Category Archives: Science and Technology

Videos: Greenhouse lettuce for Antarctica + Greenhouse citrus for Nebraska

The TMRO Science program recently had an interesting long-distance conversation with Paul Zaber, a scientist working with the EDEN-ISS project in Antarctica. The project involves operating a greenhouse in Antarctica to learn how foods can be grown more effectively in a closed-loop environment. This has applications for space habitation as well as for food production on Earth.

The goal of the EDEN ISS project is to advance controlled environment agriculture technologies beyond the state-of-the-art. It focuses on ground demonstration of plant cultivation technologies and their application in space. EDEN ISS develops safe food production for on-board the International Space Station (ISS) and for future human space exploration vehicles and planetary outposts.


Operating a greenhouse in Nebraska may seem to be a far less interesting challenge than doing so in Antarctica but growing tropical fruits and other warm climate plants in a region that often reaches -20°F (about -30°C) in winter is not a trivial accomplishment.

Retiree Russ Finch has developed a clever low-cost approach to keeping the inside of a northern latitude greenhouse temperate year round using underground warmth, i.e. geothermal heat. Rather than a complex and expensive system involving an anti-freeze fluid controlled with pumps and valves, he designed a simple low-cost system with fans blowing air through plastic tubes buried about 2 meters below the surface. The ground at that depth stays constant at about 50°F (10°C)  year round. He grows oranges, lemons, and many other tropical fruits and vegetables in his greenhouse.

From the caption to the video:

… retired mailman Russ Finch grows oranges in his backyard greenhouse without paying for heat. Instead, he draws on the earth’s stable temperature (around 52 degrees in his region) to grow warm weather produce- citrus, figs, pomegranates – in the snow.

Finch first discovered geothermal heating in 1979 when he and his wife built it into their 4400-square-foot dream home to cut energy costs. Eighteen years later they decided to add a 16’x80′ greenhouse in the backyard. The greenhouse resembles a pit greenhouse (walipini) in that the floor is dug down 4 feet below the surface and the roof is slanted to catch the southern sun.

To avoid using heaters for the cold Nebraska winter nights, Finch relies on the warm underground air fed into the greenhouse via plastic tubing under the yard and one fan.

For more about Finch’s greenhouse designs, see Citrus In The Snow- Geothermal Greenhouse

Over 40 installations have now been built following Finch’s designs as outlined in his Citrus In The Snow Report.


The High Frontier: An Easier Way

Sci-Tech: Plimp hybrid airship, Drone with ion drive propulsion, Audi’s 2-part flying car, UrbanAero Cormorant

The VTOL Plimp Hybrid Airship avoids two problems with airplanes and helicopters. If an airplane’s speed drops below a critical value in horizontal flight it will stall and fall quickly to earth.  A helicopter plummets as well when there is a breakdown in its complex rotor system. The Plimp will take off vertically with the simplicity of an airship and fall slowly back to earth if the engine stops working or there is a leak in its balloon. So far. the design has been tested by Egan Airships with a scaled drone version:

Find more videos here.


An MIT group has demonstrated an ionic drive that is powerful enough to propel a drone: MIT engineers fly first-ever plane with no moving parts | MIT News

Now MIT engineers have built and flown the first-ever plane with no moving parts. Instead of propellers or turbines, the light aircraft is powered by an “ionic wind” — a silent but mighty flow of ions that is produced aboard the plane, and that generates enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained, steady flight.

Unlike turbine-powered planes, the aircraft does not depend on fossil fuels to fly. And unlike propeller-driven drones, the new design is completely silent.

“This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” says Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. “This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”

More at


Audi is developing a new approach to the age-old pursuit of a flying car. Here the electric car does not have built-in wings or rotors but instead docks to a drone-like flight module that carries the car to its destination. So far Audi engineers are testing the concept with 1:4 scale models: Audi is starting to test its ‘all-electric flying and self-driving car’ – Electrek


Urban Aero has posted a video of a flight of the Cormorant from last spring. Looks similar to previous videos (i.e. it flies around a field) but the full scale vehicle does seem more stable:


Some interesting speculation on the impact that technologies such as electric VTOL vehicles, autopiloted cars, hyperloop, etc could have on rural life: Flying cars, robocars and more will rewrite the rural landscape, for good and ill | Brad Ideas

Just as these factors make rural life less of a compromise, they and other forces will make urban life better. Flying vehicles, robocars and many other factors here also make urban commuters shorter, and give even greater and faster access to things for urban dwellers. For those who value many urban things the city will not lose its advantage, though the balance shifts. The ability to have easily accessible vacation property may encourage people who crave both urban and rural living to have both, and to switch between them not just for the weekend.


Telescopes and Binoculars at Amazon

Sci-Tech: Volocopter to demo electric vertical take-off and landing air taxis in Singapore in 2019

I’ve posted here many times over the years about vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles, particularly those derived from electric multi-rotor drone style technologies. There are dozens of companies developing such vehicles for personal and commercial transport services. Volocopter is one such company in Germany whose VTOL vehicle designs clearly follow the drone approach and is nearing commercial takeoff. They just announced an agreement with the government o fSingapore to begin demonstration tests in 2019 of air taxi services:

Volocopter to Test its Electrical Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) Air Taxis in Singapore

Bruchsal/Paris/Singapore, October 2018 – Volocopter, the pioneer in urban air mobility, announced today during Autonomy – the Summit of Urban Mobility in Paris, that they will perform a next set of inner urban flight tests in Singapore. The series of test that are scheduled to take place in the second half of 2019 are supported by the Ministry of Transport (MOT), Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), and Economic Development Board (EDB).

These flight tests are designed to validate and verify the ability of Volocopter’s eVTOL vehicles to operate in Singapore’s urban environment and will culminate in public demo flights. Volocopter and CAAS will work together to establish the scope of the flight trials and ensure that the necessary requirements are met before flight tests are allowed to commence. In addition to the flight tests, Volocopter will be setting up a product design and engineering team in Singapore to support its expansion plans. They are also looking for real-estate developers, mobility providers and businesses ready to join their quest to enable air taxis in Singapore.

Volocopters are emission-free, electrically powered aircraft that take off and land vertically. They resemble a helicopter in looks, but are based on drone technology and can fly two people for just short of 30 km. The Volocopter is designed specifically for inner city missions. It features an extremely stable flight allowing it to maneuver micro turbulences around skyscrapers, thus offering a smooth ride for passengers. It is so quiet that at a flight height of 100 m, it cannot be heard over the typical background noise of a city.

“There is potential for air taxis, or eVTOLs, to transform mobility and logistics in urban cities. Volocopter is at the forefront of such new and innovative technology in the aviation industry. CAAS is pleased to work together with Volocopter to study the technical capabilities and develop appropriate operational guidelines to facilitate such trials in Singapore,”

said Mr. Ho Yuen Sang, Director (Aviation Industry), CAAS.

Mr. Tan Kong Hwee, Executive Director EDB Singapore said, “Volocopter’s decision to set up a local product design and engineering team in Singapore is a testament to Singapore’s aerospace engineering talent, as well as our prime position for industry players. We are excited to welcome Volocopter to Singapore and look forward to our future partnerships.”

“We are getting ready to start implementing the first fixed routes in cities,” says Florian Reuter CEO of Volocopter. “Singapore is a logical partner: The city is a true pioneer in technology and city development. We are confident this is another exciting step to make air taxi services a reality.”

Volocopter holds a preliminary permit to fly from the German authorities since 2016 and is cooperating with the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) to receive a full commercial license. They fly regularly in Germany and have performed numerous public flights.

First manned flight with Alexander Zosel in March 2016.

In September 2017 Volocopter performed a public unmanned test flight in Dubai, where they partnered with the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai in their endeavor to implement air taxis into the public transportation mix.

You can find high-res images here >>

About Volocopter: Volocopter is the global leader in the development of electrical vertical take-off and landing multicopters (eVTOL) as autonomous air taxis to fly people safely to their destination. The technical platform is extremely flexible and permits piloted, remote controlled, and fully autonomous flight. In addition, the unique design offers unprecedented degrees of safety based on the high level of redundancy in all critical components. As early as 2011 the company earned its entry into the history of aviation through the manned flight of the world’s first purely electrical multicopter. Since then the young enterprise has set new milestones: In 2016 Volocopter was granted provisional licensing for a two-seater Volocopter by the German aviation authorities and in 2017 the aviation start-up showcased the first ever autonomous flight of an air taxi in cooperation with RTA Dubai. In the meantime, the founders Stephan Wolf and Alexander Zosel have gathered a team of experienced managers like CEO Florian Reuter, CTO Jan-Hendrik and CFO Rene Griemens. This paved the way for the further expansion of the company. Daimler and Intel are among the investors in the company.

Website:      |       YouTube:

Videos: Leading edge space technologies presented at the 2018 NIAC Symposium

Check out the latest leading edge technology ideas presented this week by winners of NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program grants at the 2018 NIAC Symposium underway in Boston till Thursday. The agenda (pdf) lists the talks and you can watch the presentations at the NIAC 2018 Livestream.

Below are videos of three of the sessions on Tuesday. The presenters included, for example, Ryan Weed of Positron Dynamics on antimatter catalyzed fusion propulsion, Stephanie Thomas of Princeton Satellite Systems on a plasma magnetic fusion propulsion design, and James Woodward of the Space Studies Institute on a Mach Effect drive.

This video from Princeton Satellite Systems describes their fusion propulsion design: