the major reasons space flight is so expensive is the single use of the vehicles. The analogy I have heard is like having to build aircraft that can only fly once - and so it is with spacecraft, except spacecraft are even more expensive! The space shuttle was a step towards reusable spacecraft, but the rockets were not reusable and anyway, the space shuttles have been retired. Unless this can be addressed, space flight will remain, in most cases, prohibitively expensive.

So is anyone working on the problem? NASA have tackled a different problem by building Orion, a spacecraft currently in the testing phase that will be capable of taking humans further than the Moon - perhaps Mars or an asteroid. But SpaceX, the innovative space exploration company founded by Elon Musk, has looked into the reusable rocket idea. In fact, they've gone a bit further than looking into it! Below is a real video, in real time of their F9R rocket flight test. It climbs to 1000m and then... well, give it watch...

It honestly though this was fake when I first watched it. It's like thunderbird 1! Of course it's early days but if they get this technology into a rocket that can get into space with a payload, then return to Earth and land itself as in the video above... this is a truly reusable rocket. It will vastly reduced the costs of launches because you only need to pay for the fuel - not a new rocket every time!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Everything wrong with... this article

So the media sometimes get things wrong, but it seems to me that they're particularly bad when it comes to reporting aviation stories (or even non-stories as the case may be). This recent article epitomises all that, so I'm going to go through all the errors and sensationalism in it... it's no wonder people are scared of flying when this is what their impression of it is!

Let's begin!

'Dramatic footage' - It's not dramatic.

'forced to pull up at last minute' - Over the top. It was a perfectly safe and calculated go around.

'Cries of 'oh my God' heard on video as small plane wheels onto runway'  - Hardly 'cries'. Planes don't 'wheel', they taxi.

'Astonishing footage' - It's not astonishing.

'worried onlookers who saw the huge passenger jet appear to pull up at the last minute'  - They weren't worried, and if they were they shouldn't have been! Again... the Emirates pilots will have been fully aware of the metroliner holding at the end of the runway and will have been fully prepared to execute a go around if necessary. Not a last minute evasive manoeuvre as this makes it sound.

'A small plane thought to be a Flightline Metroliner EC-JIP' - Any reason you've told us the aircraft registration as well? If you were reporting a car accident you wouldn't tell us the reg? Incidentally a car accident would be far more newsworthy.

'Near miss: Onlookers to the incident started to worry as the Emirates plane (left) began its descent while the small plane pulled onto the runway'  - Began its descent? It would have begun its descent about 100 or so miles away (unless you thought that the aircraft was at ~35,000 feet at the start of the video?). Also not a near miss. The metroliner would have been off the tarmac before the 777 landed anyway. And why are they called near misses? If it's nearly a miss, surely it's a hit?

'That's just too close,' says a lady before cries of 'oh my God' are heard and the Emirates plane aborts its landing at the last minute.' - *facepalm*

'The huge passenger jet is believed to have flown in from Dubai' - Well it had? Why do we have to say 'believed' here? Emirates only fly out of Dubai...

'unscheduled go around' - when would a go around ever be 'scheduled'?! Like, at the start of a flight, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll be going around at 14:10 before arrival approximately 15 minutes later'...

'it seems the plane was forced to make a harder landing on the tarmac, due to approaching at a different angle.' - HAHAHA oh this is the best one! The second landing was not particularly hard. How does a go around several minutes previously affect a completely unrelated second approach? A different angle. For Gods sake, planes cannot approach a runway at different angles (at least not this close in)  - runways are long straight things yeah? You kind of have to be lined up???

'MailOnline have also contacted Emirates for comment.' - Right, asking an airline for comment about a procedure as standard as a go around is like asking a car driver for comment because they turned on their windscreen wipers. Please.

'The pilot of the Emirates Boeing 77-300 was forced to perform a last-minute go around' - Pilots, plural. It's a Boeing 777-300ER. Although the ER is forgiveable, the 77 is not. Again, not last minute.

'The small plane was believed to be a Flightline Metroliner EC-JIP that taxied out onto the runway' - Is this sentence grammatically correct?

And then, at the end, they put a perfectly sensible explanation of go around's (from Heathrow's website), which if they had actually read, might have made them realise that this is not a news story.

Rant over!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Coventry airshow 2015 - 'Airbase Gets Airborne'

Classic Air Force (previously Air Atlantique/classic flight) are making a big return to the Midlands (after a move to Newquay) by staging an air show at Coventry airport on 2nd May. There will also be the opportunity to fly in several aircraft yourself (including the DeHavilland Dove/Devon!).

Check out the details here:

Saturday, 28 March 2015

All renewable countries!

I lot of my posts recently have been about energy but I had to share this link. There are a surprising number of countries which now have zero carbon (or close to) electricity production, from poorer countries like Costa Rica to richer ones like Iceland or Norway. They are a role model for the future:

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The turning point?

Last year, CO2 emissions didn't rise, they stayed the same - this is the first time this has happened in 40 years. I found this announcement very interesting as it might show that the world has reached a turning point. If next year they actually decrease, then we will have reached a turning point in energy consumption.

There are many reasons for this 'stall' in emissions growth. China is investing heavily in renewable energy, in a move away from the coal and oil which has been so polluting their cities.  Europe too is moving to renewables (and nuclear), this may be in part to reduce reliance on imports from Russia and the troubled middle east.

In the UK for example, this push is exaggerated by the declining North Sea reserves and at long last people are seeing past short term oil/gas price fluctuations. Take the recent announcement of plans for several tidal power stations around the UK as an example. Previously, these kinds of projects were dismissed because alternatives were cheaper, and due to marine environment concerns. But now the benefits outweigh the costs in the long term.

The final key point is that, as stated in the BBC report, economic growth can continue without fossil fuels. This is the first time this has been the case since the start of the industrial revolution! As there is an increasing switch to solar, wind and other renewables, jobs will be lost in fossil fuels but created in renewables and they might be starting to balance out.

Now of course the world isn't going carbon neutral for a long time yet, not least because most renewables are not reliable and we'll need either much better batteries/energy storage techniques, or retain a backup supply of fossil fuel powerplants. And then there's aviation. Electric passenger planes are far off but there are interesting developments like Airbus's E-fan and of course, solar impulse.

Overall it's an interesting time! We'll have to see what the result of the 2015 climate change summit is. And then there's nuclear fusion, but that's a whole other article!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Sunday, 1 March 2015

UKSEDS 2015 National Space Conference [Updated]

So this year a mate from uni and myself decided to go on a daytrip to the 2015 UKSEDS National Students Space Conference, at the University of Surrey. UKSEDS, or 'UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space' organise this event annually and have a variety of guest speakers from industry and academia to talk about current research and job prospects in the space sector. We attended on Saturday and had a great time listening to experts in their fields and even getting to meet them.

Topics covered included the challenges of hypersonic air breathing flight, PCL Laboratories, the future of citizen science (by Prof. Chris Lintott of The Sky at Night and Stargazing Live fame), putting the UK back into space, Lunar Mission One and the Rosetta Mission by lead scientist Dr Matt Taylor (video at the bottom of this post).

The first lecture discussed how to move away from staged rocket launches to get into orbit, by using ramjets/scramjets, and the issues that face these technologies (such as the engines melting!). The second was a lecture (complete with David Bowie) about the activities of the PCL company, which manufactures specialised circuitry for space applications. Prof. Lintott's lecture was an entertaining discussion of how the public can be used to sort through big data, like that produced by modern telescopes, and why people rather than code are needed to spot the unexpected. The fourth talk was about how the UK is involved in all aspects of space technology except the actual launch - and why we could have a UK spaceport in the next decade. Lecture number 5 gave an overview of the Lunar Mission One, a proposed robotic mission to the lunar south pole which will be crowd-funded. Finally the keynote speaker was Dr. Matt Taylor on the Rosetta mission to comet 67P - and how it has been a huge scientific success.

Overall it was a interesting day and I recommend going if you're a physics/astronomy/engineering student interested in space, particularly if you're in your final year as it's a great opportunity to mingle with the biggest space sector employers.

Update: Keynote talk by Dr. Matt Taylor on the Rosetta mission:

Friday, 27 February 2015

Can we power the UK entirely with renewables?

A very informative TedX talk explaining the realities of switching to renewable energy and the challenges that come with that, worth a watch!