Category Archives: Science and Technology

Sci-tech: Tri-Alpha Fusion opens up

Tri-Alpha Fusion, a spin-off from the plasma fusion program at the University of California at Irvine, has been working for more than 15 years on an innovative design for a nuclear fusion power system. The company has raised over $140M in investment from venture capital firms and notables such as Paul Allen. However, except for occasional science publications, it has been very secretive about its progress and plans.

After years of research and development, including development of multiple variations of C-2-style devices, TAE demonstrated sustained stable plasma performance in the C-2U device in June 2015, based on the use of neutral beams and electrical control of the boundary layer. Credits TAE.
This week the company, which is based in California, opened the website with background info and goals for the company along with videos, images, and graphics.

The C-2U machine is the world’s largest compact toroid (CT) device. At 20 meters in length, a diameter up to 1.4 meters, and with hundreds of ports, the device routinely achieves vacuum pressures nearly 1 trillionth of atmospheric pressure. Magnetic fields with strengths up to 3.5 Tesla guide and confine plasma, while pulsed power systems deliver approximately 1 megajoule of energy in microseconds, forming and accelerating CTs to 600,000 miles per hour. Credits TAE.
Tri-Alpha is aiming to produce energy with a proton-Boron fusion reaction, which does not produce neutrons.  This requires much higher temperatures and density than with, for example, tritium-deuterium, the fuel planned for the popular Tokamak fusion approach. However, all the complications of dealing with neutrons, such as making the structural materials radioactive, are avoided. Also, extraction of useful energy should be much easier.

Here is the “corporate video”:

TAE says that in June of this year it

demonstrated a significant breakthrough in addressing “long enough,” the most fundamental scientific challenge:  the company delivered sustained plasma performance in its C-2U machine. This milestone is indicative of indefinite plasma life, limited only by the constraints of current hardware and not by underlying physics. We believe this is a first for a compact, commercially competitive fusion technology.

They sound confident that they now have the basics necessary to produce commercial power:

TAE is determined to deliver clean fusion energy technology that can provide sustainable, commercially competitive base load power and help achieve global energy independence. We are now confident we have sufficient science and engineering understanding to accomplish our goal.

However, they need to work through at least one more iteration in the machine design before they can start developing a practical power generator:

TAE is next addressing the “hot enough” challenge. Both sophisticated modeling and actual performance data already indicate that the TAE plasma will perform better and better at higher and higher temperatures (“scaling law”). The company is currently designing new experiments and hardware (called C-2W) to validate this scaling law over the next three to four years.

TAE also has started to engage with utility and industrial partners to jointly develop a commercialization plan to license its technology. The key aspects of this plan are to determine the regulatory framework and demonstrate technology readiness. It is TAE’s vision to move as fast as possible toward a fusion-based power generation capability.

Here is a video outlining the physics of the system:

Update: I’ll note that the Univ. of Washington spin-off companies Helion Energy and MSNW LLC, both led by Dr. John Slough, a professor at UW, are using a similar FRC (Field Reverse Configuration) approach to both fusion power and fusion propulsion. These companies have less funding than TAE but still might make it a race with the financing that they do have.


Sci-Tech: Terrafugia to test scale prototype of roadable VTOL vehicle

I mentioned here back in May that Terrafugia was developing a second generation flying car called the  TF-X™. Unlike the company’s current Transition® roadable airplane, the TF-X will take-off and land vertically while also being able to be driven on roads.

Recently the FAA granted Terrafugia permission to test a 1/10 scale unmanned prototype of the TF-X: FAA Grants Terrafugia sUAS Exemption for TF-X™ Flight Testing – Terrafugia.

Here is a video showing how the TF-X would operate:

Sci-Tech: Videos – JetPack Aviation demos new JB-9 in NYC + Two Jetmen fly with A380 + Martin Jetpack update

JetPack Aviation is developing a dual jet turbine powered backpack that will keep a person aloft for up to 10 minutes (vs 30 seconds or so from traditional H2O2 powered rocket packs). Here is a recent demo of their latest model: The World’s Only Jetpack Soars Past the Statue of Liberty New York – JPA – Nov.4.2015

We’ve been test flying JB-9 for several years with awesome results. It is inherently stable but also capable of very dynamic maneuvers thanks to our approach to engine vectoring. Early testing of our next version, JB-10, indicates that it will achieve flights of over 10,000 feet altitude (not that many pilots will be needing to fly that high!), at speeds greater than 100 mph and with an endurance of 10 minutes + (depending on pilot weight).

All with a device you can put in the back seat of a car!


Meanwhile, two Jetmen (Yves Rossy and Vince Reffet) in a completely different sort of back pack jet powered system jumped from a helicopter and flew in formation with an Airbus 380 over Dubai:


Martin Aircraft‘s JetPack (which actually uses ducted fans instead of jets and is more of a platform than a back pack) continues to move towards commercial sales in second half of 2016. The company’s vehicles have been earning New Zealand permits for manned flight.

Glenn Martin, who was the founder and primary force behind the company’s technology, resigned in June primarily due to the fact that the new corporate management had decided to focus on the emergency services market rather than on personal flight: Jetpack firm founder Glenn Martin resigns suddenly –

Here are videos of recent unmanned test flights:

This link goes to an interview with the current head of the company: Edison Investment Research Interview with Martin Jetpack – 13 October 2015 –

In this video interview, CEO and Managing Director Peter Coker discusses the technical aspects and potential applications for the Martin Jetpack, capitalising on its flexibility in demanding operational environments. He also outlines the ability to continue to fund the programme to full commercialisation. First commercial delivery is expected in the second half of 2016, with emergency first responders the initial target market. The move from a research-led, non-revenue company to a fully industrialised manufacturer provides an interesting proposition as future technical milestones are achieved, with technical risk mitigation a current priority.

Video- “Astrochemistry: Putting the Astro in Astrobiology”

Alexander Tielens of the University of Leiden talks in this SETI Institute seminar about Astrochemistry: putting the astro in astrobiology.

The first half or so of the talk, which is suitable for a general audience, Tielens gives a overview of exoplanet discoveries, how planets are formed, and the basics of how life could have arisen on earth. In the rest of the talk, he goes into the details of the research into how the  chemical building blocks of early life could have been formed.

From the caption:

Astrobiology, the study of emergence of life and the its distribution in the Universe, addresses the most fundamental questions in science: “How does life begin ?” and “Are we alone ?” Over the last 20 years, we have discovered that planets are bountiful in the galaxy and that one in every five solar-type stars has a planet in the habitable zone. We have learned that extremophiles have spread to essential every niche – even the seemingly most inhospitable ones – on our planet. And we have learned that life started essentially as soon as conditions permitted, within some 200 million of the late heavy bombardment, or perhaps even earlier.

This has resulted in a paradigm shift from “Life on Earth is unique” to the premise “life is widespread”. As a result, searching for biosignatures in space has taken on a life by itself. In this talk, Dr. Tielens will summarize this shift in our thinking and the global processes that may have influenced the first steps towards life.

The focus in this talk will be on astrochemistry – the starting point of astrobiology – the chemical evolution that takes place in space where simple molecules are transformed into complex molecules and complex molecules are broken down to simple ones. This chemical dance of the elements produces a wide variety of organic compounds. I will review the processes that drive this chemical evolution in space, particularly in regions of star and planet formation.

The focus will be on understanding the raw materials that are delivered to newly formed planets and their relationship to the building blocks from which prebiotic material was formed and biological systems evolve.

SciTech: Video of Magic Leap augmented reality demo

The secretive Magic Leap company is occasionally releasing videos that demonstrate its “augmented reality” system that can put animated objects into your field of view. Some hints of how the system works are being released as well: Magic Leap is about to build ‘millions’ of its augmented reality devices – The Verge

Little is known about Magic Leap’s device, but [company President and CEO Rony Abovitz] described it as a small, self-contained computer that people will feel comfortable using in public. It is believed to involve retinal projection, and evolved out of surgical research. (Abovitz’s previous business involved medical devices.) And when it arrives, Magic Leap will likely compete with Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is now taking applications for its development kits.

* This video was released today:

Shot directly through Magic Leap technology on 10/14/15, without the use of special effects or compositing.

This video is from last March: