The Chinese Take The Lead!
9-17-21 City-wide quantum data network in China is the largest ever built
A city-wide quantum communications network in Hefei, China, that has been running for almost three years is the largest demonstration to date of how a future quantum internet might work. The network, created by Teng-Yun Chen at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and his colleagues, uses commercial fibre optics hardware to connect 40 computers at government buildings, banks and universities that are clustered into three subnetworks, each separated by around 15 kilometres. In a traditional computer network, data is sent in small packets that can be intercepted by anyone. With enough time and computing power, even encrypted messages can be cracked open. On the other hand, quantum key distribution offers the promise of completely secure encrypted communications by sending photons in particular quantum states. Any attempt to observe or copy a quantum state will alter it, thanks to the strange properties of quantum physics, making it impossible to eavesdrop on a quantum connection without raising the alarm. The most robust way to build a quantum network is to have a link between each and every user, but this becomes prohibitively expensive for all but the smallest networks – imagine a version of the internet in which you needed a direct connection to every other computer. To get around this, the USTC team used smaller subnetworks and switches that can create routes between different users as needed, like a telephone operator patching wires together. The network also includes three devices known as trusted relays, which are used to simplify the network architecture. These relays have a downside because they could, in theory, be used to intercept data being transmitted between two users. Another disadvantage is that the network only transmits at 49.5 kilobits per second – slower than the telephone modems used in the 1990s – and establishing a secure quantum link takes up to five minutes because of the precise calibration required to detect individual photons. In their paper, the researchers say that their network has been operating for 31 months, and it can be connected to other similar set-ups via long-distance quantum links and satellite relays, paving the way for a global quantum network. The team wasn’t available for interview about the work when contacted by New Scientist.
9-17-21 Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission
Three Chinese astronauts have returned to Earth after completing the country's longest crewed space mission. They spent 90 days at the Tianhe module on China's space station, some 380km (240 miles) above Earth. The three men had on Thursday boarded the Shenzhou-12 crewed spacecraft and undocked from the space station. The successful mission is another demonstration of China's growing confidence and capability in the space domain. Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Honbo touched down in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia at around 13:35 local time (05:35 GMT) on Friday. They had left for space on 17 June, and had lifted off from the same desert. While in space, the three men completed various tasks including transmitting experiment data back to Earth and conducting hours-long spacewalks, according to China's Global Times. The core module of the space station, where the astronauts lived, is said to have separate living spaces for each astronaut and a space gym equipped with a specifically designed treadmill and bicycle, the Global Times reported quoting China's Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. China has made strides in its space ambitions in recent years. In 2019, it became the first country to send a robotic rover to the far side of the Moon. But it had to develop its own space station, in part because it has been excluded from the International Space Station project. The US, which leads that partnership with Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, will not co-operate with China in orbit.
7-21-21 China debuts world's fastest train
A maglev bullet train that can reach speeds of 600 kilometers per hour (373 miles per hour) has made its debut in Qingdao, China. Developed by the state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation, it's considered the world's fastest train. "Maglev" is an abbreviation of "magnetic levitation." The train appears to be "floating" thanks to an electromagnetic force that sends it gliding above the tracks. Liang Jianying, deputy general manager and chief engineer of CRRC Sifang, told Chinese state media that in addition to its speed, the train emits low levels of noise pollution and requires less maintenance than other high-speed trains. A prototype of the new maglev train was revealed to media in 2019. That same year, China announced ambitious plans to create "3-hour transportation circles" between major metropolitan areas. High-speed rail is a major priority in China, which aims to connect more of its large cities by train to reduce the time and expense required to travel around the world's most populous country. Currently, the average high-speed train in China can run at about 350 kph, while planes fly at 800-900 kph. Trains like the one unveiled in Qingdao this week could fill a critical middle space.
7-5-21 China beats Google to claim the world's most powerful quantum computer
A team in China has demonstrated that it has the world’s most powerful quantum computer, leapfrogging the previous record holder, Google. Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei and his colleagues say their quantum computer has solved a problem in just over an hour that would take the world’s most powerful classical supercomputer 8 years to crack, and may yet be capable of exponentially higher performance. The problem, which has become a benchmark in quantum computing, involves simulating a quantum circuit and sampling random numbers from its output. This problem scales exponentially in complexity as you add more qubits to the circuit being modelled, which means that classical computers rapidly find the task unmanageably difficult as complexity is increased. In 2019, Google announced its Sycamore processor had achieved quantum supremacy – the name given to the point at which quantum computers can solve a problem that a classical computer would find impossible given a reasonable amount of time – using this problem as a testbed. Now Pan’s team has solved a version of the problem that is at least 100 times more challenging. Google’s processor had 54 qubits and solved a benchmark problem in just 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The Google team claimed it would take the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years to crack this version of the problem, though IBM later claimed that it’s classical supercomputer could have solved it in two and a half days but, crucially, did not demonstrate that in practice. The Chinese team’s Zuchongzhi processor – named after fifth century mathematician Zu Chongzhi, who calculated pi to a precision that would not be bettered for 800 years – has 66 qubits, but the team only used 56 of them in their experiment, solving the problem in about 70 minutes. The team say in their paper that this makes it an “unambiguous” display of quantum supremacy, but declined to speak to New Scientist. Google also declined to comment.
6-27-21 China releases videos of its Zhurong Mars rover
China's space agency has released video of its Zhurong rover trundling across the surface of Mars. The pictures were acquired by a wireless camera that the robot had placed on the ground. The new media release also includes sequences from Zhurong's landing in May, showing the deployment of its parachute system and the moment of touchdown. The six-wheeled robot is investigating a region known as Utopia Planitia. The China National Space Agency (CNSA) says Zhurong has driven 236m in 42 Mars sols (as of 27 June). A sol is a Martian day. It lasts slightly longer than an Earth day, at 24 hours and 39 minutes. The latest movies were relayed back to Earth via the Tianwen-1 satellite which orbits the Red Planet. "The orbiter and the Mars rover are in good working condition, reporting safely from Mars to the party and the motherland, and sending distant blessings on the century of the party's founding," a CNSA press statement said. The first of July will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. A video release was expected, especially of the landing, which occurred on 14 May. Some preview stills looking up at the parachute system from the rover's entry capsule were handed out last week. In the movie version, however, we see the envelope inflate in the rarefied Martian atmosphere. We also see Zhurong and its landing platform drop away from the "backshell" of the capsule; and finally a look-down camera captures the moment of touchdown as the platform's braking rocket motor blasts the surface clear of dust. There are three videos on the surface. The first, presumably taken shortly after Zhurong put the wireless camera on the ground, shows the robot backing away. The second video shows Zhurong wiggling its wheels while sitting next to its landing platform. The CNSA had previously released a still from this scene.
6-21-21 Quantum data link established between two distant Chinese cities
A secure quantum link has been created over a distance of 511 kilometres between two Chinese cities by using a relay in the middle that doesn’t have to be trusted. This could help extend secure quantum networks. When a pair of photons are quantum entangled, you can instantly deduce the state of one by measuring the other, regardless of the distance separating them. This is the basis of quantum encryption – using entangled particles to create secure keys and ensure that messages are secret. Previous research has created entangled pairs of photons and transmitted one to a receiver, creating a link that can establish a quantum key. But Qiang Zhang at the University of Science and Technology of China and his colleagues have extended the maximum distance of a quantum key distribution link through a cable by using an intermediate step that doesn’t read the data, but only checks if it matches what was sent by the other end. Lasers at both ends of a fibre-optic cable send photons towards each other. These particles of light are in random phases, the pattern of peaks and troughs in their movement. When a pair of photons with matching phase meet in the middle hub, the system alerts both the sender and the receiver via a traditional data link. Because each end knows what it transmitted and whether it matched the phase of the other, they can exchange a quantum key that can be used to encrypt data sent over traditional networks. Crucially, the central hub doesn’t know what was sent, only whether the two signals matched. A recent experiment by Toshiba Europe in Cambridge, UK, demonstrated a link of 600 kilometres using the same technology, but the apparatus was all housed in a single lab. The Chinese team used a fibre-optic connection 511 kilometres long strung between the cities of Jinan and Qingdao, with a central receiver based between in Mazhan.
6-17-21 China space station: Shenzhou-12 delivers first crew to Tianhe module
China has launched three astronauts into orbit to begin occupation of the country's new space station. The three men - Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo - are to spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth. It will be China's longest crewed space mission to date and the first in nearly five years. The crew successfully docked with the space station just over seven hours after the launch. The moment of contact was met with applause from mission control in China. Their Shenzhou-12 capsule took off atop its Long March 2F rocket on Thursday. Lift-off from the Jiuquan satellite launch centre in the Gobi desert was at 09:22 Beijing time (01:22 GMT). The launch and subsequent mission are another demonstration of China's growing confidence and capability in the space domain. In the past six months, the country has returned rock and soil samples to Earth from the surface of the Moon, and landed a six-wheeled robot on Mars - both highly complex and challenging endeavours. The primary objective for Commander Nie Haisheng and his team on the Shenzhou-12 mission is to bring the 22.5-tonne Tianhe module into service. "I have a lot of expectations," Mr Nie said ahead of the launch. "We need to set up our new home in space and test a series of new technologies. So, the mission is tough and challenging. I believe with the three of us working closely together, doing thorough and accurate operations, we can overcome our challenges. We have the confidence to complete the mission." This 16.6m-long, 4.2m-wide Tianhe cylinder was launched in April. It is the first and core component in what will eventually be a near 70-tonne orbiting outpost, comprising living quarters, science labs and even a Hubble-class telescope to view the cosmos. The various elements will be launched in turn over the course of the next couple of years. The construction will be accompanied by regular cargo deliveries, as well as crew expeditions.
6-16-21 China has launched the first astronauts to its new space station
China has launched the first astronauts to its new space station. The three astronauts blasted off inside a Shenzhou spacecraft atop a Long March 2F rocket from north-west China at 2.22 am BST on 17 June, in the country’s first crewed mission since 2016. They are scheduled to stay there for three months, making it China’s longest crewed mission yet. The first module of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) launched in April, marking the beginning of a massive construction project in orbit. The Tianhe module will be the heart of the station, with living quarters for up to three astronauts, along with the station’s control centre, power, propulsion and life-support systems. This 18-metre-long spacecraft will be joined by two other main modules with space for science experiments. The finished space station will be about one-quarter the size of the International Space Station (ISS). This year and next, China has planned 11 missions to finish building and stocking the CSS. A cargo spacecraft has already docked with Tianhe, carrying supplies for the astronauts now heading into orbit. The CSS is China’s third and largest space station. The previous one, called Tiangong-2, fell to Earth in 2019. While in orbit, it was visited by a pair of astronauts for 30 days. During their CSS mission, the three new astronauts have two planned spacewalks to install equipment on the outside of the spacecraft. China’s previous space stations have lasted only a few years each, but the CSS is intended to be a more permanent fixture in orbit, operating for at least 10 years. Chinese astronauts aren’t allowed to visit the ISS because of US legal restrictions. The CSS will give them the capability to perform the same sorts of scientific experiments in orbit as ISS member states do, often focusing on how the space environment affects living organisms, the development of new materials and basic physics.
6-11-21 China's Zhurong Mars rover took a group selfie with its lander
China has released the first batch of science images from its Zhurong Mars rover, following its successful landing on the Red Planet on 14 May. In one picture, seen above, Zhurong carefully orchestrated a group selfie with its landing platform. To do this, the rover travelled 10 metres south, released a small wireless camera attached to its bottom, then headed back towards the lander to pose for the shot. A panoramic shot taken directly from Zhurong shows surface features and the distant horizon, but also lighter surface areas created by the venting of leftover fuel by the landing platform, performed as a safety measure. Also visible to the south (top left of the image) are the parachute and protective shell that helped Zhurong land safely. The update confirms that Zhurong has been active on Mars, despite a lack of information from the China National Space Administration since the rover crawled on to the surface on 22 May. The silence has been partly due to the challenges of sending large batches of data back to Earth over distances of hundreds of millions of kilometres. The Tianwen-1 orbiter, which carried Zhurong to Mars, passes over the rover’s location in Utopia Planitia once every Martian day to relay data from the rover to Earth. Teams in China will now use the images to make a travel plan for Zhurong. Among the rover’s science instruments are panoramic and multispectral cameras for imaging and analysing its surroundings and a ground-penetrating radar which will peer below the surface for evidence of water and ice. On 10 June, the University of Arizona released an image taken by the HiRise camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing that Zhurong had been on the move. Zhurong is China’s first Mars rover and is part of the Tianwen-1 mission, which is also the country’s first independent interplanetary excursion.
6-11-21 China's Zhurong Mars rover takes a selfie
China's Zhurong rover has sent back a batch of new images from Mars - including a "selfie". The robot, which landed in May, positioned a wireless camera on the ground and then rolled back a short distance to take the snap. To Zhurong's right is the rocket-powered platform that brought the six-wheeled vehicle to a soft touchdown. Both display prominent Chinese flags. A second image, taken by the rover, shows the platform on its own. Visible is the ramp down which Zhurong had to drive to get on to the surface; and the tracks it left in the dust as it turned around. A third picture looks out to the horizon from the landing site. This region is known as Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in Mars' northern hemisphere. All the images were released by the Chinese space agency in a ceremony to celebrate the success of the rover mission. Scientists are hoping to get at least 90 Martian days of service out of Zhurong. The robot looks a lot like the American space agency's (Nasa) Spirit and Opportunity vehicles from the 2000s. It weighs some 240kg. A tall mast carries cameras to take pictures and aid navigation; five additional instruments will investigate the mineralogy of local rocks and the general nature of the environment, including the weather. Like the current American rovers (Curiosity and Perseverance), Zhurong has a laser tool to zap rocks to assess their chemistry. It also has a radar to look for sub-surface water-ice - a capability it shares with Perseverance. On Thursday, the US University of Arizona released a colour picture of Zhurong taken from orbit. The university's camera, called HiRise, is mounted on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
5-26-21 Quantum internet: The race is on to build an unhackable online world
To extend the range of QKD, you can rely on trusted nodes, devices that relay a message by decrypting it and encrypting it again to send it down the next section of fibre. China already has an impressive network, with a 2000-kilometre-long backbone of 32 trusted nodes between Beijing and Shanghai, and hundreds of links in total. Problem solved? Not quite. Each node is a security risk that, if compromised, could leak your message. Worse, this is no good for fancier applications like blind computing because the original quantum information is discarded at each node. So researchers are also looking at quantum links using satellites. The front runner here is China, which in 2016 launched the Micius satellite, carrying a quantum communications toolkit. “When Micius launched, that got everyone else to sit up,” says Daniel Oi at the University of Strathclyde, UK. Micius encrypted a videoconference between Beijing and Vienna, Austria, in 2017, based on a form of QKD that has a high data rate, but in which the satellite acts as a trusted node. This will be fine for some users, such as governments and corporations that can afford their own satellites, but it won’t guarantee security for all the users in a highly connected future quantum internet. Then in 2019, Micius was used to form a link between two ground stations in China, at Nanshan and Delingha, 1200 kilometres apart, by splitting each entangled pair of photons and sending one to each station. This form of QKD is particularly secure. Even if the satellite were compromised, the key would be immune to hacking. The disadvantage is that it works slowly. The two parties can only use an entangled pair when both photons in the pair make it to them, and in any satellite link, the majority of the light is lost because most photons either miss the receiver or get absorbed by the atmosphere. The Chinese ground stations are at high altitude and have large telescopes to act as receivers; and the satellite generates about 6 million entangled pairs per second. But even then, the secret key was generated at a rate of only a fraction of a bit per second. Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, who leads the work on Micius, says he is now working to boost this rate with several improvements including brighter sources of entangled light.
5-22-21 China's Zhurong rover takes first drive on Mars
China's remote-controlled rover, which landed on Mars a week ago, has driven down from its landing capsule to the surface of the planet. This makes China the second country after the US to operate a rover there. The Zhurong rover is due to study the planet's surface soil and atmosphere. It will also look for signs of life, including any subsurface water or ice. China's Tianwen-1 mission, consisting of an orbiter, lander and rover, was launched in July last year. The deputy chief commander of the mission, Zhang Yuhua, said the rover was designed to operate for 92 Earth days (or 90 Mars days, known as "sols" which are slightly longer than Earth days) and would share its data via the orbiter. "We hope we can get a comprehensive covering of Martian topography, landform and environment, and the exploratory data of the radar detecting the Martian subsurface during one Martian year," she said. "By doing so, our country will have our own abundant and first-hand data about Martian resources." The solar-powered, 240kg (530lb) six-wheeled robot - named after a Chinese mythical fire god - will explore Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in the planet's northern hemisphere. Utopia Planitia is a colossal basin - more than 3,000km (1,860 miles) wide - that was formed by an impact early in Mars' history. There is some evidence pointing to it having held an ocean long ago. Remote sensing by satellites indicates there are significant stores of ice at depth. Utopia Planitia is where Nasa landed its Viking-2 mission in 1976. The US landed the much larger (one-tonne) Perseverance robot in February, and its mission is still in progress. Europe's space agency, which has twice failed with landing attempts, will send a rover called Rosalind Franklin to Mars next year in a joint project with Russia.
5-15-21 China lands its Zhurong rover on Mars
China has successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars, state media announced early on Saturday. The six-wheeled Zhurong robot was targeting Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in the planet's northern hemisphere. The vehicle used a combination of a protective capsule, a parachute and a rocket platform to make the descent. The successful touchdown is a remarkable achievement, given the difficult nature of the task. Only the Americans have really mastered landing on Mars until now. All other countries that have tried have either crashed or lost contact soon after reaching the surface. Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated the mission team on its "outstanding achievement" in a special message. "You were brave enough for the challenge, pursued excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration," he said. Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of science at the US space agency (Nasa), was quick also to add his own congratulations. "Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity's understanding of the Red Planet," he said. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said the success augured well for its future cooperation with China. The robot officially landed shortly after 07:00 on Saturday, Beijing time (Friday 23:00 GMT), according to state media. It took 17 minutes to unfold its solar panels and send a signal back to Earth. Zhurong, which means God of Fire, was carried to Mars on the Tianwen-1 orbiter, which arrived above the planet in February. The probe then spent time surveying Utopia, taking high-resolution images to pinpoint the safest place to put the rover down. The aim with all such ventures is to pick a spot that is devoid of imposing craters and where the landscape isn't covered in large boulders. Chinese engineers would have had to follow the landing effort with a time lag. The current distance to Mars is 320 million km, which means radio messages take almost 18 minutes to reach Earth. Every stage of the Zhurong robot's approach to the surface therefore would have been conducted autonomously.
5-14-21 China is about to land its Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars
China’s first Mars rover is about to land. The rover, named Zhurong, has been orbiting Mars aboard the Tianwen-1 spacecraft since February. It is expected to touch down on the surface of Mars on 14 May around 23:11 UTC. Tianwen-1 is China’s second interplanetary mission, but the first the country has attempted solo. The other, called Phobos-Grunt, was a collaboration with Russia that didn’t make it out of Earth’s orbit due to a rocket failure after it launched in 2011. If Zhurong lands successfully, it will make China the third country to land a rover on Mars, after the US and the Soviet Union, whose 1971 rover mission lost contact with Earth after less than 2 minutes on the surface. Over the past few months, Tianwen-1 has been taking pictures of Zhurong’s landing site in Utopia Planitia to make sure conditions there are safe. This is the same enormous impact basin where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976. The rover itself sits inside a lander that will protect it as it falls towards Mars’s surface, slowing down with the help of a heat shield, parachutes and a set of small thrusters. Then the lander will extend a ramp and Zhurong will roll out. Zhurong is about 1.8 metres tall and weighs 240 kilograms, slightly larger than NASA’s now-defunct Spirit and Opportunity rovers but much smaller than Curiosity and Perseverance, which landed earlier this year. It is powered by solar panels, which are expected to keep it moving for 90 Martian days. The rover is designed to study Mars’s geological structure, the composition of its surface and underlying layers of rock and ice, its magnetic field and its climate. To accomplish this, Zhurong is equipped with cameras, ground-penetrating radar, a magnetic field detector, a weather station and an instrument to measure the chemical composition of the dust and rocks. The Tianwen-1 orbiter has its own set of instruments to study Mars from orbit, in addition to relaying data from the rover back to Earth. Tianwen-1 and Zhurong are also meant as a technology demonstration, setting the stage for a planned mission in the 2030s to bring back samples from Mars.
4-29-21 China launches first module of new space station
China has launched a key module of a new permanent space station, the latest in Beijing's increasingly ambitious space programme. The Tianhe module - which contains living quarters for crew members - was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on a Long March-5B rocket. China hopes to have the new station operational by 2022. The only space station currently in orbit is the International Space Station, from which China is excluded. China has been a late starter when it comes to space exploration. It was only in 2003 that it sent its first astronaut into orbit, making it the third country to do so, after the Soviet Union and the US. So far, China has sent two previous space stations into orbit. The Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 were trial stations though, simple modules that allowed only relatively short stays by astronauts. The new, 66-tonne, multi-module Tiangong station is set to be operational for at least 10 years. Tianhe is the core component of it. It is 16.6m long and 4.2m wide. It will provide power and propulsion and contains the life support technologies and living quarters required by visiting astronauts. Beijing plans to have at least 10 more similar launches, carrying all the additional equipment into orbit, before the completion of the station next year. It will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450km (210-280 miles). The only current space station in orbit is the ISS which is a collaboration between Russia, the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. China has been blocked from participating in it. The ISS is due to be retired after 2024, which could potentially leave Tiangong as the only space station in Earth's orbit. Chen Lan, an analyst who specialises in China's space programme, had told news agency AFP that the project was a "big deal". "This will be the largest international space co-operation project for China, so it's significant," he said. China has in recent years made no secret of its space ambitions. China has poured significant funding into its space efforts, and in 2019 became the first country to send an uncrewed rover to the far side of the Moon. President Xi Jinping has also thrown his support behind the country's space endeavours and the Chinese state media regularly cast the "space dream" as one step in the path to "national rejuvenation".
4-27-21 China is about to start building a space station in orbit
China is about to launch the first section of a new space station, beginning an orbital construction project that is expected to end in 2022 with an outpost about a quarter of the size of the International Space Station (ISS). While the exact date hasn’t been announced, China is expected to launch its 18-metre-long core module, called Tianhe, this week. Tianhe will contain living quarters for up to three astronauts, along with the station’s control centre, power, propulsion and life-support systems. It will be followed by two other main modules, both designed to house scientific experiments. The Chinese Space Station (CSS) will be the 11th crewed space station ever built. It is China’s third station, although the previous two were significantly smaller. The CSS will be slightly larger than Mir, the Soviet space station that preceded the ISS. “China, in a sense, is trying to catch up with capabilities that other space powers that have already done,” says space analyst Laura Forczyk. “One of the things that helps China here is that their government is not democratic, so there isn’t the infighting that we have in the US about what the priorities are and how to fund them.” That has allowed the nation to develop this technology relatively quickly, but Charles Bolden, who served as NASA administrator under President Barack Obama, says China will struggle to match US capabilities in space. “Technologically, I don’t think they’re going to catch up as long as we keep up with the pace that we’re going in terms of human space flight.” Another boon to the Chinese space programme has been a growing partnership with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, which comes while NASA’s historically strong cooperation with Roscosmos in space is waning. For the past decade, NASA has been reliant on purchasing seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS, but now the US has its own crewed launch capabilities through SpaceX. In April, Dmitry Rogozin, chief of Roscosmos, said that the country plans to end its participation in the ISS in 2025, and will build its own space station to be launched in 2030.
4-16-21 China's economy grows 18.3% in post-Covid comeback
China's economy grew a record 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter last year. It's the biggest jump in gross domestic product (GDP) since China started keeping quarterly records in 1992. However, Friday's figures are below expectations, with a Reuters poll of economists predicting 19% growth. They are also heavily skewed, and less indicative of strong growth, as they are compared to last year's huge economic contraction. In the first quarter of 2020, China's economy shrank 6.8% due to nationwide lockdowns at the peak of its Covid-19 outbreak. "The national economy made a good start," said China's National Bureau of Statistics, which released the first quarter data. But it added: "We must be aware that the Covid-19 epidemic is still spreading globally and the international landscape is complicated with high uncertainties and instabilities." Other key figures released by China's statistics department also point to a continuing rebound, but are also unusually strong because they are compared against extremely weak numbers from last year. Industrial output for March rose 14.1% over a year ago, while retail sales grew 34.2%. "Promisingly, the monthly indicators suggest that industrial production, consumption and investment all gained pace in March on a sequential basis, following the weakness in the first two months," said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at research and consultancy firm Oxford Economics. However, some analysts predicted a number of sectors will slow as government fiscal and monetary support is reduced. Yue Su, the Economist Intelligence Unit's principal economist for China, while the latest figures show that the country's economic recovery is broad-based, some production and export activity could have been "front-loaded" into the first quarter, suggesting slower growth ahead. "Trade performance and domestic industrial activities for the rest of year might not be able to maintain such strong momentum, due to lack of measures to stimulate domestic economy," she said.
3-10-21 China and Russia to build lunar space station
China and Russia have announced plans to build a lunar space station. Russian space agency Roscosmos says it has signed an agreement with China's National Space Administration to develop research facilities on the surface of the moon, in orbit or both. A statement from both countries' space agencies says it will be available for use by other nations. It comes as Russia prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its first-ever manned space flight. The International Scientific Lunar Station will carry out a wide range of scientific research including exploration and utilisation of the moon, a statement from both agencies said. "China and Russia will use their accumulated experience in space science, research and development and use of space equipment and space technology to jointly develop a road map for the construction of an international lunar scientific research station," the statement (in Mandarin) said. It added that both Russia and China will collaborate in the planning, design, development and operation of the research station. Chen Lan, an analyst who specialises in China's space programme, told AFP news agency that the project was a "big deal". "This will be the largest international space cooperation project for China, so it's significant," he said. China is a relatively late bloomer when it comes to the world of space exploration but last December its Chang'e-5 probe successfully brought back rock and "soil" it picked up from the moon. At the time it was seen as another demonstration of the country's increasing capability in space. Russia, which pioneered space exploration, has been eclipsed by China and the United States in recent years. Last year it lost its monopoly on taking astronauts to the International Space station following SpaceX's successful launch. The US has announced plans to return to the moon by 2024. The programme, called Artemis, will see a man and woman step on the lunar surface in what would be the first landing with humans since 1972.
2-10-21 China’s Tianwen-1 mission is now orbiting Mars ahead of landing
Mars has a new visitor. The Chinese Tianwen-1 mission has entered orbit around the Red Planet, following the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter by just one day and preceding the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover by a week. This is China’s second interplanetary mission, but the first that it has attempted without any international partners. Reaching orbit is just the first step of the Tianwen-1 mission, which launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China on 23 July last year. The spacecraft has three parts: an orbiter, a lander and a rover. Now that the spacecraft is safely in orbit, the next step is to start the preparations for landing. Scientists have selected a landing site in Utopia Planitia, the same region where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976. Once Tianwen-1 is in orbit, it will take pictures of the area to make sure conditions are safe to send in the lander. If everything looks clear, the orbiter will release the lander. It will hurtle towards the Martian surface, slowing down with the help of a cone-shaped heat shield and a parachute before a set of rockets brings it softly to rest on the ground. This is expected to happen around May to leave plenty of time to assess the landing site. Finally, assuming the landing is successful, the lander will release a solar-powered rover to trundle its way around the dusty surface for about 90 Martian days. The rover is equipped with cameras, ground-penetrating radar, a magnetic field detector, a weather station and an instrument to measure the chemical composition of the dust and rocks. The orbiter also carries its own scientific instruments to investigate Mars from orbit. Together, all of these tools will aid in the search for pockets of liquid water and ice on Mars, as well as laying the groundwork for more complicated future missions, including a planned mission to bring Mars samples back to Earth for analysis in the late 2020s.
2-10-21 China Mars mission: Tianwen-1 spacecraft enters into orbit
China says it has successfully put its Tianwen-1 mission in orbit around Mars. It's the first time the country has managed to get a spacecraft to the Red Planet and comes a day after the United Arab Emirates accomplished the same feat. Tianwen-1, or "Questions to Heaven", comprises an orbiter and a rover. Engineers will bide their time before despatching the wheeled robot to the surface but the expectation is that this will happen in May or June. Wednesday's orbit insertion underlines again the rapid progress China's space programme is making. It follows December's impressive mission to retrieve rock and soil samples from Earth's Moon - by any measure a very complex undertaking. Tianwen-1's mission, particularly the surface element, will be no less challenging. Its five-tonne spacecraft stack, made up of orbiter and rover, was launched from Wenchang spaceport in July, and travelled nearly half a billion km to rendezvous with the Red Planet. Engineers had planned a 14-minute braking burn on the orbiter's 3,000-newton thruster, with the expectation that this would reduce its 23km/s velocity sufficiently to allow capture by Mars' gravity. The manoeuvre was automated; it had to be. Radio commands currently take 11 minutes to traverse the 190 million km now separating Earth from Mars. It should have put Tianwen-1 in an initial large ellipse that comes in as close as 400km from the surface and out as far as 180,000km. This will be trimmed over time to become tighter and more circularised. In contrast to the Emiratis' live TV coverage on Tuesday, China chose to report the orbit insertion at Mars only after it had occurred. It was clear early on, however, that events were proceeding as they should because amateur radio enthusiasts could listen across Tianwen-1's signals, and they could see each milestone in the manoeuvre was being achieved. China is following the strategy employed by the Americans for their successful Viking landers in the mid-1970s. The idea then was to make orbit first and only later send a robot to the surface. A period of reconnaissance will now follow but Tianwen-1's primary choice for a touchdown is a flat plain within the Utopia impact basin just north of Mars' equator. The rover, which has yet to be named, looks a lot like the US space agency's (Nasa) Spirit and Opportunity rovers from the 2000s. It weighs some 240kg and is powered by fold-out solar panels. A tall mast carries cameras to take pictures and aid navigation; five additional instruments will help assess the mineralogy of local rocks and look for any water-ice. A key experiment will be the ground-penetrating radar, which should be able to sense geological layers at tens metres' depth.
1-15-21 Quantum internet signals beamed between drones a kilometre apart
Entangled photons have been sent between two drones hovering a kilometre apart, demonstrating technology that could form the building blocks of a quantum internet. When a pair of photons are quantum entangled, you can instantly deduce the state of one by measuring the other, regardless of the distance separating them. This phenomenon, which Albert Einstein dismissively called “spooky action at a distance”, is the basis of quantum encryption – using entangled particles to ensure communications are secret. Quantum networks are far more secure than the existing internet because any attempt to eavesdrop changes the state of the photons, alerting the recipient to foul play. Entangled photons have been transported more than 1000 kilometres in tests between a satellite and ground stations before, but now Zhenda Xie at Nanjing University in China and his colleagues have shown that links can be made over shorter distances with relatively inexpensive hardware. It is also the first time that photon entanglement has been transmitted from one moving device to another. A laser on board one of the 35-kilogram drones created a pair of entangled photons by splitting a single photon with a crystal. One photon was sent directly to a ground station and the other to a second drone a kilometre away via a relay drone. Motorised devices on each drone moved to ensure that the receivers and transmitters always lined up, and photons were focused and steered through the relay drone by a short piece of fibre-optic cable. The state of each photon was measured at the ground station and the results proved that the photons remained entangled. Xie hopes that connections of over 300 kilometres can be achieved by more advanced drones at high altitude, free of the distorting influence of pollution and weather, and that smaller, more cost-effective drones could be produced for local connections, perhaps even to moving vehicles. All of these devices could link to satellites for global transmission.
1-10-21 Coronavirus: Virus provides leaps in scientific understanding
In January 2020, two scientists published the entire genetic code of a coronavirus that was soon to wreak havoc around the world. It marked the start of a year of intense and rapid scientific endeavour, to work out how we might fight the virus. Eddie Holmes had the genetic blueprint for the coronavirus in his possession for exactly 52 minutes before he put it online. Prof Holmes is based at the University of Sydney, where he works on the emergence of infectious disease - an area of research that was suddenly thrust into the spotlight at the beginning of 2020. He has worked closely, for several years, with Prof Yong-Zhen Zhang, who was at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control in Beijing. Prof Zhang sequenced the genome of the virus that closed down the world. He collected samples taken from some of the first patients in Wuhan Central Hospital, where a cluster of mysterious pneumonia cases had emerged. Many of those patients had a link to a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan. When he examined the code, Prof Zhang immediately saw that this was a coronavirus. It looked very similar to Sars - the respiratory disease that caused a deadly outbreak in Asia in 2002. "That was on 5 January," recalls Prof Holmes. "And we just thought,oh no. It's Sars back again." But this code - this virus - was different. It was new. Prof Zhang and Prof Holmes quickly submitted a paper describing what they had seen and, as the week wore on, a buzz of public health speculation about what the novel virus might be started on social media. "I didn't sleep," Prof Holmes tells me. "It was weighing on my conscience." In Sydney, it was early on 11 January when Prof Holmes phoned his colleague in China and asked his permission to publish the sequence. "Zhang was on a plane, strapped into his seat," Prof Holmes recalled. "He told me he needed to think about it - there was some pressure not to release too much information about the outbreak.
12-27-20 Chinese economy to overtake US 'by 2028' due to Covid
China will overtake the US to become the world's largest economy by 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast, a report says. The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China's "skilful" management of Covid-19 would boost its relative growth compared to the US and Europe in coming years. Meanwhile India is tipped to become the third largest economy by 2030. The CEBR releases its economic league table every year on 26 December. Although China was the first country hit by Covid-19, it controlled the disease through swift and extremely strict action, meaning it did not need to repeat economically paralysing lockdowns as European countries (and America) have done. As a result, unlike other major economies, it has avoided an economic recession in 2020 and is in fact estimated to see growth of 2% this year. The US economy, by contrast, has been hit hard by the world's worst coronavirus epidemic in terms of sheer numbers. More than 330,000 people have died in the US and there have been some 18.5 million confirmed cases. The economic damage has been cushioned by monetary policy and a huge fiscal stimulus, but political disagreements over a new stimulus package could leave around 14 million Americans without unemployment benefit payments in the new year. "For some time, an overarching theme of global economics has been the economic and soft power struggle between the United States and China," says the CEBR report. "The Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have certainly tipped this rivalry in China's favour." The report says that after "a strong post-pandemic rebound in 2021", the US economy will grow by about 1.9% annually from 2022-24 and then slow to 1.6% in the years after that. By contrast the Chinese economy is tipped to grow by 5.7% annually until 2025, and 4.5% annually from 2026-2030. China's share of the world economy has risen from just 3.6% in 2000 to 17.8% now and the country will become a "high-income economy" by 2023, the report says. The Chinese economy is not only benefitting from having controlled Covid-19 early, but also aggressive policymaking targeting industries like advanced manufacturing, said CEBR deputy chairman Douglas McWilliams. "They seem to be trying to have centralised control at one level, but quite a free market economy in other areas," he told the BBC. "And it's the free market bit that's helping them move forward particularly in areas like tech."
12-17-20 China’s Chang’e 5 mission has returned samples from the moon to Earth
The first samples of moon rocks to come back to Earth since 1976 have landed. On 16 December, the Chinese Chang’e 5 spacecraft brought back about 2 kilograms of material after a quick visit to the lunar surface. Chang’e 5 landed on the moon on 1 December and lifted off again on 3 December. The spacecraft’s time there was short because it was solar powered and not built to survive the frigid lunar nights, which can reach temperatures as low as -173°C. Lunar days last about 14 Earth days. “As a lunar scientist, it’s just really inspiring and makes me take a sigh of relief that we’re back on the surface of the moon collecting samples for the first time in almost 50 years,” says Jessica Barnes at the University of Arizona. The last mission to return samples from the moon was the Soviet Luna 24 probe in 1976. After two samples were collected, one from the surface and one from about 2 metres underground, they were loaded into the ascent vehicle, which took off to reunite with the mission’s orbiter. This reunion was the first time two robotic spacecraft performed a completely automated docking beyond Earth orbit. The capsule containing the samples was transferred to the return spacecraft, which left the moon’s orbit and headed homewards. As Chang’e 5 neared Earth, it released the capsule, which bounced off the atmosphere once, like a rock skipping over a lake, to slow down before entering the atmosphere and deploying its parachutes. Finally, the capsule landed in Inner Mongolia. Some of the moon dust will be stored at Hunan University in Changsha, China, while the rest will be distributed to researchers for analysis. One of the most important analyses that researchers will perform is measuring the ages of the rocks in the samples and how they have been affected by the space environment over time. “We think that the area that Chang’e 5 has landed on represents one of the youngest lava flows on the surface of the moon,” says Barnes. “If we can better constrain the age of that area, then we can place much tighter constraints on the ages of surfaces all around the solar system.”6
12-17-20 China's Chang'e-5 mission returns Moon samples
China's Chang'e-5 mission has returned to Earth with the cargo of rock and "soil" it picked up off the Moon. A capsule carrying the materials landed in Inner Mongolia at 01:59 local time on Thursday (17:59 GMT, Wednesday). It's more than 40 years since the American Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought their samples home. The new specimens should provide fresh insight on the geology and early history of Earth's satellite. For China, the successful completion of the Chang'e-5 venture will also be seen as another demonstration of the nation's increasing capability in space. Recovery teams were quick to move in on the returned capsule. It was first spotted by helicopters using infrared cameras. Support staff following up in SUVs planted a Chinese flag in the snow-covered grassland next to the module. The Chang'e-5 venture was launched at the end of November. A probe comprising several elements was sent into orbit around the Moon. These elements then separated, with one half going down to the lunar surface. The lander system used a scoop and a drill to dig up samples. It's not clear how much, but possibly in the range of 2-4kg. Returning from the Moon, the Chang'e-5 module would have been moving much faster than, say, a capsule coming back from the International Space Station. Engineers had chosen to scrub some of this extra energy by doing an initial "skip" in the atmosphere. This saw the module briefly dip into the gases that shroud our planet, before then plunging much deeper to try to reach Earth's surface. The Chang'e-5 capsule was targeted to float down on parachute to Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia. This is the same location used to bring Chinese astronauts home. Again, infrared cameras were on hand to follow the action by detecting the heat of the module. A total of just under 400kg of lunar surface materials were collected by American Apollo astronauts and the Soviets' robotic Luna landers. But all these samples were very old - more than three billion years in age. Chang'e-5's rock and dust should be quite different. The Chinese mission targeted a high volcanic region called Mons Rümker in the northwest of the nearside of the Moon. Samples from this terrain may be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old, and, as such, should provide additional information on how the Moon is constructed internally.
12-9-20 China launched two satellites to find sources of gravitational waves
China has launched a pair of satellites which will watch for the electromagnetic counterparts that are emitted along with gravitational waves. These signals will be relayed quickly to the ground, helping narrow the area of sky scientists need to search to find the sources of gravitational waves. These two 140-kilogram satellites make up the Gravitational Wave High-energy Electromagnetic Counterpart All-sky Monitor (GECAM), which will watch the entire sky at all times for signals from some of the most violent events in the universe – collisions between a black hole and neutron star, or mergers between two neutron stars. The pair lifted off together from Xichang, China late on 9 December on a Long March 11 rocket. The satellites carry detectors for gamma rays and charged particles, and are optimised for detecting highly energetic gamma ray bursts (GRBs). The detectors will help scientists locate the source of the signal. Most of the satellites that track events which may coincide with gravitational wave signals are in low Earth orbit. This means the planet blocks a large portion of the sky at any time. But the GECAM satellites will orbit on opposite sides of the Earth. One or both could potentially spot emissions accompanying gravitational waves. “The crucial advantage of GECAM is that it does provide almost all-sky coverage at the same time, while not sacrificing sensitivity,” says Andrew Levan at Radboud University in the Netherlands. The mission has moved fast. Zhang Shuangnan at the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences says GECAM was proposed in the wake of the first gravitational wave detection by in 2016, which was made with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
12-4-20 China's Chang'e-5 mission leaves Moon's surface
China has executed the next stage of its Chang'e-5 Moon mission, blasting into orbit samples gathered on the lunar surface. Right on cue, at 15:10 GMT, an ascent vehicle lit its engine to head up to a service module that will shepherd home the rock and dust materials. It's more than 40 years since lunar samples were last brought back to Earth. Chang'e-5 still has some key steps to negotiate to achieve mission success. The ascender has to rendezvous with the orbiter, and also pass over the samples. These will be enclosed in a module that will be aimed at Inner Mongolia. These will be enclosed in a module that will be aimed at Inner Mongolia. This module will have to survive a fiery, high-speed descent through Earth's atmosphere to get to the ground. Chang'e-5 touched down on the Moon on Tuesday and immediately set about scooping and drilling nearby "soil", or regolith. The landing hardware had comprised a powered descent system, which was left on the surface when the time came to leave. Chinese TV broadcast the moment of lift-off from the Moon. A camera placed on the surface landing mechanism, looking upwards, recorded the moment of ignition of the ascender's rocket motor and the rapid departure. If controllers in China keep to the timeline that's been put in the public domain then the ascender's rendezvous with the service module should occur on Saturday (GMT). Assuming this operation passes without incident, the samples should be back at Earth towards the middle of the month. The last lunar sample return mission was in 1976. A total of just under 400kg were picked up by American Apollo astronauts and the Soviets' robotic Luna landers. But all these samples were very old - more than three billion years in age. The Chang'e-5 materials should be quite different. The Chinese mission has targeted a high volcanic region called Mons Rümker. It's in the northwest of the nearside of the Moon. Samples from this location may be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old, and, as such, should provide additional insights on the geological history of the Moon. The samples will also allow scientists to more precisely calibrate the "chronometer" they use to age surfaces on the inner Solar System planets. his is done by counting craters (the more craters, the older the surface), but it depends on having some definitive dating at a number of locations, and the Apollo and Soviet samples were key to this. Chang'e-5 would offer a further data point.
12-4-20 The new light-based quantum computer Jiuzhang has achieved quantum supremacy
A second type of quantum device performed a calculation impossible for a traditional computer. A new type of quantum computer has proven that it can reign supreme, too. A photonic quantum computer, which harnesses particles of light, or photons, performed a calculation that’s impossible for a conventional computer, researchers in China report online December 3 in Science. That milestone, known as quantum supremacy, has been met only once before, in 2019 by Google’s quantum computer (SN: 10/23/19). Google’s computer, however, is based on superconducting materials, not photons. “This is the first independent confirmation of Google’s claim that you really can achieve quantum supremacy,” says theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson of the University of Texas at Austin. “That’s exciting.” Named Jiuzhang after an ancient Chinese mathematical text, the new quantum computer can perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would take more than half a billion years on the world’s fastest non-quantum, or classical, computer. “My first impression was, ‘wow,’” says quantum physicist Fabio Sciarrino of Sapienza University of Rome. Google’s device, called Sycamore, is based on tiny quantum bits made of superconducting materials, which conduct energy without resistance. In contrast, Jiuzhang consists of a complex array of optical devices that shuttle photons around. Those devices include light sources, hundreds of beam splitters, dozens of mirrors and 100 photon detectors. Employing a process called boson sampling, Jiuzhang generates a distribution of numbers that is exceedingly difficult for a classical computer to replicate. Here’s how it works: Photons are first sent into a network of channels. There, each photon encounters a series of beam splitters, each of which sends the photon down two paths simultaneously, in what’s called a quantum superposition. Paths also merge together, and the repeated splitting and merging causes the photons to interfere with one another according to quantum rules. Finally, the number of photons in each of the network’s output channels is measured at the end. When repeated many times, this process produces a distribution of numbers based on how many photons were found in each output.
12-3-20 China's Chang'e 5 is bringing back the first moon rocks in 44 years
Chang’e 5 is on the last leg of its mission on the moon. After a visit to the lunar surface lasting less than 48 hours, it is back in orbit around the moon and ready to bring its samples home so that scientists on Earth can analyse them. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, re-entry capsule, a lander and ascent stage, and launched on 23 November aboard a Long March 5 rocket. It landed on the moon on 1 December. It is China’s first sample return mission, making the nation only the third – after the US and the Soviet Union – to bring back rocks and dust from the moon. The most recent mission to bring back lunar samples was the Soviet Luna 24 probe in 1976. Chang’e 5 landed in an unexplored area of the moon called Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms. “It’s a region where there are these really volcanically young landforms, and we currently don’t have samples in the Apollo samples or the Russian samples that have anything like that, so these samples will really enable some new science,” says Kerri Donaldson Hanna at the University of Central Florida. Most of the areas that have been sampled on the moon are about 3 billion years old or older. Scientists estimate that the rocks in Chang’e 5’s landing area are less than 2 billion years old based on the layering of craters in the area. Once we get the samples back to Earth, we will have a better idea of how old these volcanic rocks are. That’s crucial because on other worlds, the only way we can tell the age of an area on the surface is by analysing the craters – there is no direct way to confirm those ages. By comparing the age directly measured from the samples to the age inferred from craters on the moon, we can create a link between those methods of analysis that will also be useful on other crater-pocked worlds like Mars and Mercury. After Chang’e 5 landed, it almost immediately began digging into the lunar surface. It has two mechanisms to get samples both from the surface and underground: a robotic arm with a scoop to collect surface soil, and a drill to collect a core about 2 metres deep.
12-3-20 A quantum computer that measures light has achieved quantum supremacy
A new type of quantum computing called boson sampling is capable of calculations that no classical computer could accomplish in any reasonable amount of time. This is the second time this feat, known as quantum supremacy, has been claimed for a quantum algorithm after Google said in 2019 that its Sycamore device had achieved this. Boson sampling relies on a strange quantum property of photons – particles of light – that is displayed when they travel through a beam splitter, which divides a single beam of light into two beams propagating in different directions. If two identical photons hit the beam splitter at exactly the same time, they don’t split from one another. Instead, they stick together and both travel in the same direction. If you shoot many photons through a sequence of beam splitters many times in a row, patterns begin to emerge in the paths of the photons that are extraordinarily difficult to simulate or predict with classical computers. Finding possible sets of photon paths in this set-up is called boson sampling, and a boson sampling device is a type of quantum computer, albeit one with a very narrow purpose. A team led by Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China built a boson sampling device called Jiuzhang using laser pulses sent into a maze of 300 beam splitters and 75 mirrors. A perfect boson sampler would have a fidelity of 1 over many trials, meaning that it completely matches up with theoretical predictions. Jiuzhang had a fidelity of 0.99. The researchers calculated that it would be impossible to simulate boson sampling with such a high fidelity on a classical computer: the Japanese Fugaku supercomputer, the world’s most powerful classical computer, would take 600 million years to accomplish what Jiuzhang can do in just 200 seconds. The fourth most powerful supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight, would take 2.5 billion years.
12-2-20 China's Chang'e-5 Moon mission returns colour pictures
China's Chang'e-5 mission has sent back its first colour photos from the surface of the Moon. Its lander captured a panoramic view that stretches from the lunar "soil" directly under its legs all the way out to the horizon. The mission touched down on Tuesday and immediately began gathering samples of rock and dust to send back to Earth. These will be despatched up to an orbiting spacecraft which will shepherd them home. This could happen as early as Thursday. Chang'e-5 is the third Chinese mission to make a soft landing at the Moon in seven years. The two previous ventures - Chang'e-3 and Chang'e-4 - both put down static landers and small rovers. This latest endeavour is altogether more complex, however. An 8.2-tonne spacecraft "stack" was launched from Earth just over a week ago. The multi-module probe then split in two after going into orbit around the lunar body at the weekend. One half - a lander and ascender - went down to the surface; the other half - a shepherding service vehicle and atmospheric re-entry module - stayed aloft. The lander is now using its instruments, a scoop and a drill to identify and collect the best lunar samples. And once this operation is complete, the materials will be blasted skyward in the ascender to meet up with the orbiting components. The rock and soil samples must then be handed over to the shepherding vehicle and re-entry module for the journey home. It's 44 years since rock and dust was last returned from the Moon. A total of just under 400kg were picked up by American Apollo astronauts and the Soviets' robotic Luna landers. But all these samples were very old - more than three billion years in age. The Chang'e-5 materials should be quite different. The mission has targeted a high volcanic region called Mons Rümker. Samples from this location may be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old, and, as such, should provide additional insights on the geological history of the Moon. The samples will also allow scientists to more precisely calibrate the "chronometer" they use to age surfaces on the inner Solar System planets. This is done by counting craters (the more craters, the older the surface), but it depends on having some definitive dating at a number of locations, and the Apollo and Soviet samples were key to this. Chang'e-5 would offer a further data point.
12-2-20 China is about to collect the first moon rocks since the 1970s
The lunar samples will come from a site that was volcanically active relatively recently. For the first time in almost half a century, scientists are going to get their hands on new moon rocks. The Chinese space agency’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft, which landed on the moon around 10:15 a.m. EST December 1, will scoop up lunar soil from a never-before-visited region and bring it back to Earth a few weeks later. Those samples could provide details about an era of lunar history not touched upon by previous moon missions. “We’ve been talking since the Apollo era about going back and collecting more samples from a different region,” says planetary scientist Jessica Barnes of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who works with lunar samples from the American and Soviet Union missions of the 1960s and 1970s. “It’s finally happening.” Chang’e-5, the latest in a series of missions named for the Chinese moon goddess (SN: 11/11/18), took off from the China National Space Administration’s launch site in the South China Sea on November 23 and landed in volcanic flatlands on the northwest region of the moon’s nearside. The lander, equipped with a scoop and a drill, will collect about two kilograms of soil and small rocks, possibly from as deep as two meters below the moon’s surface, says planetary scientist Long Xiao of China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. The spacecraft has to work fast. With no internal heating mechanism, it has no defenses against the extremely cold lunar night, which can reach –170° Celsius. The entire mission has to fit within one lunar day, about 14 Earth days. After the lander collects the sample, a small rocket will bring the lander and the sample back to the orbiter perhaps as early as December 3, although the Chinese space agency has not released the official schedule.
12-1-20 China's sample-return Moon mission touches down
China says it has successfully put another probe on the Moon. Its robotic Chang'e-5 mission touched down a short while ago with the aim of collecting samples of rock and dust to bring back to Earth. The venture has targeted Mons Rümker, a high volcanic complex in a nearside region known as Oceanus Procellarum. The lander is expected to spend the next couple of days examining its surroundings and gathering up surface materials. It has a number of instruments to facilitate this, including a camera, spectrometer, radar, a scoop and a drill. The intention is to package about 2kg of "soil", or regolith, to send up to an orbiting vehicle that can then transport the samples to Earth. It's 44 years since this was last achieved. That was the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which picked up just under 200g. The 8.2-tonne Chang'e-5 spacecraft "stack" was launched from the Wenchang spaceport in southern China on 24 November (local time). It arrived above the Moon at the weekend and then set about circularising its orbit before splitting in two. One half - a service vehicle and return module - stayed in orbit, while a lander-ascender segment was prepared for a touchdown attempt. Chinese authorities say this lander-ascender element put down on the Moon's surface at about 15:15 GMT (23:15 China Standard Time), after a 15-minute automated descent, controlled by the thrust of a 7,500-newton engine. It follows China's two previous Moon landings - Chang'e-3 in 2013 and Chang'e-4 last year. Both of these earlier missions incorporated a static lander and small rover. A total of just under 400kg of rock and soil were retrieved by American Apollo astronauts and the Soviets' robotic Luna programme - the vast majority of these materials coming back with the crewed missions. But all these samples were very old - more than three billion years in age. The Mons Rümker materials, on the other hand, promise to be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old. And this should provide additional insights on the geological history of the Moon. The samples will also allow scientists to more precisely calibrate the "chronometer" they use to age surfaces on the inner Solar System planets.
11-25-20 China's Chang'e 5 probe is the start of a new era of lunar exploration
Chang'e 5 is set to bring moon rocks back to Earth for the first time in more than four decades – and China has even more ambitious plans for lunar missions in the coming years. WHEN it comes to space exploration, China has long taken third place. The cold war’s space race saw the US and the Soviet Union vying for firsts – satellite, human in orbit, landing on the moon – and left few records for China to claim. That changed last year, when its uncrewed Chang’e 4 spacecraft made the first landing on the far side of the moon. Among other experiments, it contained a “lunar garden” of seedlings that went on to host the first plants (that we know of) to germinate on another world. The Chang’e missions, named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, have seen the country orbit, land and rove – all important, but fairly common. But Chang’e 5, launched this week, is attempting something that hasn’t been done in more than 40 years – bringing moon rocks back to Earth (see “China has launched its most advanced mission to the moon yet”). The US claimed this “first” with the Apollo missions, in which astronauts collected samples directly from the lunar surface. The Soviet Union did it last, with a robotic sample return mission in 1976. Yet China isn’t just playing for bronze now. Chang’e 5, an uncrewed, multi-part spacecraft capable of landing on and launching from the surface of the moon, is essentially a dress rehearsal for a crewed landing. After all, if you can bring rocks home safely, you are one step closer to making the same trip in person. A Chinese crewed mission to the moon wouldn’t be a first, but it would bump the nation firmly into second place. While Russia is arguably the current leader in sending humans to low Earth orbit – the US only regained the ability to do so this year, thanks to SpaceX – few people take its claims of attempting a crewed lunar landing in the near future seriously. China, meanwhile, has kept up a steady drumbeat of lunar missions, each more ambitious than the last, and there is no reason to believe it won’t continue to succeed. Chang’e 6 will see a second sample-return mission in 2023 or 2024, followed swiftly by Chang’e 7, which will involve five spacecraft, including a flying probe. Chang’e 8, pencilled in for 2027, will be the most ambitious yet, aiming to test a 3D-printer capable of building a structure out of the lunar soil. If that succeeds, things on the moon may begin to get very interesting indeed.
11-24-20 Chinese spacecraft sets off on Moon sample quest
China has launched a mission to try to retrieve rock samples from the Moon. Its robotic Chang'e-5 spacecraft departed the Wenchang launch complex on a Long March 5 rocket early on Tuesday morning local time, and if successful should return to Earth in mid-December. It's more than 40 years since the Americans and the Soviets brought home lunar rock and "soil" for analysis. China aims to be only the third country to achieve this feat, which will be an extremely complex endeavour. It's a multi-step process that involves an orbiter, a lander-ascender and finally a return component that uses a capsule to survive a fast and hot entry into Earth's atmosphere at the end of the mission. But confidence should be high after a series of well-executed lunar missions that started just over a decade ago with a couple satellites. These were followed up by lander-rover combinations - with the most recent, Chang'e-4, making a soft touch down on the Moon's farside, something no spacefaring nation had previously accomplished. Chang'e-5 is going to target a nearside location called Mons Rümker, a high volcanic complex in a region known as Oceanus Procellarum. The rocks in this location are thought to be very young compared with those sampled by the US Apollo astronauts and the Soviet Luna robots - something like perhaps 1.3 billion years old versus the 3-4-billion-year-old rocks picked up on those earlier missions. This will give scientists another data point for the method they use to age events in the inner Solar System. Essentially, researchers count craters - the older the surface, the more craters it has; the younger the surface, the fewer it has. "The Moon is the chronometer of the Solar System, as far as we're concerned," explained Dr Neil Bowles at Oxford University. "The samples returned by the Apollo and Luna missions came from known locations and were dated radiometrically very accurately, and we've been able to tie that information to the cratering rate and extrapolate ages to other surfaces in the Solar System."
11-23-20 China has launched its most advanced mission to the moon yet
China launched its Chang’e 5 spacecraft on 23 November, in the first mission designed to bring moon rocks back to Earth in more than four decades. The uncrewed Chang’e 5 probe will attempt to collect at least 2 kilograms of lunar dust and debris from the northern region of the Oceanus Procellarum, a previously unvisited area on the near side of the moon. If successful, the Chang’e 5 return mission will make China only the third country, after the US and the Soviet Union, to have retrieved samples from the moon. The last sample return mission was carried out in 1976 by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robotic probe, which brought back around 170 grams to Earth. The Chang’e 5 launch happened early on Tuesday morning, Beijing time, from a Long March 5 rocket at a site in Wenchang on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, re-entry capsule and a lander and ascent stage. After Chang’e 5 reaches lunar orbit, the lander and ascent stage will separate from the main spacecraft in order to touch down on the moon. Given that many factors can affect the probe’s actual landing point, the China National Space Administration selected a large potential landing area near Mons Rümker, a 1300-metre-high volcanic formation, says Long Xiao at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who helped propose candidate sites for the mission. “The landing site covers two different geological units,” says Xiao. To the west, the basalts – rock formed from the rapid cooling of lava – resemble those sampled in the Apollo missions. Chang’e 5 is aiming to land east of Mons Rümker, in an area that contains what appears to be much younger rock, around 1.2 to 2 billion years old. “These would be the youngest volcanic samples to ever be returned from the moon,” says Catherine Neish at Western University in Ontario, Canada. “This is an extremely exciting mission.”
11-23-20 China is about to launch its most advanced mission to the moon yet
China plans to launch its Chang’e 5 spacecraft imminently, in the first mission designed to bring moon rocks back to Earth in more than four decades. The uncrewed Chang’e 5 probe will attempt to collect at least 2 kilograms of lunar dust and debris from the northern region of the Oceanus Procellarum, a previously unvisited area on the near side of the moon. If successful, the Chang’e 5 return mission will make China only the third country, after the US and the Soviet Union, to have retrieved samples from the moon. The last sample return mission was carried out in 1976 by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robotic probe, which brought back around 170 grams to Earth. Chang’e 5 is set to launch early on Tuesday morning, Beijing time, from a Long March 5 rocket at a site in Wenchang on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, re-entry capsule and a lander and ascent stage. After Chang’e 5 reaches lunar orbit, the lander and ascent stage will separate from the main spacecraft in order to touch down on the moon. Given that many factors can affect the probe’s actual landing point, the China National Space Administration selected a large potential landing area near Mons Rümker, a 1300-metre-high volcanic formation, says Long Xiao at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who helped propose candidate sites for the mission. “The landing site covers two different geological units,” says Xiao. To the west, the basalts – rock formed from the rapid cooling of lava – resemble those sampled in the Apollo missions. Chang’e 5 is aiming to land east of Mons Rümker, in an area that contains what appears to be much younger rock, around 1.2 to 2 billion years old. “These would be the youngest volcanic samples to ever be returned from the moon,” says Catherine Neish at Western University in Ontario, Canada. “This is an extremely exciting mission.”
11-22-20 China seeks to retrieve first Moon rocks since 1970s
China is to make the first attempt to retrieve rocks from the Moon since the 1970s. It is hoped the unmanned Chang'e-5 probe, to be launched on Tuesday, will bring back samples to help understand the Moon's origin and formation. The last mission of its kind, Luna 24, was by the Soviet Union in 1976. If the latest probe is successful, China will become the third country to have retrieved lunar rock, after the US and the USSR. The Chang'e-5 spacecraft- named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the Moon - will be launched by a Long March 5 rocket. The probe attempt to collect 2kg of samples from an as yet unvisited area of the Moon named the Ocean of Storms. In comparison, the 1976 mission collected 170 grams, and the Apollo mission that put man on the Moon brought back 382kg of rocks and soil. Experts are hoping Chang'e-5 will give a better understand how long the Moon remained volcanically active and when its magnetic field - essential in protecting any life from the Sun's radiation - dissipated. China made its first lunar landing in 2013 and plans to retrieve samples from Mars within a decade.
11-7-20 China sends world's first 6G test satellite into orbit
China has successfully launched the world's first 6G satellite into space to test the technology. The satellite is meant to trial new technology expected to be 100 times faster than 5G. It went into orbit along with 12 other satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the Shanxi Province. High-speed technology will be trialled, which will be one of the core elements of sixth-generation communications. The satellite also carries technology which will be used for crop disaster monitoring and forest fire prevention.
10-12-20 Covid-19: China's Qingdao to test nine million in five days
The Chinese city of Qingdao is testing its entire population of nine million people for Covid-19 over a period of five days. The mass testing comes after the discovery of a dozen cases linked to a hospital treating coronavirus patients arriving from abroad. In May, China tested the entire city of Wuhan - home to 11 million people and the epicentre of the global pandemic. The country has largely brought the virus under control. That is in stark contrast to other parts of the world, where there are still high case numbers and lockdown restrictions of varying severity. In a statement posted to Chinese social media site Weibo, Qingdao's Municipal Health Commission said six new cases and six asymptomatic cases had been discovered. All the cases were linked to the same hospital, said the state-run Global Times. The Chinese authorities now have a strategy of mass testing even when a new coronavirus cluster appears to be relatively minor, correspondents say. The National Health Commission said on Monday that "the whole city will be tested within five days". Some 114,862 people - including medical staff and newly hospitalised patients in the city's hospitals - had already tested negative, Qingdao's health commission said. Videos circulating online showed residents lining up late on Sunday to get tested, said the Global Times, adding that some of these test points were open from 07:00 to 23:00. The new cases come a week after China's Golden Week holiday - which saw millions travel across the country. A Global Times report quoting the Qingdao Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism said the coastal city had received 4.47 million passenger trips over this period. The nearby city of Jinan, in the same province as Qingdao, called for anyone who had visited the city since 23 September to get tested, according to a report by The Paper. Earlier last month, Qingdao announced that two port workers who handled imported seafood had tested positive. They were not known to have infected anyone else. Daily coronavirus infections have fallen drastically in China, and for the most part the country appears to have recovered from the worst. China currently has 91,305 virus cases and the death toll stands at 4,746, according to WHO data. (Webmaster's comment: United States has 8,000,000 cases and 220,000 deaths!)
10-1-20 Electronic blood vessels could replace damaged arteries
Electronic blood vessels made from a combination of metal and plastic could be used to replace arteries damaged by cardiovascular disease. Xingyu Jiang at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, and his colleagues created their artificial vessel by printing a layer of liquid metal ink, containing gallium and indium, onto a flexible, biodegradble polymer membrane. The liquid metal functions as an electrode. They then rolled up the polymer into a cylinder to create an artificial blood vessel about 2 millimetres wide. The team showed that in a lab setting, sending electrical pulses to the electrode stimulated living endothelial cells – which line the inside of blood vessels – to gather and proliferate on the inside of the artificial vessel. Engineered blood vessels that encourage this process are less likely to result in blood clots, the researchers say. The artificial vessel could also be made more permeable by applying an electrical field to it – a process known as electroporation – allowing it to deliver drugs to neighbouring cells. The researchers were able to use electroporation to deliver a green, fluorescent protein to blood vessel cells surrounding the artificial vessel. To test how well the electronic blood vessels would work in the human body, they were implanted in six New Zealand rabbits, replacing their two carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain and face. Two rabbits were used as controls. The team monitored the artificial vessels over three months and found that during this time they allowed sufficient blood flow to the brain and face, and didn’t produce an inflammatory response. Using angiography, an x-ray technique that visualises the flow of blood inside vessels, the team found that the artificial vessels functioned as well as natural carotid arteries, with no sign of them narrowing in diameter.
9-23-20 Device can harvest wind energy from the breeze made when you walk
A small device can harvest energy from the breeze generated as you walk and could potentially be used to power your gadgets. The apparatus, developed by Ya Yang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues, takes advantage of the triboelectric effect. This occurs when certain materials become electrically charged as they rub together. The researchers used an 8-centimetre-long tube containing two thin films, each made up of a layer of plastic on top of a layer of silver that acts as an electrode. The two films flutter in response to even a slight breeze – a wind speed as low as 1.6 metres per second. As they brush against each other they generate an electric current, which is then transmitted through the silver electrodes to drive a tiny generator in the device. In one test, Yang and his team put the device on a volunteer’s arm and found that the airflow generated by the person swinging their arm as they walked was enough to generate power. The wind speed required for most wind turbines to generate power is 3 metres per second, says Zhenzhong Zeng at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. “Any wind with speed lower than that is wasted,” says Zeng. This device would let us make use of lighter breezes, which have the potential to power small electronic devices, he says. The device can produce 2.5 milliwatts of power, enough for 100 tiny LED lights, a thermometer or a pressure sensor. It has a wind-to-energy conversion efficiency of 3.23 per cent, which is much lower than the average wind turbine, but higher than previously reported for wind scavenging devices, say the team. “Such wind energy harvesters can be used to power wireless sensors deployed in open space where breezes are available,” says Dibin Zhu at the University of Exeter, UK. Another application could be to power wireless sensors put inside heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts for air quality monitoring, he says.
9-5-20 Chinese students face increased scrutiny at US airports
As US-China relations reach a boiling point, Washington has started to screen Chinese students at airports for technology theft. When Boston Logan International Airport's announcement asked Keith Zhang to come to the boarding desk, he thought it was a regular boarding check. But when he saw two armed American officers expecting him there, his heart sank. "They questioned me under the premise that I am here to steal technology," Keith Zhang - not his real name - tells the BBC. Zhang, a 26-year-old PhD student from China, was a visiting researcher at Brown University's department of psychological sciences for a year. He had not expected to spend his last two hours on US soil being interrogated about his potential ties with the Chinese Communist Party. So what might have happened? FBI director Christopher Wray recently said, in response to Beijing's "far-reaching campaign" of economic espionage, the FBI is now opening a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours. In July, Washington closed the Chinese consulate in Houston, calling it a "spy centre". As the US tightens its scrutiny of Chinese nationals over espionage concerns, screening selected departing Chinese students and researchers appears to be Washington's new measure to counter economic espionage. Some of the students' electronic devices were taken away for further examination and not returned for weeks. Zhang describes the screening as "pure harassment". "If I were to steal any data or intellectual property, I could send it through cloud storage. Taking away my laptop and phone for examination does nothing more than harassment," Zhang says. China's foreign ministry accuses Washington of "abusing" the judicial power to interrogate and arrest Chinese students in the US "under fabricated allegations". (Webmaster's comment: Since Chinese technology is ahead of ours it's more likely we are trying to steal from them.)
9-4-20 China seems to have launched a secret reusable space plane
China appears to have launched an experimental space plane earlier this morning, which may be the precursor to a vehicle that can carry humans to and from space. Early on 4 September, China is thought to have launched a Long March 2F rocket from their Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. While there was no official announcement prior to the launch, several observers noticed air traffic restrictions that indicated a launch was taking place. The state-run Xinhua News Agency later confirmed the launch, saying that a “reusable experimental spacecraft” was on board that would “test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.” Orbital data later confirmed that the vehicle had been placed in an orbit up to 350 kilometres in altitude, a similar height to China’s previous crewed flights. Much about the launch remains shrouded in mystery, however, including the size of the vehicle, how long it will remain in space and what it will do in orbit. China is known to have been working on space plane technology for the past decade, with the country announcing in 2017 that it aimed to fly such a vehicle by 2020. “There have been some clues that this mission might happen,” says Andrew Jones, a journalist who covers the Chinese space programme, including modifications to the launch tower and a potential mission patch referencing the spacecraft. “But the actual timing was a surprise.” Such a vehicle could take Chinese astronauts to and from orbit, possibly to a planned future Chinese space station. Jean Deville, a space analyst who tracks China’s activities, says a reusable crewed space plane could be part of China’s ambitious crewed space programme, which includes its operational Shenzhou spacecraft and a new deep space vehicle. “A space plane is an ideal technology for atmospheric re-entry due to less brutal accelerations for the human body,” she said.
China displayed its hypersonic weapon at a parade in 2019
8-27-20 Coronavirus: Vaccine front-runner China already inoculating workers
Earlier this month, the head of a well-known, privately-owned Chinese conglomerate told his staff that a vaccine for Covid-19 was expected to come to market by November. The boss, whose firm has a healthcare division, said that he saw it as a portent of economic recovery; a chance for his firms to sell more, according to a person privy to the comments. Within a few weeks the Chinese government was forced to go public with its apparent progress. The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 originated in humans in China, before it spread ceaselessly across the world. Now China is using its global footprint in a relentless effort to win the race to develop and deploy an effective vaccine. Last week one of the developmental vaccines was pictured in state-run media; a small branded box was shown, held up by a smiling woman in a lab. Sinopharm said it hopes to have it ready to go on sale by December. It even named a price, equivalent to about $140 (£106). China's determination is out there for all to see. We know that half of the leading six candidate vaccines being tested in the final stage of mass trials across the world are Chinese. These global trials are a necessity. Ironically, China is not in a position to test the vaccines on the required scale at home because it's been so successful at containing the spread of the virus within its borders. "All vaccine manufacturers are looking for sites for their phase three trials (in which the vaccine is given to thousands of people) where Covid-19 is still circulating at relatively higher rates," Professor Ben Cowling from the Hong Kong University Public School of Health told me. He's optimistic about all the vaccines currently in development, including the Chinese ones. "I think all of the vaccines currently in phase three have a good chance of being found to be effective."
7-23-20 China's Tianwen-1 Mars rover rockets away from Earth
China has launched its first rover mission to Mars. The six-wheeled robot, encapsulated in a protective probe, was lifted off Earth by a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang spaceport on Hainan Island at 12:40 local time (04:40 GMT). It should arrive in orbit around the Red Planet in February. Called Tianwen-1, or "Questions to Heaven", the rover won't actually try to land on the surface for a further two to three months. This wait-and-see strategy was used successfully by the American Viking landers in the 1970s. It will allow engineers to assess the atmospheric conditions on Mars before attempting what will be a hazardous descent. Tianwen-1 is one of three missions setting off to Mars in the space of 11 days. On Monday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched its Hope satellite towards the Red Planet. And in a week from now, the US space agency (Nasa) aims to despatch its next-generation rover, Perseverance. Tianwen-1's Long March rocket made a picture perfect getaway in brilliant sunshine. Zhang Xueyu, the Hainan base commander, told jubilant mission technicians that the launch had proceeded entirely according to plan. "According to the aerospace control centre, the Long March 5 Y-4 rocket is in normal flight, and the probe to Mars has accurately entered the preset orbit. I now declare the launch of China's first Mars exploration mission a complete success," he said. The targeted touchdown location for the Chinese mission will be a flat plain within the Utopia impact basin just north of Mars' equator. The rover will study the region's geology - at, and just below, the surface. Tianwen-1 looks a lot like Nasa's Spirit and Opportunity rovers from the 2000s. It weighs some 240kg and is powered by fold-out solar panels. A tall mast carries cameras to take pictures and aid navigation; five additional instruments will help assess the mineralogy of local rocks and look for any water-ice. This surface investigation is really only half the mission, however, because the cruise ship that is shepherding the rover to Mars will also study the planet from orbit, using a suite of seven remote-sensing instruments.
7-22-20 China is sending its first rover to Mars with the Tianwen-1 mission
This year’s hottest destination is Mars. On 23 July, China is launching the Tianwen-1 mission to the Red Planet – one of three missions to Mars being launched this year. This is China’s second interplanetary mission, but the first that the nation has launched on its own. The other, called Phobos-Grunt, was a collaboration with Russia that didn’t make it out of Earth’s orbit after it launched in 2011. This new mission, called Tianwen-1 – which translates as “questions to heaven” – consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. “It’s very ambitious because it’s a four-part mission: there’s the launch, getting into orbit, the landing and the rover, and every single step has to go right,” says space consultant Laura Forczyk. And all those steps must go right on the first try, a feat no other space programme has accomplished on a mission to Mars because of the notorious difficulty of landing there. “No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way,” wrote several of the mission’s scientists in an article in Nature Astronomy. “If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough.” If all goes well, Tianwen-1 will arrive at Mars in February 2021 and the lander and rover will touch down two or three months later. They will take pictures from the surface, as well as measuring the composition of the soil, making radar observations of the underground structure of the planet and observing Mars’s magnetic field. Because of the harsh environment on Mars, the rover is expected to last about 90 Martian days on the surface. It weighs around 240 kilograms, about the same size as China’s Yutu-2 rover, which is currently roaming the far side of the moon. “The Chinese mission to the far side of the moon and has been hugely successful, so they’re building on that success now,” says Forczyk.
6-23-20 BeiDou: China launches final satellite in challenge to GPS
China has successfully put into orbit the final satellite in its BeiDou-3 navigation system, further advancing the country as a major power in space. Tuesday's launch will allow China to no longer rely on the US government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS). The $10bn (£8bn) network is made up of 35 satellites and provides global navigation coverage. It comes as tensions between Beijing and Washington are increasing over the coronavirus, trade and Hong Kong. The launch had been scheduled for last week but was delayed after technical problems were found with the rocket in pre-launch tests. The third version of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) offers an alternative to Russia's GLONASS and the European Galileo systems, as well as America's GPS. Future plans promise to support a more accessible and integrated system scheduled to come online by 2035 with BDS at its core. The first version of BeiDou, meaning "Big Dipper," was decommissioned in 2012. China's space programme has developed rapidly over the last 20 years as Beijing has provided significant funding to develop the country's own high-tech systems. In 2003, China became only the third country to launch its own crewed space mission. Since then it has built an experimental space station and sent two rovers to the moon. The moves are seen as preparation for a permanent space station, a potential crewed flight to the moon, and a possible first attempt to send an orbiter and rover to Mars. That would make China a serious contender to America in space exploration. The relationship between Beijing and Washington has become increasingly strained over several issues since the start of this year. US President Donald Trump and his administration have repeatedly criticised China over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak - the virus first emerged there in December. In response to a new Hong Kong security law pushed by Beijing, the US president last month announced that he will end preferential treatment for the city in trade and travel. This week the relationship between the US and China has come under increasing scrutiny after former National Security Adviser John Bolton said in his new book that Mr Trump sought help from Chinese President Xi Jinping to win re-election.
6-15-20 China's quantum satellite helps send secure messages over 1200km
Two observatories in China have used a quantum communications satellite to send an encrypted message a record-breaking 1200 kilometres – a major step towards building a secure quantum internet. China launched its Micius quantum satellite in 2016. It produces pairs of photons that are quantum entangled, meaning the measured state of one photon is linked to the measured state of the other, regardless of the distance between them. Entanglement can’t directly transfer information, because that would mean data is travelling faster than light. But entangled particles can be used to create secret “keys” that enable extraordinarily secure communication. Artur Ekert at the University of Oxford and his colleagues used Micius to beam entangled photons to observatories 1200 kilometres apart in China, allowing those two observatories to share quantum encrypted data from farther apart than ever before. The previous record for this kind of communication is just 100 kilometres along a fibre optic cable. “Fibres are good for intermediate distances, for 30 to 50 kilometres or so, but too noisy for longer distances,” says Ekert. The latest system had an error rate of just 4.5 per cent. This is particularly important in quantum communication, because any attempt at hacking or eavesdropping on the signal to find out the key would cause more errors in the communication. Starting with a low error rate is necessary so that the additional errors caused by eavesdropping are noticeable. For example, if the satellite were to be hacked, this would be noticed by tests run on the ground when the observatories received the photons. This kind of communication could eventually be used to build a secure, unhackable internet of quantum information. “Entanglement provides almost ultimate security,” says Ekert.
5-20-19 Human-like cyborg eye could power itself using sunlight
A human-like artificial eye capable of being powered by sunlight could eventually be used as a visual aid for people who cannot see. Zhiyong Fan at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and his colleagues have developed a spherical visual sensor that mimics the structure of the human eye. Like the real thing, the artificial eye contains a lens to focus light and a hemispherical retina, the region at the back of the eye where photosensitive cells generate electrical impulses to be sent to the brain. The artificial eye is 2 centimetres in diameter, with its hollow centre filled with a conductive fluid. An adult human eye is a similar size and is filled with a clear gel called vitreous humour. The artificial retina is made from porous aluminium oxide filled with densely packed nanowires. These wires are light-sensitive and made from a compound called perovskite, which is commonly used in solar cells. They act in a similar way to nerve cells in the human eye, transmitting electrical signals when they are activated by light. The team projected images of letters onto the artificial lens to test how well it worked. A computer hooked up to the eye successfully recognised the letters E, I and Y. The team says it could, in theory, be connected to an optic nerve to do the same, to test whether the device was medically safe. The current version of the eye requires an external power source, but the team plans to make it self-sufficient in future. “Each nanowire can function as a small solar cell,” says Fan. “In that case, we don’t need any external power at all.” Another limitation is the eye’s low image resolution compared with commercial sensors such as those in smartphones. On the other hand, existing visual prosthetic devices use a flat object for image sensing, which doesn’t conform to the human eye’s spherical shape, says Fan. As a result, this limits the possible field of view compared with a human eye, which normally has a field of vision of around 150 degrees.
5-20-19 A new artificial eye mimics and may outperform human eyes
The high-tech device boasts a field of view and reaction time similar to that of real eyes. Scientists can’t yet rebuild someone with bionic body parts. They don’t have the technology. But a new artificial eye brings cyborgs one step closer to reality. This device, which mimics the human eye’s structure, is about as sensitive to light and has a faster reaction time than a real eyeball. It may not come with the telescopic or night vision capabilities that Steve Austin had in The Six Million Dollar Man television show, but this electronic eyepiece does have the potential for sharper vision than human eyes, researchers report in the May 21 Nature. “In the future, we can use this for better vision prostheses and humanoid robotics,” says engineer and materials scientist Zhiyong Fan of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The human eye owes its wide field of view and high-resolution eyesight to the dome-shaped retina — an area at the back of the eyeball covered in light-detecting cells. Fan and colleagues used a curved aluminum oxide membrane, studded with nanosize sensors made of a light-sensitive material called a perovskite (SN: 7/26/17), to mimic that architecture in their synthetic eyeball. Wires attached to the artificial retina send readouts from those sensors to external circuitry for processing, just as nerve fibers relay signals from a real eyeball to the brain. The artificial eyeball registers changes in lighting faster than human eyes can — within about 30 to 40 milliseconds, rather than 40 to 150 milliseconds. The device can also see dim light about as well as the human eye. Although its 100-degree field of view isn’t as broad as the 150 degrees a human eye can take in, it’s better than the 70 degrees visible to ordinary flat imaging sensors.
5-12-19 Coronavirus: Wuhan draws up plans to test all 11 million residents
The Chinese city of Wuhan is drawing up plans to test its entire population of 11 million people for Covid-19, state media report. The plan appears to be in its early stages, with all districts in Wuhan told to submit details as to how testing could be done within 10 days. It comes after Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, recorded six new cases over the weekend. Prior to this, it had seen no new cases at all since 3 April. Wuhan, which was in strict lockdown for 11 weeks, began re-opening on 8 April. For a while it seemed like life was getting back to normal as schools re-opened, businesses slowly emerged and public transport resumed operations. But the emergence of a cluster of cases - all from the same residential compound - has now threatened the move back to normalcy. According to report by The Paper, quoting a widely circulated internal document, every district in the city has been told to draw up a 10-day testing plan by noon on Tuesday. Each district is responsible for coming up with its own plan based on the size of their population and whether or not there is currently an active outbreak in the district. The document, which refers to the test plan as the "10-day battle", also says that older people and densely populated communities should be prioritised when it comes to testing. However several senior health officials quoted by the Global Times newspaper indicated that testing the entire city would be unfeasible and costly. Peng Zhiyong, director of the intensive care unit of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, instead that testing was instead likely to be targeted at medical workers, vulnerable people and those who'd had close contacts with a case. Another Wuhan University director suggested that a large percentage of Wuhan's population - around 3-5 million - had already been tested, and Wuhan was "capable" of testing the remaining 6-8 million in a 10-days period. (Webmaster's comment: China is serious about protecting its people. The United States is not. Its only interest is to somehow save the economy and re-elect Trump regardless of the number of deaths!)
5-5-19 China just tested a spacecraft that could fly to the moon and beyond
China is getting ready to build a new space station. On 5 May, the Chinese Long March 5B rocket – the same rocket that is planned to lift parts of a new space station into orbit and eventually carry astronauts to space – launched for the first time from Hainan Island. For this test flight, the rocket carried with it an unnamed crew capsule. No astronauts were aboard this trip, but according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation it will be able to carry six people at a time, twice as many as the Shenzhou spacecraft that has been used for all the country’s other crewed missions. After it reached orbit, Long March 5B dropped off the crew spacecraft, which will undergo a few tests in space before plunging back to Earth in the next few days. This re-entry will test the spacecraft’s heat shields, parachutes and airbags. The crew capsule is designed to be reusable and to carry astronauts to the new space station, or to the moon and beyond. This capsule is analogous to NASA’s Orion crew capsule, designed to bring US astronauts to the moon and Mars. The first test of that spacecraft took place in 2014, though the enormous rocket that is planned to carry it, NASA’s Space Launch System, is still being developed. Long March 5B is the most powerful rocket that China has, able to carry up to about 22 tonnes of cargo into orbit. This is similar to the launch capacity of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, and it has a similar height as well at nearly 54 metres tall. The rocket is scheduled to begin launching modules of China’s planned space station, which will be about one-fifth the size of the International Space Station, in the next few years.
5-5-19 The groundbreaking way to search lungs for signs of Covid-19
When Covid-19 was at its height in China, doctors in the city of Wuhan were able to use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to scan the lungs of thousands of patients. The algorithm in question, developed by Axial AI, analyses CT imagery in seconds. It declares, for example, whether a patient has a high risk of viral pneumonia from coronavirus or not. A consortium of firms developed the AI in response to the coronavirus outbreak. They say it can show whether a patient's lungs have improved or worsened over time, when more CT scans are done for comparison. A hospital in Malaysia is now trialling the system and Axial AI has also offered to donate it to the NHS. Around the world, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are being rapidly deployed as part of efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Some question whether these tools are reliable enough, though - after all, people's lives are at stake. The BBC has asked the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to confirm whether Axial AI's system will be trialled in the UK but has so far not received a response. A stumbling block for the tool may simply be that the NHS is not commonly using CT scanners to make images of Covid-19 patients' lungs. Chest X-rays are much more often used instead. They are less detailed than CT scans but are quicker to do and radiologists can still identify, for example, pneumonia in the images. However, thanks to the pandemic, a few British hospitals are now rolling out AI tools to help medical staff interpret chest X-rays more quickly. For instance, staff at the Royal Bolton Hospital, are using AI that has been trained on more than 2.5 million chest X-rays, including around 500 confirmed Covid-19 cases. It has been running automatically on every chest X-ray the hospital has carried out for about a week, says Rizwan Malik, a radiology consultant at the hospital. This means more than 100 patients will have had X-rays analysed by the system to date, he estimates. In this case, the algorithm is designed to look for possible signs of Covid-19, such as patterns of opacity in the lungs.
4-22-20 Smartphone-powered device tests blood samples for genetic conditions
It is now possible to use a cheap, lightweight and smartphone-powered DNA detector to identify DNA in blood, urine and other samples, on the spot. At the moment, testing to identify DNA is done in laboratories using expensive, specialised equipment. To make this process faster and cheaper, Ming Chen at the Army Medical University in China and his colleagues developed a portable DNA detector made of 3D-printed parts that attach to a standard smartphone. The device can detect DNA based on characteristic mutations or short genetic sequences. It costs less than $10 to make, weighs just 60 grams, and takes 80 minutes to produce a result. The detector is powered by heat from the smartphone. Samples can be loaded into the detector and mixed with pre-filled chemicals that light up or change colour if there is any DNA that matches. The signals are detected through the smartphone’s camera lens and a light box displays the result. Tests showed that the device can detect genetic conditions like alpha- and beta-thalassemia in blood. It also identified people with a gene that makes them more susceptible to alcohol intoxication from swab samples taken from their inner cheeks. It identified E. coli bacteria in urine, milk and river water. It also identified a bacterium that attacks kiwi fruit plants in ground-up samples of the plant’s leaves. Overall, the accuracy of the device was about 97 per cent when compared with standard laboratory methods. The researchers say the device could potentially be modified to identify RNA as well, which would be useful for detecting RNA viruses like the covid-19 virus responsible for the coronavirus pandemic. Jacqueline Savard at Deakin University in Australia says the technology has the potential to cause unintended consequences if used outside normal clinical settings, because people wouldn’t have access to support and guidance if they test positive for an illness.
4-5-20 The race for a coronavirus vaccine The race kicked off Jan. 10, when Chinese scientists published the complete 30,000-letter genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In China, 1,000 scientists are working on a vaccine and launching more than 200 clinical trials to test everything from anti-flu drugs to ancient Chinese herbal medicine.
3-9-20 Coronavirus: Hospital ward staffed entirely by robots opens in China
A new hospital ward run entirely by robots has opened in Wuhan, China, in a bid to protect medical staff from contracting the coronavirus. On 7 March, about 200 patients exhibiting early symptoms of covid-19 were ushered into the new ward, which is in a converted sports centre in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak started. The robots deliver food, drinks and drugs to the patients, and keep the ward clean. Some have a humanoid head, arms and upper torso but a wheeled base, while others look more like a box on wheels. The machines can move around autonomously but are under the observation and control of staff outside of the ward. The trial is a partnership between CloudMinds, a Beijing-based robotics firm, and mobile operator China Mobile, along with Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, an institution at the heart of early efforts to contain the virus. The hospital’s director Liu Zhiming died of the disease last month. The temporary ward was initially established as a human-run clinic, but has now been turned over to the robots after a week-long upgrade. Engineers mapped the area and uploaded the information to a cloud server for the robots to use as they move through the ward. CloudMinds CEO Bill Huang says the ward will be a pilot case for future initiatives. “This is China’s first-ever entirely robot-led ward and an opportunity to test the capability of the technology and how we work together,” he says. Robots will look after patients who aren’t acutely ill but who need basic medical care. If they recover, they will be sent home. If their health problems become more acute, they will be transferred to the human-run hospital. During their stay, patients wear bracelets fitted with sensors to measure their heart rates and temperatures. This information is displayed on a large screen outside the ward for doctors and nurses to access along with other health information. Medical staff can also use the screen to assign the robots their next task.
2-26-20 China’s rover has discovered what lies beneath the moon’s far side
We now know what the far side of the moon looks like below the surface, thanks to radar images collected by China’s Yutu-2 rover. Yutu-2 was deployed by the Chang’e 4 lunar lander after it became the first spacecraft to successfully land on the far side of the moon – the side that never faces Earth – on 3 January 2019. It has since been exploring the South Pole–Aitken basin, which is the oldest and largest impact crater on the moon. The rover has previously sent back photos and videos of the surface. Now, researchers have released details of findings from its high-frequency, ground-penetrating radar, which they used to peer 40 metres below the surface. The top layer – extending to about 12 metres down – appears to be mostly fine dust. The particles probably formed as small meteorite collisions and radiation from the sun gradually degraded the top soil, says Yan Su at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who was part of the team that analysed the data. Between 12 and 24 metres deep, the soil is coarser with large rocks embedded in it. The rocks are probably leftover debris from when large asteroids and meteorites smashed into the moon’s surface, says Su. The layer below this, which extends to the radar’s penetration limit of 40 metres, is composed of alternating layers of coarse and fine soil. The coarse layers are probably leftover debris from impacts, while the finer material probably formed via gradual weathering during the periods between each impact, says Su. The subsurface of the nearside of the moon was previously investigated by China’s Yutu rover, the predecessor of Yutu-2. Deployed by China’s Chang’e 3 lander in 2013, it used high-frequency, ground-penetrating radar to explore a crater called Mare Imbrium.
2-27-20 China’s moon rover revealed what lies beneath the lunar farside
The discovery may help explain why the nearside looks so different. The farside of the moon is a lunar layer cake. New data from China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover reveal alternating layers of coarse rock and fine soil down to a depth of 40 meters, suggesting a history of violent impacts, scientists report February 26 in Science Advances. “We know much of the moon’s nearside” from the Soviet Lunokhod and American Apollo programs, but little about the farside, says lunar scientist Yan Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. “The Chang’e-4 mission revealed the first ‘ground-truth’ detailed subsurface stratigraphy … on the farside of the moon.” Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 became the first spacecraft to land on the farside in January 2019, touching down inside the 186-kilometer-wide Von Kármán crater (SN: 1/3/19). As Yutu-2 explored the crater, which lies within the 2,500-kilometer-wide South Pole–Aitken basin, the rover sent radar pulses into the ground to probe the material beneath its wheels. Lunar scientist Chunlai Li, also of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues analyzed the 106-meter path that the rover took in its first two lunar days (about two Earth months) of collecting data. The team discovered a layer about 12 meters thick of fine soil, or regolith, closest to the surface. “It’s like being on very clean sand,” says study coauthor Elena Pettinelli of Roma Tre University in Italy. “It’s like you’re on the beach.” Below that fine soil, the rover found another layer of about 12 meters containing coarser material embedded with larger rocks, like cherries in a fruitcake. And lower still was a series of alternating coarse and fine materials, spanning depths of about 24 meters down to roughly 40 meters — the limit of the rover’s radar.
2-2-20 Coronavirus:10 days of hospital building in 60 seconds
Time-lapse footage taken from above shows the construction of Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan city, which has been built to deal with coronavirus patients. According to Chinese authorities, construction began on 24 January, with the hospital due to open on 3 February. Around 300 people have died from the virus so far, with around 14,000 currently affected.
1-25-20 Coronavirus: How can China build a hospital so quickly?
The Chinese city of Wuhan is set to build a hospital in six days in order to treat patients suspected of contracting the coronavirus. There are currently 830 confirmed cases in China, 41 (5%) of whom have died. The outbreak began in Wuhan, home to around 11 million people. Hospitals in the city have been flooded with concerned residents and pharmacies are running out of medicine. According to state media, the new hospital will contain about 1,000 beds. Video footage posted online by Chinese state media shows diggers already at the site, which has an area of 25,000 square metres (269,000 square feet). It is based on a similar hospital set up in Beijing to help tackle the Sars virus in 2003. "It's basically a quarantined hospital where they send people with infectious diseases so it has the safety and protective gear in place," said Joan Kaufman, lecturer in global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. "China has a record of getting things done fast even for monumental projects like this," says Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. He points out that the hospital in Beijing in 2003 was built in seven days so the construction team is probably attempting to beat that record. Just like the hospital in Beijing, the Wuhan centre will be made out of prefabricated buildings. "This authoritarian country relies on this top down mobilisation approach. They can overcome bureaucratic nature and financial constraints and are able to mobilise all of the resources." Mr Huang said that engineers would be brought in from across the country in order to complete construction in time. "The engineering work is what China is good at. They have records of building skyscrapers at speed. This is very hard for westerners to imagine. It can be done," he added. In terms of medical supplies, Wuhan can either take supplies from other hospitals or can easily order them from factories. On Friday, the Global Times confirmed 150 medical personnel from the People's Liberation Army had arrived in Wuhan. However it did not confirm if they would be working in the new hospital once it has been built.
1-17-20 Chinese Chang’e 4 engineer explains how to garden on the moon
China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander captivated global attention when a cotton seed on board became the first plant ever to germinate on another world – and now the engineer behind this moon garden has revealed just how it was done. Cotton, arabidopsis, potato and rape seeds, as well as yeast and fruit fly eggs, were all inside a 2.6-kilogram mini biosphere when Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon in January 2019. Months of uncertainty and planning led to the successful mission, says Xie Gengxin at Chongqing University, the experiment’s chief designer. The idea to send a biosphere to the moon was selected from 257 suggestions submitted by Chinese students in 2016. Rice and arabidopsis have been grown on China’s Tiangong-2 space lab and plants have been cultivated on the International Space Station, but those experiments were conducted in low Earth orbit, at an altitude of about 400 kilometres. The cosmic radiation on the moon – 380,000 kilometres from Earth – makes it a more challenging environment. Given limited space on the lander, the experiment had to be small and light, says Xie. The cylindrical capsule his team designed was 19.8 centimetres high with a diameter of 17.3 cm. It had a rectangular seedbed inside, measuring 800 cubic centimetres. A pipe built into the top allowed sunlight to reach the plants, and the whole chamber was kept at Earth atmospheric pressure. A replicais currently on display in the Design Museum’s Moving to Mars exhibition in London. The real chamber was powered on just under 13 hours after Chang’e 4 landed, at 11.19 pm on 3 January. The first order of business was remotely watering the seeds with a measured spritz of 18 millilitres of water. The team had to consider in advance a number of things that could go wrong during the mission, such as the possibility the water might not be released or released too early, or the pipe that let in sunlight getting blocked by moon dust, in addition to camera or data transmission failures.
1-10-20 China has developed the world’s first mobile quantum satellite station
The world’s first portable ground station for sending and receiving secure quantum communications is up and running. The station has successfully connected to China’s Quantum Science Satellite, nicknamed Mozi, which was launched in August 2016. Ji-Gang Ren at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei and his colleagues used the mobile station to send a secure data transmission from Jinan in north-east China. Unlike the ground station used when Mozi launched, which weighed more than 10 tonnes, the mobile station weighs about 80 kilograms and is small enough to be installed on top of a car. The significant downsizing comes with a slight reduction in transmitting power. The mobile ground station transmits data at a rate of between 4000 and 10,000 bits per second, compared with about 40,000 bits per second for larger stations, says Ren. The team used the mobile ground station to perform quantum key distribution, a form of secure communication in which particles of light, called photons, are transmitted. It enables two parties to share a secret key that is used to encrypt and decrypt information. A key was relayed via Mozi between the mobile ground station in Jinan and a fixed station in Shanghai. Building a mobile quantum ground station was motivated by demand from users, such as the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), for equipment that didn’t require purpose-built infrastructure, says Ren. ICBC and the People’s Bank of China are already using satellite-based quantum key distribution between distant cities, such as Beijing in north-east China and Urumqi in the far north-west. Portable ground stations will be used by these banks in the near future, says Ren. They are also being used by the municipal government in Jinan.
11-12-19 Is China gaining an edge in artificial intelligence?
"China is betting on AI and investing in AI and deploying AI on a scale no other country is doing," says Abishur Prakash, a futurist and author of books about the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) on geopolitics. As developments in AI accelerate, some in the US fear that the ability of China's powerful central government to marshal data and pour resources into the field will push it ahead. The country has announced billions in funding for start-ups, launched programmes to woo researchers from overseas and streamlined its data policies. It has announced news-reading robots and AI-powered strategy for foreign relations. Perhaps most alarming to the US are its efforts to incorporate it into its military. In the last few years, Washington has toughened oversight of Chinese investments, banned US firms from doing business with certain Chinese companies and increased criminal prosecution of alleged technology theft. "What the Trump administration is doing is a sign... the US knows that its geopolitical power will be redefined and reconfigured by this era," said Mr Prakash, who works at the Toronto-based Center for Innovating the Future. These developments come amid political tension between the two nations. Yet, some analysts worry the US response is counterproductive, arguing that cutting off access to US microchips, for example, could simply accelerate Chinese efforts to develop their own alternatives. The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods - retaliation for "unfair" practices it says are aimed at giving China an advantage in the field. The White House has also pressed universities to review their relationships with Chinese partners and threatened to restrict student visas. It is even said to be looking at rules against certain US investments in China - once nearly unthinkable in free-market America.
11-5-19 Xiaomi smartphone has 108 megapixel camera
Chinese tech giant Xiaomi has unveiled the world's first mainstream handset to feature a 108 megapixel camera. The extra high-resolution sensor was developed by Samsung, which has yet to feature it in its own products. The firms say the benefit is that it delivers "extremely sharp photographs that are rich in detail". However, one early test of the tech indicates that its images contain more digital distortions than those produced by lower-resolution smartphones. For now, the Mi CC9 Pro Premium has only been announced for the Chinese market, where the base model costs 2,799 yuan ($400; £310). But Xiaomi has said it will use the same component in the Mi Note 10, which will be be launched on Wednesday and sold more widely. The firm is currently the world's fourth-bestselling smartphone vendor, according to research firm Canalys, with a market share of 9.1%. Its sales are rapidly growing in Europe and it has just announced its intention to expand into Japan in 2020. Until now, 100MP+ sensors have typically been the preserve of medium-format digital cameras, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Trying to squeeze lots of resolution into a smaller smartphone component runs the risk of increasing cross-talk, a phenomenon where the electrical activity of one pixel spills into its neighbours, as they are packed so closely together. This results in digital noise in the final image. In addition, since each pixel needs to be smaller than normal to fit into the same space, each receives less light, causing further problems in low-light conditions. Samsung's Isocell Plus sensor partly addresses these problems by being larger in size than most smartphone sensors. But its key innovation is that its pixels are arranged in groups of four, with each set sharing the same colour filter to detect red, green or blue light.
10-22-19 China has more 'unicorn' start-ups than the US
China has the world's largest number of "unicorns," privately-held start-up firms valued at more than $1bn (£771m), according to a new report. The country has produced 206 unicorns while the US has 203, the China-based Hurun Institute reported. Together the two countries are home to more than 80% of the world's unicorns. It comes as Washington and Beijing fight a trade war and jostle to become the world's technology leader. "China and the US dominate... despite representing only half of the world's GDP and a quarter of the world's population," said Hurun Report Chairman Rupert Hoogewerf. Chinese payments company Ant Financial tops the list with a valuation of $150bn. Founded in 2014, Ant Financial's main business is online payment platform Alipay, which was spun out of e-commerce giant Alibaba. Are internet unicorns really worth billions? China's Bytedance ranks second, with a valuation of $75bn. The fast-growing technology firm owns popular video-sharing platform TikTok. Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing rounds out the top three, valued at $55bn. High-profile US companies including home-rental site Airbnb, office space firm WeWork and electronic cigarette maker Juul also feature in the top 10. The report comes at a time of tense relations between the world's two largest economies. The US and China have been embroiled in a trade battle for the past year. Their power struggle has also played out in the technology sector, with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei becoming a central part of their dispute. The US claims Huawei - the world's largest maker of telecoms equipment - poses a national security risk and has put trade restrictions on the firm. The company has consistently denied the allegations, and many in China argue the US is trying to curb the country's technology ambitions.
10-14-19 China is giving the U.S. a taste of its own medicine
Demanding certain conditions from businesses and trade partners is what the U.S. has done to other countries for decades. We Americans tend to treat trade as a matter of purely economic exchanges. But we've recently learned that to become entangled with a country via trade almost inevitably invites broader entanglements as well — of culture, ideology, and policy. After enmeshing ourselves in trade with China, for example, we've suddenly found China using that entanglement to silence criticism of China's crackdown on Hong Kong protesters. (Or its treatment of Tibet, or its massive surveillance state.) More perniciously, China's had American institutions and companies do the silencing and surveilling for it. In other words, if the country we're entangled with has a lot of leverage, they can force us to behave in ways we otherwise might not, and would really prefer not to. The thing is, if you're pretty much any country other than the United States — especially a poorer or developing country — you already knew this. Because for decades, the U.S. has been doing to the world what China is currently trying to do to us. If you're a big country with lots of consumption spending and financial capital to throw around, other countries are going to want access to your domestic market. And that will give you leverage to condition that access on certain terms. While China's rise into the ranks of global economic behemoths happened in just the last two or three decades, the U.S. has been there since the end of World War II. Through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the U.S. has used that leverage to build the global economic and trade order to its preferences. In the initial post-war years, this setup worked out relatively well — resuscitating the ravaged economies of Europe, and promising a prosperous new possible future for the global East and South. But then in the 1970s and 1980s, free market neoliberal ideology took over American policymaking — and by extension took over the policies America was exporting to the globe. The U.S. started forcing countries to abandon capital controls and tariffs, thus allowing the free flow of both goods and financial capital across their borders. Industrial policy and state-ownership of enterprise was discouraged, privatization and free market solutions encouraged. This model often turned out quite badly for developing countries in particular. The end of barriers to trade and financial flows left those countries vulnerable to rich western speculators who could boost their economy by rushing in, then collapse it by rushing out just as fast. When such crises left a country saddled with unsustainable levels of foreign-denominated debt, the solution imposed by America's neoliberal hegemony was austerity, which provided the surplus cash to pay off foreign creditors, but also crushed the country's domestic economy and the livelihoods of its own citizens in the process. Indeed, the occasional country that did resist these demands wound up raising its wealth and living standards faster — and there's no better example than China itself, which has used its own clout to pick and choose which parts of the neoliberal global trade order it does and doesn't want to cooperate with.
10-4-19 China: 70th anniversary celebrations spark joy and rage
The Chinese Communist Party rolled out the big guns in Tiananmen Square this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic, said Kirsty Needham in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). Helicopters and stealth fighter jets roared over Beijing as 15,000 soldiers marched alongside an unprecedented display of weaponry. The parade included columns of tanks, hypersonic missiles, and the new DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are capable of striking the U.S. within 30 minutes. There was also a spectacular mass pageant involving 100,000 people and 70 floats arranged in intricate formations to represent Chinese history and iconography. Marchers bore giant portraits of past Communist leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, as well as current President Xi Jinping. It was “the only TV show” on air, and the cameras zoomed in on a float celebrating Beijing’s rule over Hong Kong even as “violent protests continue to rage” in the semi-autonomous city. China has every right to be proud of its “brilliant achievements,” said Zhang Shuhua in the Global Times (China). When the Communist Party took power in 1949, China was emerging from war and colonialism and “wallowing in poverty and bleakness.” A mere seven decades later, China is the world’s second-largest economy, having “completed an industrialization process that developed countries took hundreds of years to achieve.” Our annual gross domestic product has increased by a factor of 1,325 to reach $12.66 trillion, and the economy is still growing at more than 6 percent a year—triple the U.S. rate. China has “served as the global growth engine and stabilizer, which is a blessing for both Chinese people and human history.” Our unified political system has made these advances possible, freeing our people from partisan struggles so they can accomplish major goals. Our approach “can be learned by other countries, especially developing ones.”
9-29-19 China anniversary: The deep cuts of 70 years of Communist rule
China's extraordinary rise was a defining story of the 20th Century, but as it prepares to mark its 70th anniversary, the BBC's John Sudworth in Beijing asks who has really won under the Communist Party's rule. "I lived through it," he replies. "I can tell you that Chairman Mao did make some mistakes but they weren't his alone." "I respect him from my heart. He achieved our nation's liberation. Ordinary people cannot do such things." On Tuesday, China will present a similar, glorious rendering of its record to the world. The country is staging one of its biggest ever military parades, a celebration of 70 years of Communist Party rule as pure, political triumph. Beijing will tremble to the thunder of tanks, missile launchers and 15,000 marching soldiers, a projection of national power, wealth and status watched over by the current Communist Party leader, President Xi Jinping, in Tiananmen Square. Like Mr Zhao's paper-cut portraits, we're not meant to focus on the many individual scars made in the course of China's modern history. It is the end result that matters. And, on face value, the transformation has been extraordinary. On 1 October 1949, Chairman Mao stood in Tiananmen Square urging a war-ravaged, semi-feudal state into a new era with a founding speech and a somewhat plodding parade that could muster only 17 planes for the flyby. This week's parade, in contrast, will reportedly feature the world's longest range intercontinental nuclear missile and a supersonic spy-drone - the trophies of a prosperous, rising authoritarian superpower with a 400 million strong middle class. It is a narrative of political and economic success that - while in large part true - is incomplete. New visitors to China are often, rightly, awe-struck by the skyscraper-festooned, hi-tech megacities connected by brand new highways and the world's largest high-speed rail network. They see a rampant consumer society with the inhabitants enjoying the freedom and free time to shop for designer goods, to dine out and to surf the internet. "How bad can it really be?" the onlookers ask, reflecting on the negative headlines they've read about China back home. The answer, as in all societies, is that it depends very much on who you are.
9-12-19 Huawei chief offers to share 5G know-how for a fee
Huawei's chief executive has proposed selling its current 5G know-how to a Western firm as a way to address security concerns voiced by the US and others about its business. Ren Zhengfei said the buyer would be free to "change the software code". That would allow any flaws or supposed backdoors to be addressed without Huawei's involvement. The US and Australia have banned their networks from using Huawei's equipment. The UK is still weighing a decision. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims that it would help the Chinese government spy on or disrupt other countries telecoms systems, and says it is a private enterprise owned by its workers. One expert, who had previously cast doubts on Huawei's claims to independence, said the idea of it helping another country's business to compete represented an "extraordinary offer". "Perhaps the explanation is that Huawei recognises that it is unlikely to be able to bypass the efforts the Trump administration is putting into minimising its scope to operate in North America, Western Europe and Australasia," said Prof Steve Tsang from Soas University of London. "But it's difficult to see Nokia or Ericsson being interested in buying it. And it's also difficult to see how an American company would be able to reassure the Trump administration that it's absolutely top notch American technology. "And if they can't do that, why would they want to spend tens of billions of US dollars on something that will quickly become out-of-date." Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei made the proposal in interviews with the Economist and the New York Times. It would include ongoing access to the firm's existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production engineering knowledge. "[Huawei is] open to sharing our 5G technologies and techniques with US companies, so that they can build up their own 5G industry," the NYT quoted Ren as saying. "This would create a balanced situation between China, the US and Europe." Speaking to the Economist he added: "A balanced distribution of interests is conducive to Huawei's survival." A spokesman for Huawei has confirmed the quotes are accurate and the idea represents a "genuine proposal". At present, Europe's Nokia and Ericsson are the main alternatives to Huawei when it comes to networks selecting what 5G cell tower base stations and other equipment to install. South Korea's Samsung and China's ZTE are other alternatives. But while American firms including Cisco, Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have developed 5G-related technologies, the US lacks an infrastructure-equipment specialist of its own. Beyond the licensing fee, Huawei could benefit because it might convince Washington to drop restrictions that currently prevent it buying US-linked technologies for its own use.
8-25-19 Is the US still Asia's only military superpower?
US pre-eminence in the Pacific is no more. For a long time experts have been speaking about China's rapid military modernisation referring to it as "a rising power". But this analysis may be out of date. China is not so much a rising power; it has risen; and in many ways it now challenges the US across a number of military domains. This is the conclusion of a new report from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney in Australia. It warns that US defence strategy in the Indo-Pacific region "is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis" and that Washington might struggle to defend its allies against China. "America no longer enjoys military primacy in the Indo-Pacific", it notes, "and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain." The report points to Beijing's extraordinary arsenal of missiles that threaten the key bases of the US and its allies. These installations, it asserts, "could be rendered useless by precision strikes in the opening hours of a conflict". China is not a global superpower like the United States. Indeed it is doubtful if its military ambitions extend that far (though this too may be changing as it slowly develops a network of ports and bases abroad). For now its global reach depends much more on the power of its economy. China lacks the "proselytising zeal" - the sense of over-seas mission, that over the twentieth century saw the US strive for global dominance. It also has nothing like the soft-power pull of the United States - no equivalent to blue jeans, Hollywood or burgers - to encourage people to share its values. Indeed according to many indices Washington's raw military punch still greatly out-weighs that of Beijing. Washington's nuclear arsenal (and indeed Moscow's) is significantly larger than that available to Beijing. The US still retains a technological edge in key areas like intelligence collection; ballistic missile defence; and the latest generation warplanes. The US can also rely upon a deeply entrenched network of alliances both in Asia and through Nato in Europe. China has nothing like this kind of alliance system. But it is fast eroding Washington's technical edge. And in any case what matters to China is Asia and what it sees in expansive terms as its own back-yard. Two key factors - focus and proximity - mean that in Asia, China is already a superpower to rival the US. (Webmaster's comment: Why does the United States need to be a global superpower? To intimidate other nations to allow our corporations to rape their nations of their resources.)
8-21-19 Inside China's attempt to boost crop yields with electric fields
In greenhouses across China, scientists are exposing lettuces and cucumbers to powerful electric fields in an attempt to make them grow faster. Can electroculture work? AT FIRST blush, the huge commercial greenhouse on the outskirts of Beijing doesn’t seem unusual. Inside, lettuces sit in neat rows and light pours in through the glass above. But there is a soft hum and an intense feeling in the air, almost as if a thunderstorm is on the way. The most obvious sign that this is no ordinary growing space is the high-voltage electrical wiring strung over the crops. This place may be different, but it is far from unique. Over the past few years, greenhouses like this have sprouted up across China, part of a government-backed project to boost the yield of crops by bathing them in the invisible electric fields that radiate from power cables. From cucumbers to radishes, the results are, apparently, incredible. “The overall quality is excellent,” says Liu Binjiang, the lead scientist on the project. “We’re really entering a golden age for this technology.” Using electricity to boost plant growth – not by powering heaters or sprinkler systems, but simply by exposing plants to an electric field – is an old idea. It is also controversial. Electroculture was tested in Europe many decades ago and found wanting, with the results too inconsistent to be any use. The mechanism was also mysterious: no one knew how or why electric fields might boost growth. So what exactly is going on in China’s new greenhouses? Can you really improve agriculture through the power of electric fields – and if so, how? It was Finnish physicist Karl Selim Lemström who introduced the world to the idea of electroculture in the 1880s. He was studying the northern lights in Lapland when he noticed that trees grew well there in spite of the short growing season. He suggested it might be because of the electrical field produced by charged particles rushing into Earth’s atmosphere to create the aurora. Lemström carried out tests with plants growing under electric wires and achieved mixed results. In one experiment conducted in a field in Burgundy, France, he saw that “carrots gave an increase of 125 per cent and peas 75 per cent”.
8-12-19 China, Not U.S., May Be the Land of Opportunity for Children
Aug. 12 marks International Youth Day, which this year focuses on efforts to make education more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all the world's youth. This analysis is one of two that looks at how people around the world view opportunities for children in their countries to learn and grow. The U.S. has deficits other than trade to worry about with China. Since the early days of the global economic crisis, China has led the U.S. by as much as 20 percentage points on Gallup's question of whether most children in their respective countries have the opportunity to learn and grow every day. In 2018, 92% of Chinese adults said most children in their country have these types of opportunities, while 74% of U.S. adults said the same. The two countries are the world's largest economies, but you wouldn't know that based on how people in each country answer this question. Among 20 of the world's biggest economic players, the U.S. has the largest GDP, but it ranks 14th on that short list in terms of the opportunities Americans perceive for children in the U.S. China's overall GDP is second-largest in the world, but it ranks third on the opportunities that its adults see for children in China. China's rising literacy rate -- which increased from 65.51% in 1982 to 96.36% in 2015 -- and its higher math and science scores than the U.S. on the OECD PISA (a global assessment of mathematics, reading and science skills) may lend support to why so many Chinese might see the situation so positively for their nation's children. It might also help explain why Chinese adults are highly satisfied with the quality of the educational system or the schools where they live. In 2018, 70% -- a new high -- said they were satisfied with the quality of their local educational system, compared with 64% of Americans.
7-26-19 China is on track to meet its climate change goals nine years early
China appears on track to reach its carbon goals up to nine years earlier than planned under the Paris agreement, in a potential huge boost for efforts to tackle climate change. The world’s biggest polluter accounts for a quarter of humanity’s emissions today, making the nation a crucial part of any efforts to avoid dangerous global warming. Now an analysis has found that China’s emissions could peak at 13 to 16 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2025, making what the researchers call a “a great contribution” to meeting the Paris deal’s goal of limiting temperature rises to 2°C. The official target is a peak by “around 2030.” “It reflects China’s great efforts in mitigating climate change and the ‘new normal’ of the economy, from high speed to high quality, which might cause CO2 emissions to peak earlier,” says Haikun Wang of Nanjing University. His Chinese-US team calculated their dates by looking at historical carbon emissions and GDP data for 50 Chinese cities between 2000 and 2016. They found that emissions tend to peak at 10.2 tonnes of CO2 per person when GDP hits around $21,000 per person. The cities are responsible for 35 per cent of China’s total emissions, from which the researchers extrapolated a national picture, projecting it forward to find a peak. The possibility of China delivering early on its international target will be a boost for UN climate talks. Under the Paris deal, countries are due to submit revised and improved carbon targets next year. The possibility of an early peak has been driven by the changing nature of China’s economy, a shift which is likely to continue. “As China moves towards a higher tech and service economy, it is likely to show how the passage to a low-carbon economy and robust and sustainable growth in an emerging market economy can be mutually supportive,” says Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics. The expectation of a peak by 2025 is in line with the lower end of other projections.
7-10-19 Forget Tesla - China’s BYD is driving the electric car revolution
Shifting to electric vehicles is an essential part of tackling climate change and China is doing far better than the West. FORGET Tesla – the world’s biggest electric car manufacturer is a Chinese company you have probably never heard of. With the age of the fossil-fuel car drawing to an end, electric vehicles (EVs) from China could be on track for global dominance – assuming that the hundreds of start-ups in the sector don’t skid out and crash. China buys more EVs than any other nation. Last year, 1.25 million electric cars – 984,000 of which were solely battery-powered – were sold in the country, accounting for more than half of all EVs sold globally. A significant proportion of them were made by BYD Auto, a firm headquartered in Xi’an, China. In 2018, BYD sold nearly 248,000 zero-emissions vehicles globally, outpacing Tesla’s sales of roughly 245,000. The company began in 1995 as a manufacturer of batteries for mobile phones and digital cameras, and has since expanded to produce battery-powered cars, buses and trucks. Last week, it launched a fleet of 37 fully electric double decker buses as part of London’s public transport system. Other Chinese companies with international reach include Chery and the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which is the behemoth that now owns Volvo, Lotus and the London Taxi Company. Sam Korus, an analyst at investment firm ARK, estimates that there are nearly 500 EV companies in China, many of which are yet to produce their first vehicle. Recent reports suggest that 330 firms are registered for government subsidies encouraging investment in EVs. All this means that despite an overall decline in car sales – the number of Chinese-produced cars sold last year dropped nearly 8 per cent from 2017 – the EV industry is booming. Battery electric vehicle sales rose by more than 50 per cent in 2018. “We are witnessing a transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to zero-emission vehicles,” says Yunshi Wang, director of the China Center for Energy and Transportation at the University of California, Davis. The shift has been driven by a Chinese government goal of reaching 5 million “new-energy” vehicles – including battery electrics, hybrid cars and fuel-cell cars – on China’s roads by 2020, when yearly sales of these cars should hit 2 million.
5-23-19 Robots conduct daily health inspections of schoolchildren in China
Please stand in front of Walklake for your examination. This health checking robot takes just 3 seconds to diagnose a variety of ailments in children, including conjunctivitis, and hand, foot and mouth disease. Over 2000 preschools in China, with children aged between 2 and 6, are using Walklake every morning to check the health status of their students. Walklake has a boxy body and smiling cartoony face. Before children enter the classrooms, they stand in front of the robot for a quick checkup by showing it their eyes, throats and hands. The robot has an infrared thermometer on its forehead, as well as cameras on its eyes, mouth and chest. Its system is trained to scan for disease symptoms, such as fever, hand blisters, throat sores and red eyes. If it detects something abnormal, the robot will alert teachers or school nurses who then manually check the child again and decide if they should be sent home. Since 2016 the Chinese government has recommended all preschools should conduct a morning heath examination on students to reduce the transmission of disease. However, normally this is done by a person. Robots can help streamline the process. After scanning all students, Walklake aggregates the health data and sends the principal an illness report of the entire school. “It’s allowing for better health monitoring, especially in places that have large populations but not enough skilled health professionals,” says Karen Panetta at Tufts University in Massachusetts. She suggests if the robot becomes more prevalent, health officials can use its data to pinpoint the spread of diseases, and thus implement proactive interventions.
5-21-19 Ren Zhengfei says US government 'underestimates' Huawei
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has remained defiant towards US moves against his company, saying the US "underestimates" its abilities. Speaking to Chinese state media, Mr Ren downplayed the impact of recent US curbs and said no-one could catch up to its 5G technology in the near future. Last week the US added Huawei to a list of companies that American firms cannot trade with unless they have a licence. The move marked an escalation in US efforts to block the Chinese company. "The current practice of US politicians underestimates our strength," Mr Ren said, according to transcripts from state media. Huawei faces a growing backlash from Western countries, led by the US, over possible risks posed by using its products in next-generation 5G mobile networks. The potential fallout from the US decision to place Huawei on its "entity list" was drawn into focus on Monday after Google barred the Chinese tech giant from some updates to its Android operating system. Later on Monday, the US Commerce Department issued a temporary licence that enabled some companies to continue supporting existing Huawei networks and devices. The US said it would issue the 90-day licence that "will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks," said US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has published advice for Huawei phone owners on its site. It said the licence should mean that Huawei customers can "update their handsets as normal". It added that it was continuing to assess the situation and planned to provide advice in the future for users. Still, Mr Ren played down the significance of the move, saying that Huawei had already made preparations ahead of the US restrictions. (Webmaster's comment: Like I already said Huawei's 5G technology is a lot better than US 5G technology. So the US wants to ban it. This has nothing to do with security.)
5-21-19 US warns of threat from Chinese drone companies
The US government has issued an alert warning that Chinese-made drones could pose a cyber-espionage risk to American businesses and other organisations that use them. The notice added that those using the flying aircraft for tasks related to national security or critical infrastructure were most at risk. The warning does not refer to a specific company. But market-leader DJI said it had taken steps to keep its clients' data secure. "We give customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted," the firm said in a statement. "For government and critical infrastructure customers that require additional assurances, we provide drones that do not transfer data to DJI or via the internet, and our customers can enable all the precautions DHS [Department of Homeland Security] recommends." DJI accounts for more than 70% of the US market in drones costing more than $500, according to research firm Skylogic. The BBC also contacted Yuneec - the second bestselling Chinese manufacturer - for comment, but it has not responded. However, it teamed up with a US-based software and cloud storage provider last year to address concerns that government clients and other security-conscious customers might have. The notice was issued on Monday by the US's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, according to CNN, which was first to report the development. "The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access," it quoted the memo as saying. (Webmaster's comment: Obviously Chinese drone technology is superior to US drone technolgy and so US customers buy Chinese drones. This has nothing to do with security.)
5-16-19 China wants to make the fastest planes ever with a new material
Planes that fly faster than ever before may now be possible, if reports about a new material are correct. The material was developed in China and is capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures over a prolonged period, making it suitable for hypersonic flight. Hypersonic flight means travelling at over five times the speed of sound. There are currently no vehicles that can travel at this speed in our atmosphere for more than a few minutes partly because of the high temperatures caused by friction. Researchers at Xiamen University in China tested a design for a hypersonic vehicle last month (pictured above), which they say reached a height of 26 kilometres, although it didn’t use the new material. According to China’s Global Times newspaper, the new material can withstand 3000°C for hours, meaning it should easily be able to withstand hypersonic flight. The material was first created in 2012 and is now in production for aviation, space and defence uses, said Fan Jinglian, at Central South University in China, to the newspaper. Fan hasn’t revealed many details about the material, but her published work is in high-performance tungsten and she previously filed a patent for a technique for producing tungsten composites. It is possible in principle to make a tungsten-based material than can withstand 3000°C, says Russell Goodall of the University of Sheffield, UK. A tungsten composite seems like a logical choice, but it is difficult to find a combination of materials that works, says Zak Fang at the University of Utah. A recently launched project by the US military research agency DARPA is looking for materials able to withstand 2200°C for its own hypersonic flight programme.
5-16-19 Trump declares national emergency over IT threats
President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to protect US computer networks from "foreign adversaries". He signed an executive order which effectively bars US companies from using foreign telecoms believed to pose national security risks. The order does not name any company, but is believed to target Huawei. The Chinese tech giant said restricting its business in the US would only hurt American consumers and companies. Several countries, led by the US, have raised concerns in recent months that Huawei products could be used by China for surveillance, allegations the company has vehemently denied. The US has been pressuring allies to shun Huawei in their next generation 5G mobile networks. In a separate development, the US commerce department added Huawei to its "entity list", a move that bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval. The moves are likely to worsen tensions between the US and China, which had already escalated this week with tariff hikes in a trade war. Huawei has been at the epicentre of the US-China power struggle that has dominated global politics over the past year. According to a White House statement, Mr Trump's order aims to "protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services". It gives the secretary of commerce the power to "prohibit transactions posing an unacceptable risk to the national security", the statement adds. The move was instantly welcomed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who called it "a significant step toward securing America's networks". The US had already restricted federal agencies from using Huawei products and has encouraged allies to shun them, while Australia and New Zealand have both blocked the use of Huawei gear in 5G networks. In April 2018 another Chinese tech company, ZTE, was barred from buying US parts after it was placed on the same "entity list". It resumed business after reaching a deal with the US in July. (Webmaster's comment: This had nothing to do with National Security. It has everything to do with the fact that Huawei 5G technology is superior to any U.S. 5G technology.)
5-15-19 China's rover peeks under the crust of the far side of the moon
We are peeking under the moon’s crust for the first time. The Chinese Yutu 2 moon rover, which landed in January aboard the Chang’e 4 lander, has spotted what appears to be primitive material from the moon’s mantle, which may help reveal details about its early magma ocean. Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the moon’s largest impact crater at about 2500 kilometres across. Simulations have shown that the collision that created this crater was probably powerful enough to punch through the moon’s outer crust, revealing rocks from its interior. Chunlai Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues examined data that Yutu 2 took during its first day on the moon looking for those deeper rocks. They seem to have found them in an area of material tossed from another smaller crater within the basin. The lunar soil that Yutu 2 examined contained relatively heavy minerals rich in iron and magnesium. Early in the moon’s history, when it was covered in a magma ocean, these heavier minerals would have sunk while lighter silicates floated and eventually solidified into the crust. “This is the first ground truth of what the interior of the moon is really made of,” says Briony Horgan at Purdue University in Indiana. “I would say the really important thing is that it’s different from the Earth.” This difference may be because of how water changed Earth’s mantle early in its history, she says. “The ultimate goal is to decipher the mystery of the lunar mantle composition,” says Li. This will help uncover how the moon’s magma ocean evolved, which may be useful for studying other bodies, like Earth, that had magma oceans but whose surfaces have changed much more since then.
5-15-19 China’s lunar rover may have found minerals from the moon’s mantle
New observations could answer questions about how Earth’s nearest neighbor evolved. The first mission to the farside of the moon may have found bits of the moon’s interior on its surface. The Yutu-2 rover, deployed by the Chinese Chang’e-4 spacecraft that landed on the moon in January, detected soil that appears rich in minerals thought to make up the lunar mantle, researchers report in the May 16 Nature. Those origins, if confirmed, could offer insight into the moon’s early development. “Understanding the composition of the lunar mantle is key to determining how the moon formed and evolved,” says Mark Wieczorek, a geophysicist at the Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France, not involved in the work. “We do not have any clear, unaltered samples of the lunar mantle” from past moon missions. In hopes of finding mantle samples, Chang’e-4 touched down in the moon’s largest impact basin, the South Pole–Aitken basin (SN: 2/2/19, p. 5). The collision that formed this enormous divot is thought to have been powerful enough to punch through the moon’s crust and expose mantle rocks to the lunar surface (SN: 11/24/18, p. 14). During its first lunar day on the moon, Yutu-2 recorded the spectra of light reflected off lunar soil at two spots using its Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer. When researchers analyzed these spectra, “what we saw was quite different” than normal lunar surface material, says study coauthor Dawei Liu, a planetary scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing.
5-15-19 Chang'e-4: Chinese rover 'confirms' Moon crater theory
The Chinese Chang'e-4 rover may have confirmed a longstanding idea about the origin of a vast crater on the Moon's far side. The rover's landing site lies within a vast impact depression created by an asteroid strike billions of years ago. Now, mission scientists have found evidence that impact was so powerful it punched through the Moon's crust and into the layer below called the mantle. Chang'e-4 has identified what appear to be mantle rocks on the surface. It's something the rover was sent to the far side to find out. Chunlai Li, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and colleagues have presented their findings in the journal Nature. The lunar far side, which is turned away from Earth, is more rugged than the familiar near side and has fewer "maria" - dark plains formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The Chinese spacecraft touched down on 3 January, becoming the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the lunar far side. The rover then rolled off the lander to explore its surroundings. The rover landed inside a 180km-wide impact bowl called Von Kármán crater. But that smaller crater lies within the 2,300km-wide South Pole Aitken (SPA) Basin, which covers nearly a quarter of the Moon's circumference. It's not known exactly how old the SPA Basin is, but it's thought to be at least 3.9 billion years old. The asteroid that carved it out is thought to have been about 170km wide. The Yutu-2 rover has now identified rocks with a very different chemical make-up to those found elsewhere on the Moon. Early results from the rover's Visible and Near Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) suggest the rocks contain minerals known as low-calcium (ortho)pyroxene and olivine. They fit the profile of rocks from the lunar mantle and suggest that the ancient impact that created the SPA drove right through the 50km-deep crust into the mantle. Observational data taken by Moon-orbiting spacecraft have been inconclusive as to the presence of mantle rocks on the surface. The authors of the paper want to continue their examination of these rocks and find others. They have also raised the possibility of sending another mission to deliver some of them to Earth for study in laboratories.
5-11-19 AI recommends 'fashionable' outfits to millions of people in China
What shoes go with that dress? Or this pair of jeans? Artificial intelligence is now answering those questions automatically for online shoppers in China, thanks to an algorithm developed by web giant Alibaba. The system recommends entire personalised outfits to users as they browse, mixing ensembles from recently viewed items and other items judged to coordinate well with them. A live trial of the tool has already recommended outfits to more than 5 million users. The aim is to enhance the experience for customers by encouraging more fashionable shopping behaviour, says Wen Chen at Alibaba. To build the system, Chen and her colleagues assembled a dataset of more than 1 million sample outfits created manually by staff at Alibaba’ online shopping site Taobao. An algorithm used this dataset to learn what clothing items are compatible with one another. Once knowledge of what goes with what had been gained, the outfit generation tool was able to select compatible clothing for items recently clicked on by users. Endless combinations can be continuously created as the customer shops. In a live test on Taobao’s iFashion designer clothes app, the suggested outfits were clicked on about 25 per cent of the time, compared to a 15 per cent click through rate from other approaches. The system can also build up a sense of customers’ fashion profiles based on their clicks, which could potentially be used for targeting customers with other items. Online shoppers are often faced with a “tyranny of choice” that can be overwhelming, says retail adviser Doug Stephens. Offering suggestions of outfits that genuinely look good would therefore be welcome. “It’s a great problem to solve, given that one of the consumer’s most significant apparel challenges is the coordination of items — particularly online where there’s an absence of human assistance,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: And where is American Consumer AI? In the toilet.)
4-5-19 Doctors in China are using 5G internet to do surgery from far away
The future of surgery could be remote. Doctors in China successfully directed a team hundreds of kilometres away to perform heart surgery using a 5G mobile internet connection. This follows on from a surgeon who recently used the same technology to remotely control a surgical robot during a procedure. The appeal of long-distance surgery is that the leading specialist can help with or even intervene in operations far away from where they live. But having a reliable and fast enough connection has been a stumbling block. On 3 April, cardiologist Huiming Guo directed surgery on a 41-year-old woman who had a hole in her heart due to a birth defect. Guo was in Guangdong General Hospital in Guangzhou, whilst the patient was in Gaozhou People’s Hospital about 400 kilometers away. Before the procedure, Guo’s team worked out a surgical plan based on a 3D model of the defected heart. The model was put together by an artificial intelligence using medical images such as CT and MRI scans and then 3D printed, according to a press conference held on Wednesday in Guangzhou. Guo and his colleagues gave instructions, such as where to make cuts and stitches, through video conference to the operating team whilst watching a live-stream from the operating room in 4K—ultra-high definition. The team also monitored the procedure via a live video from a camera probe inserted through the patient’s chest and heart ultrasound. The surgery lasted 4 hours. “Advanced internet technology can save our doctors a lot of time because they don’t have to travel as much. They can use that time to safe more lives,” said Zhiwei Zhang at Guangdong General Hospital in a press conference. A similar surgery to correct a patient’s deformed chest wall was performed at Yangshan Hospital in Guangdong with doctors 200 kilometers away in Second People’s Hospital in Guangdong giving instructions. (Webmaster's comment: They didn't copy this from the United States. They have now taken the lead in almost all technolgy. We should be copying them!)
3-23-19 Italy joins China's New Silk Road project
Italy has become the first developed economy to sign up to China's global investment programme which has raised concerns among Italy's Western allies. A total of 29 deals amounting to €2.5bn ($2.8bn) were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Rome. The project is seen as a new Silk Road which, just like the ancient trade route, aims to link China to Europe. Italy's European Union allies and the United States have expressed concern at China's growing influence. The new Silk Road has another name - the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geo-political and strategic influence. It has already funded trains, roads, and ports, with Chinese construction firms given lucrative contracts to connect ports and cities - funded by loans from Chinese banks. The levels of debt owed by African and South Asian nations to China have raised concerns in the West and among citizens - but roads and railways have been built that would not exist otherwise. On behalf of Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, signed the umbrella deal (memorandum of intent) making Italy formally part of the Economic Silk Road and The Initiative for a Maritime Silk Road for the 21st Century. Ministers then signed deals over energy, finance, and agricultural produce, followed by the heads of big Italian gas and energy, and engineering firms - which will be offered entry into the Chinese market. China's Communications and Construction Company will be given access to the port of Trieste to enable links to central and eastern Europe. The Chinese will also be involved in developing the port of Genoa.
3-22-19 China is Number One in computing power
The U.S. is building a $500 million supercomputer that can reach “exascale” performance. That’s a quintrillion calculations per second, seven times faster than today’s fastest system. China has 227 machines on the top 500 list of the world’s most powerful computers, compared with 109 for the United States.
3-6-19 China plans world's first deep sea base, complete with robot subs
IMAGINE a structure thousands of metres under the ocean surface that is home to autonomous robots. One by one, the vehicles leave, mapping terrain and looking for unusual creatures. We know very little about life at these depths, but such robots could uncover a bit more with every trip. As their power runs low, they return to tell HQ what they have discovered and recharge their batteries. This is the vision for China’s ambitious plan to build the world’s first deep-sea base. Details are scarce, but there are clues to what it may be like in prototypes, documents from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is leading the project and which aims to have results within five years, and comments from China’s president Xi Jinping. The base itself will probably include a chamber to trap passing organisms, such as the weird eels, sharks or sea cucumbers that inhabit the deep ocean. If brought to the surface, these creatures often die. So being able to study them in the base will help our understanding of how they survive at these depths. Below about 200 metres, hardly any sunlight penetrates, so solar panels are useless. A base will need a power cord that can reach a surface ship or the shore. China has built several prototypes of robot submarine docking stations in recent years. Each looks like a giant megaphone and a torpedo-shaped submarine docks in the cone part to recharge and transmit data. Currently, the docking system has only been tested to a depth of 105 metres. The ocean floor is still largely unexplored. Less than 1 per cent is currently mapped in detail. So robot submarines will include sonar to reveal what is where with much greater resolution. One advantage of a permanent base is it allows you to see how things change over time, rather than just getting a snapshot by sending down a submarine for a single visit, says Jon Copley at the University of Southampton, UK. (Webmaster's comment: Chine is taking the lead in remote-control automonous operations, first on the moon, and now on the ocean floor.)
2-15-19 Meet the man who made CRISPR monkey clones to study depression
Hung-Chun Chang hopes his work will lead to new treatments for depression and schizophrenia. One year after the birth of the world’s first two cloned primates, a team in China has used CRISPR gene editing and cloning to create monkeys that show some symptoms of depression and schizophrenia. While some researchers have praised the work’s potential for helping us understand psychiatric disorders in humans, others have raised ethical concerns. Lead scientist Hung-Chun Chang, of the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, told New Scientist about how he hopes the monkeys will help us better understand mental health and find new treatments. (Webmaster's comment: Note that the cutting-edge research is being done in CHINA!)
- How did you create these monkeys? We are working on the BMAL1 gene, which affects how our body responds to the day-night cycle.
- What symptoms do these monkeys have? The most direct result is that they are not getting enough sleep.
- How can you know that these aren’t just symptoms of sleep deprivation? It’s impossible to separate the effects of sleep deprivation on monkey’s mental state from their genetic mutation.
- What are you hoping to learn from this work? We will use these monkeys for drug testing
- Couldn’t this research be done in mice or people? Monkeys have an identical body clock to humans.
- Is it ethical to genetically engineer monkeys to be depressed? Gene editing in cynomolgus monkeys, the species we used here, is permitted worldwide.
- What else is your team is working on? We are trying to create an Alzheimer’s model.
1-15-19 First moon plants sprout in China’s Chang’e 4 biosphere experiment
A sprouting cotton seed on China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander is the first plant ever to germinate on another world, heralding a new era for life in space. Seeds of cotton, oilseed rape, potato and arabidopsis were carried to the moon as part of a biosphere experiment, along with fruit fly eggs and some yeast. Pictures sent back by the probe show cotton, rape and potato seeds sprouting and growing well, the scientist leading the experiment, Liu Hanlong, told South China Morning Post. Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon on 3 January and this image was dated 7 January. The organisms are kept in a sealed chamber, protected from the extreme temperatures and intense radiation on the moon’s surface. Understanding how to grow plants in space will help lay the foundation for establishing a human settlement on the moon, Liu said. The six organisms could make up a mini-ecosystem, with plants producing oxygen and food to sustain the fruit flies. Yeast could process the flies’ waste and dead plants to provide another food source. In a future human settlement, potatoes could provide food, rapeseed could be a source of oil and cotton could be used for clothing. Plants have been grown before in orbit in the International Space Station, including cucumbers. Astronauts got their first bites of space-grown romaine lettuce in 2015. Algae have even managed to survive 530 days on a panel on the outside of the space station. (Webmaster's comment: But the fact remains, China is taking the lead in space achievements.)
1-3-19 China’s Chang’e 4 makes historic first landing on the moon’s far side
For the first time, a spacecraft has landed on the side of the moon that is always facing away from Earth – an area that, until now, we had only seen from orbit. The China National Space Administration’s Chang’e 4 lander launched on 7 December and has spent the past month reaching the correct orbit to attempt the historic landing. The CNSA also launched a lunar satellite in May to facilitate communication with the lander, as there is never a direct line of sight between the moon’s far side and Earth. That lack of visibility meant that Chang’e 4 had to make its landing almost completely autonomously, with no input from mission control. At 10.26 am Beijing time on 3 January, the lander successfully touched down on the surface in an enormous depression called the South Pole-Aitken basin. This basin is particularly important because it is thought to be a crater from a huge impact during the moon’s early years. The impact may have punched through the crust and dug up rocks from deeper underground. If so, the spacecraft will be able to study these rocks to learn about the moon’s past as well as its present. The mission will also help prepare for the moon’s possible future. Researchers are keen to send radio telescopes to the far side of the moon, where radio wave pollution from Earth’s communications and power lines is blocked out. Chang’e 4 is also carrying a “biosphere” with potato seeds, cress and silkworm larvae to see if they can thrive in a sealed container on the moon. (Webmaster's comment: China is now the undisputed leader in space technology. United states now only leads in its number of military killing machines.)
11-26-18 World’s first gene-edited babies announced by a scientist in China
A woman in China has given birth to two genetically edited baby girls, according to the Associated Press news agency. The aim of the experiment was to create children who are immune to HIV, but it hasn’t yet been independently reviewed or verified. The experiment has been widely condemned as unethical, even by those who are in favour of using gene editing in eggs, sperm or embryos to prevent diseases in children if it can be done safely. “If true, this experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit,” says ethicist Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford. “There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals.” “There is no pressing need for this – it’s totally inappropriate,” says Greg Neely at the University of Sydney, Australia. HIV enters and infects cells by binding to a protein on the surface called CCR5. The team in China, led by He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, says it has used the CRISPR gene editing technique to try to disable the gene for CCR5. One aspect of the experiment that has come under criticism is that we don’t yet know if it is safe to delete both copies of the CCR5 gene – which is involved in immunity – in every cell of the body. “We don’t know what the full effects will be,” says Neely. Seven pairs of men and women reportedly took part in the experiment. All of the men were HIV-positive, and, according to the Associated Press, each couple was offered free IVF treatment in exchange for participating in what was described on ethical consent forms as an “AIDS vaccine development programme”. The team behind the work says the couples were fully informed about the experiment.
11-13-18 China may have developed a quantum radar that can spot stealth planes
A company claims to have created a quantum radar that can detect stealth aircraft and see through the radar jamming used to hide warplanes. Defence giant China Electronics Technology Group Corporation displayed the prototype at the Zhuhai air show last week. Stealth aircraft avoid detection by redirecting most of a radar system’s radio waves, which usually reflect off their surface and reveal their location. In theory, a quantum radar can overcome this by using two streams of entangled photons. These are pairs of photons that have a weird connection so a change to one affects the other, even if they are miles apart. The first photon stream is sent out, like a standard radar beam, and bounces off objects in the sky. The second stream remains inside the system. Because the photons are entangled, the returning photons can be matched with those in the stay-at-home stream, so all background noise can be filtered out. This includes deliberate interference, such as radar jamming or spoofing signals put out to confuse radar. What is left is a clear image of the target, with no extraneous signal. “Without being able to take the lid off what has been shown here, we can’t be sure if this is an elaborate hoax,” says Alan Woodward at the University of Surrey, UK. But China has form with quantum technology, having surprised the world with the speed at which it developed the first quantum satellite communications. If the quantum radar is real, it would be the first of its kind. This technology would significantly reduce the ability of stealth aircraft, such as some bombers, to remain undetected, says Justin Bronk at UK defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute. Although not necessarily grounding operations, it could make them more dangerous. (Webmaster's comment: So much for American military technological superiority!)
8-9-18 Organic solar cells set 'remarkable' energy record
Chinese researchers have taken what they say is a major step forward for the development of a new generation of solar cells. Manufacturers have long used silicon to make solar panels because the material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But organic photovoltaics, made from carbon and plastic, promise a cheaper way of generating electricity. This new study shows that organics can now be just as efficient as silicon. The term organic relates to the fact that carbon-based materials are at the heart of these devices, rather than silicon. The square or rectangular solid solar panels that most of us are familiar with, require fixed installation points usually on roofs or in flat fields. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) can be made of compounds that are dissolved in ink so they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic, they can bend or curve around structures or even be incorporated into clothing. Commercial solar photovoltaics usually covert 15-22% of sunlight, with a world record for a silicon cell of 27.3% reached in this summer in the UK. Organics have long lingered at around half this rate, but this year has seen some major leaps forward. In April researchers were able to reach 15% in tests. Now this new study pushes that beyond 17% with the authors saying that up to 25% is possible. This is important because according to estimates, with a 15% efficiency and a 20 year lifetime, organic solar cells could produce electricity at a cost of less than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2017, the average cost of electricity in the US was 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
6-8-18 China to surpass the U.S.
China is on track to surpass the U.S. in spending on scientific research by the end of this year. The U.S. spends $500 billion annually on research, but China has been increasing its spending by an average of 18 percent a year, and is now luring foreign scientists and retaining Chinese who used to emigrate to the U.S.
5-21-18 China launched a satellite to help explore the moon’s far side
A satellite launched on 21 May will allow China's upcoming moon lander – the first to visit the far side – to receive commands and send data back to Earth. China is getting ready for a trip to the far side of the moon. On 21 May, the China National Space Administration launched a satellite that will relay information between Earth and a planned moon lander and rover, both set to launch in late 2018. The satellite – called Queqiao, which means Magpie Bridge – launched from southwest China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 4C rocket. Chang’e 4, the moon lander, will be the first spacecraft ever to land on the far side of the moon, if all goes to plan. Because the far side always faces away from Earth, the lander will not be able to communicate directly with its operators – any commands sent to it, or data sent back, would be blocked by the moon itself. To solve that problem, a satellite that sits in the line of sight both of the lander and Earth’s surface is needed to relay information back and forth. There is a special spot in space that’s ideal for that, called L2, which is about 64,000 kilometres past the moon. At that spot, the combined gravity of the sun and Earth counteract the forces that could tug an object out of orbit. It’s a perfect spot to park a spacecraft, because it can sit there without constantly firing its thrusters. It’s also a place particularly well-suited for Queqiao. From L2, the satellite will have a view of the entire far side when the moon passes in front of Earth. Queqiao will be placed into a “halo” orbit that circles L2, so that it will still have a line of sight to Earth even when is the moon blocks out part of the planet.
5-20-18 China is set to launch a satellite to support a future lunar rover
The rover will be the first to visit the farside of the moon. The Chinese space program is set to launch a satellite aimed at supporting future communications from a planned mission to the farside of the moon. The Chang’e-4 mission, which will include a rover and a lander, would be the first to visit the moon’s farside. In the first of a two-launch plan to get all the pieces in place, the supporting relay satellite, named Queqiao, is scheduled to lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on May 21, Chinese media report. The three-day launch window opens at 5 a.m. Beijing time (5 p.m. EDT on May 20), according to the Chinese online news site GB Times. Queqiao will go to an orbit beyond the moon that will allow it to communicate simultaneously with points on both the moon and Earth. It will also carry a Dutch-built radio telescope, which will be switched on in 2019 to search for long-wavelength signals from the universe’s first stars. The Chang’e-4 rover and lander were originally built as backups for the Chang’e-3 mission, which landed two spacecraft on the moon in 2013. Another 2019 mission, Chang’e-5, aims to bring back the first rocks from the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.
4-27-18 Toughest ever heat shields made of springy sponge-like stuff
Chinese scientists have developed a compressible aerogel that has shown in early heat shield tests to be 5 times more resilient than previous materials. The first highly compressible yet heat-resistant material for spacecraft heat shields has been developed – and in early tests, it is proving five times more resilient to vibration and shock damage than any previous material. Heat shield tiles like those used on NASA’s space shuttle, which prevented it from being incinerated on re-entry, were often found to be heavily damaged when the spacecraft landed. This made reuse of the shuttle a slow and expensive business. The damage was due to the fragile nature of the ultralight, ceramic aerogel that the tiles were made of. This material has such low density it is known as ‘frozen smoke’ – its filigree-like structure of silicon dioxide nanoparticles means it weighs only as much as three times the same volume of air. But they are utterly miraculous heat insulators: it’s possible to hold a piece in one hand while blow torching the other side of it, with no ill effects. Still, their fragility has always been their downfall. Until now, that is. A team of chemists led by Bin Ding and Yang Si at Donghua University in China, have engineered a compressible aerogel that can cope with severe vibration without shattering. A traditional ceramic aerogel, says Si, is comprised of silicon dioxide nanoparticles strung together like discrete beads on a necklace, which is inherently brittle. Their new aerogel, called a ceramic nanofibrous aerogel, is made from continuous, flexible ceramic nanofibres which are much less prone to snapping. (Webmaster's comment: Another cutting-edge invention by the Chinese.)
4-26-18 Robot port in China to unload shipping containers without humans
Driverless vehicles will make the global shipping network cheaper and more efficient – and cost jobs. On an overcast spring morning in the port of Caofeidian in northeastern China, a vast ship-to-shore crane whisks a fully-laden shipping container through the air and onto an idling truck. Though there’s a human sitting inside, a careful observer would spot that the truck is calling all the shots. That’s because the vehicle is one of a fleet of five autonomous trucks that a Chinese startup called TuSimple is using to ferry containers around the terminal. A few other ports use trucks that follow paths marked by magnets or sensors embedded in the ground but Caofeidaian is the first to use vehicles that can navigate a port by themselves. It’s like moving from trams to cars. The goal of the pilot project is to demonstrate the ability of autonomous vehicles to perform the role of a so-called “terminal tractor,” bearing containers from the shore to the cargo yard. “At this stage, we want to achieve high-level reliability and consistency of autonomous terminal tractors rather than moving lots of containers,” says TuSimple’s Bruce Ouyang. By the end of the year Ouyang wants to replace all the human-piloted terminal trucks deployed at Caofeidian with 20 self-driving models. The cranes loading the containers will be autonomous too, with a central system coordinating the movements of both the cranes and trucks. In total, they will have to process 300,000 standard-sized containers per year to match the current throughput of the port.
4-18-18 Will China beat the world to nuclear fusion and clean energy?
In a world with an ever-increasing demand for electricity and a deteriorating environment, Chinese scientists are leading the charge to develop what some see as the holy grail of energy. Imagine limitless energy with virtually no waste at all: this is the lofty promise of nuclear fusion. On Science Island in Eastern China's Anhui Province, there is a large gleaming metal doughnut encased in an enormous shiny, round box about as big as a two-storey apartment. This is the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (or EAST). Inside, hydrogen atoms fuse and become helium which can generate heat at several times the temperature of the sun's core. Powerful magnets then control the reaction, which could one day produce vast amounts of electricity if maintained. Around the globe, they are trying to master nuclear fusion - in the United States, Japan, Korea, Brazil and European Union - but none can hold it steady for as long as the team in Anhui. Right now that's 100 seconds and it gets longer every year. Here they're already talking about goals which are 10 times as long, at temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius. But there's a reason why fusion has eluded scientists and engineers since the early advances in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It is really difficult. (Webmaster's comment: Notice it was the Soviet Union that led the way. My money is on the Chinese, the new leaders of high tech!)
2-2-18 Leaked photos suggest China may now have a hypersonic railgun
A ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun, firing projectiles at more than Mach 6 over great distances, could let China dominate the seas. Photos published online yesterday suggest that China may be testing a ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun. If confirmed it would make China the first nation to develop such a superweapon, with potential implications for the power-struggle between China and the US in Asia. A railgun uses electromagnetic force to fire projectiles along electrically charged rails at very high speeds. The US has been developing its own railgun technology over the last 10 years. In tests, prototype weapons shot projectiles at speeds around 7800 kilometres an hour – more than Mach 6 – with a range of around 150 kilometres. But after sinking $500 BILLION into the project, the US government pulled the plug last year. China appears to be ploughing ahead, however. Making a railgun that would be reliable in combat is hard because of the huge pressures exerted on the structure of the gun. Mounting it on a ship adds extra challenges. If China succeeds, it could change the balance of power at sea, says Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute in the UK. “There isn’t really a known defence mechanism against a railgun shot at high Mach numbers,” he says. “It’s too fast and too small for current anti-ship missile and anti-aircraft defence systems.” “If they can get it integrated as a major component into their future fleet arsenal, it will give them a really significant edge over the US navy,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: Another first for China. They can make the technology work, the United States cannot. Their engineers are simply better than ours.)
8-23-17 First underwater entanglement could lead to unhackable comms
First underwater entanglement could lead to unhackable comms
A Chinese experiment suggests submarines could use quantum communication to send messages secured by the laws of physics. The weird world of quantum mechanics is going for a swim. A team of Chinese researchers has, for the first time, transmitted quantum entangled particles of light through water – the first step in using lasers to send underwater messages that are impossible to intercept. “People have talked about the idea of underwater quantum communication before, but I’m not aware of anyone who has done an experiment like this,” says Thomas Jennewein at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “An obvious application would be a submarine which wants to remain submerged but communicate in a secure fashion.” Entanglement starts with a beam of light shot into a crystal. This prism splits the light into pairs of photons with strangely linked behaviour. Manipulate one particle in a pair, and its partner will instantly react. Measure the first one’s polarisation, for example, and entanglement could ensure that its twin will have the opposite polarisation when measured. These entangled photons can theoretically be used to set up a secure communication line between two people, with privacy guaranteed by the laws of physics.
8-22-17 China’s quantum submarine detector could seal South China Sea
China’s quantum submarine detector could seal South China Sea
A major advance in SQUIDs, quantum devices that measure magnetic fields, could allow China to detect submarines at longer range than anyone else. On 21 June, the Chinese Academy of Sciences hailed a breakthrough – a major upgrade to a kind of quantum device that measures magnetic fields. The announcement vanished after a journalist pointed out the invention’s potential military implications: it could help China lock down the South China Sea. “I was surprised by the removal,” says Stephen Chen of the South China Morning Post, who raised the issue. “I have been covering Chinese science for many years, and it is rare.” Magnetometers have been used to detect submarines since the second world war. They are able to do this because they can measure an anomaly in Earth’s magnetic field – like one caused by a massive hunk of metal. But today’s devices can only detect a submarine at fairly short range, so tend to be used to home in on the location once the sub has already been spotted on sonar. You could widen their range if you had a magnetometer based on a superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID. Superconducting magnetometers are exquisitely sensitive, but their promise has been limited to the lab. Out in the real world, they are quickly overwhelmed by background noise as minuscule as changes in Earth’s magnetic field caused by distant solar storms. Given that level of sensitivity, you can forget about mounting such a sensor on an airplane, for example. The US Navy gave up work on superconducting magnetometers to pursue less sensitive but more mature technologies. (Webmaster's comment: In other words the United States couldn't do it.)
8-10-17 Chinese satellite sends 'hack-proof' message
Chinese satellite sends 'hack-proof' message
China has successfully sent "hack-proof" messages from a satellite to Earth for the first time. The Micius satellite beamed messages to two mountain-top receiving stations 645 km (400 miles) and 1,200 km away. The message was protected by exploiting quantum physics, which says any attempt to eavesdrop on it would make detectable changes. Using satellites avoids some limitations that ground-based systems introduce into quantum communication. Complicated optics on the Chinese satellite protect messages with entangled photons - sub-atomic particles of light manipulated so that some of their key properties are dependent on each other. The curious laws of the quantum realm dictate that any attempt to measure these key properties irrevocably changes them. By encoding a key to encrypt data using entangled photons, it becomes possible to send messages confident that they have reached a recipient free of interference. Ground-based encryption systems that use entangled photons have been available for years. However, the maximum distance over which messages can be sent securely is about 200km. This is because the fibre-optic cables through which they travel gradually weaken the signals. Repeater stations can boost distances but that introduces weak points that attackers may target to scoop up messages. By contrast, laser signals sent through the atmosphere or via satellites in space can travel much further before being weakened. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese increase their lead in this cutting-edge technology.)
7-25-17 China set to launch an 'unhackable' internet communication
China set to launch an 'unhackable' internet communication
As malicious hackers mount ever more sophisticated attacks, China is about to launch a new, "unhackable" communications network - at least in the sense that any attack on it would be quickly detected. The technology it has turned to is quantum cryptography, a radical break from the traditional encryption methods around. The Chinese project in the city of Jinan has been touted as a milestone by state media. The pioneering project is also part of a bigger story: China is taking the lead in a technology in which the West has long been hesitant to invest. In the Jinan network, some 200 users from the military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. China's push in quantum communication means the country is taking huge strides developing applications that might make the increasingly vulnerable internet more secure. Applications that other countries soon might find themselves buying from China. So, what is this technology into which the country is pouring massive resources? (Webmaster's comment: Again China takes the lead. They are not cutting their investments in science, like Trump is cutting ours!)
7-7-17 China’s quantum satellite adds two new tricks to its repertoire
China’s quantum satellite adds two new tricks to its repertoire
Era of ultrasecure communication inches closer. China’s quantum satellite has met two more milestones, performing quantum teleportation and transmitting quantum encryption keys through space. Scientists teleported the properties of photons, or particles of light, from a ground station in Tibet to the satellite. A record-breaking quantum satellite has again blown away the competition, achieving two new milestones in long-distance quantum communications through space. In June, Chinese researchers demonstrated that the satellite Micius could send entangled quantum particles to far-flung locations on Earth, their properties remaining intertwined despite being separated by more than 1,200 kilometers (SN Online: 6/15/17). Now researchers have used the satellite to teleport particles’ properties and transmit quantum encryption keys. The result, reported in two papers published online July 3 and July 4 at arXiv.org, marks the first time the two techniques have been demonstrated in space. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese have taken a clear lead in this cutting edge technology. In response Trump has cut our science budget.)