All posts by Josh

Civics and Arts Practice

New Herberger Institute of Design and Arts (HIDA) Institute Professor Michael Rohd and his HDA 494/598 Civic Body: Art and Public Health class have been running graduate workshops with invited professionals and advanced graduate students to help his students frame their own work. Each guest uses civic engagement as part of their art, activism or other practice. This report includes descriptions of the sessions themselves and the two main methods Professor Rohd used to encourage dialogue.

Sessions

I participated in two sessions with the class as part of the GISER  (Graduates in Integrative Society & Environment Researchstudent group and my interests in transdisciplinary and participatory design practice. The main group was a class of graduate students being run by Professor Rohd and other participants included members of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP) and Sojourn Theatre and members of the ASU community. Several participants at the seminars had backgrounds not specifically related to health but all either had a creative practice, had worked in healthcare, worked in some related field or all of the above.

The first session involved meeting with the students in HDA 494/598 in a set of interview-and-report discussions. Each guest discussed their work in relation to civic practice with a few students, then the students reported to each other their findings. This was followed by a general discussion. Topics included sustainability (especially of arts), systems, connectivity, finding common language and academic silos. Questions that emerged included what are the incentives to communicate; and whether breaking down barriers is enough returning value. One participant suggested figuring out how to build community in splendid ways. Another suggested that even labels such as ‘creative capital’ & ‘social justice’ are already silos.

University-specific topics included critique of practices that turn universities into “management tools instead of places of investigation” and the university as a place of “ideological warfare”. One participant, who researches a vulnerable population described it as “I don’t want somebody else’s non-freedom to pay for me.” Another topic discussed was the difference between caring about an issue and actual policy and budget prioritizations that make a difference.

The second session involved more participants from outside the class, including members of CPCP and Sojourn who were visiting as part of a workshop series. Held in the old Ceramics Research Center, it featured a huge whiteboard wall that was used for recording questions on.

Some of those questions involved the civic body, health and how art can stitch fields together. Another topic was the difference between working in “intersectional space” versus silos. On the whiteboards, Professor Rohd had written a definition and six questions.

The group discussed the definitions of Civic Body posted, see image below. After some discussion the phrase, “Civic Body: embedding new practices into existing organizations.” was used as a working definition.

  1. What are challenges for your field for working on current problem?
  2. Who frames the challenges, priorities and goals in your field?
  3. What does your field strongly disagree about?
  4. In what ways do you currently collaborate to solve problems?
  5. What partners are in other fields who might help tackle issues in your field?
  6. What supports you working with these partners and what barriers?

Some of the discussion around these questions and the group’s answers included creating new “grassroots think tanks” around emerging issues and wicked problems. A student said they liked the “Yes, and…” energy in the room. Yes-And is used in design research, improvisational acting and other fields as a potent dialogic spur. Slowing down to experience the world and the gap between attention spans and current profit models was brought up, with a suggestion to stop for a moment and figure it out. Time and attention span came up repeatedly as enablers and limiters in both sessions.

A participant indicated that we were using many “connector” words – Doer, Maker and that we were discussing a lot of community versus individual work. Another pointed out that one person’s barriers are another’s support system. Another suggested that where money comes from, for arts in particular, influences the work. Both philanthropic organizations and Federal government funding affect the work while effecting it. This boiled down to what one participant described as “Do we actually have to have buy-in from large organizations to get the work done?”

One of the visiting performers described their personal work as working inside and dissolving fields. They also expressed an interest in why various work but centered around creative, non-profit performative arts has become so professionalized.

A guest graduate student suggested that people work together when their success is interdependent. Figuring out where and why to highlight communities of interdependence was the challenge. This also related to the discussion on time and attention spans.

A student said that often all the intelligence needed for community change exists inside that community. Often the only thing lacking is the resources to effect change. Collaboration is popular, but messy and it’s often uncertain how to collaborate. One student wanted to know what it means to be an infiltrator or accomplice and whether people are, or should be willing, to disrupt the status quo? The first  student said that there was lot of imposed language and that sharing dialogue before actual work begins is useful. They also said that struggle achieves equity. One of the guests wanted to know if the concepts connected with the reality of change and emphasized how important spirt is. All agreed that change and collaboration are messy and hard but needed.

Professor Rohd suggested a tactic for change was to turn allies into partners and that this leads to action. The critical question any organization needs to answer is how to build alliances that thrive in the struggle encountered? A guest suggested bonding time among collaborators helped and constantly doing things to maintain participant interest.

Another participant mentioned the importance of time, that sometimes a project needs twenty years to achieve it’s full potential. Some things work best when created quickly, some need these long incubations. Community means different things to different people, said another day-to-day survival is what leads to change, terms like social justice and community organization are tools, language.

There is a Tragic Gap that according to Rohd is the difference between “What does home mean to you?” and “How do we provide equitable housing?” This gap includes water, housing, infrastructure and institutional access inequities. Dangers include undoing other organization’s work or being involved in dreamy instead of grounded work. Grounding language and supporting infiltrators, disruptors and other allies inside institutions could be useful tools.

Pictures of the filled out question boards from the second session. A wide range of opinions and needs were expressed but all center on ways of engaging people, institutes and capabilities together.

Methods

The active discussion phase of the dialogue circle. The moderator is in green, students in gold and guests in maroon.

Generally, the methods used by Professor Rohd in these sessions were to encourage dialogue between participants. Any props such as notebooks, whiteboards or laptops were curated to remain as backdrop, even while prompting vigorous discussion. This is similar to the Dialogue Circles by Glenn Aparicio Parry of the former SEED Graduate Institute, but with whiteboards instead of talking sticks.

The active listening/student discussion phase of the dialogue circle. The moderator is in green, students in gold and guests in maroon.

Both sessions centered around a dialogue model that involves cycles of expansion and contraction, with participants being active listeners for a while then active discussers. Some of it happens organically, but the cycle between listening from the outside and being part of the discussion encourages reflection in a way that just being in a circle can limit.

The first session with the class consisted of a series of interview, report and discussion activities. Guests were matched up with pairs of students who had done some research and prepared questions for the visitors. The Q&A lasted about 10 minutes, followed by the students comparing notes in a circle. After that they brought the guests into the circle to talk. The session was finished with the guests having a few minutes to discuss while the students just listened.

The second session featured introductions and a short discussion on definitions, especially of the term Civic Body. This was followed with each guest having 30 seconds to answer each of the six questions on the wall. This fast format worked well with the questions posed because it kept everyone on point.  The questions were generic across practices and framed to spur short answers, which helped make it engaging. This data-gathering phase only lasted a few minutes. These question boards provided a record to discuss over for the rest of the session.

After the questions the guests gathered together and talked about the results. Then the students gathered in an inner circle and talked about the results, then brought the guests into the circle to continue through a final Q&A session. This cycle of discourse contraction and expansion can be repeated for longer workshops. It provides alternating analytic and observational phases for all participants. These formats could be combined with Six Thinking Hats technique, roleplaying or possibly some forms of active listening. Journaling segments and more cycles of contraction and expansion could be added during a longer session.

Participating in one of these sessions would have been interesting enough. Both sessions featured some great discussion and Professor Rohd’s techniques can be applied to almost any discussion session.

References

  • De Bono, E. (1985). Six thinking hats (1st U.S. ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.
  • http://originalthinking.us/

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Space Horizons 2017 — Destination: Alpha Centauri

“Space is caffeine for learning.” A.C. Clarke

Space Horizons 2017 — Destination: Alpha Centauri was held February 15th and 16th at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The annual Space Horizons conference covers almost-ready-for-flight space topics. The subject  was centered around sending swarms of tiny, postage-stamp sized spacecraft to our nearest neighboring star systems.

This report includes a general proposed architecture, the workshop schedule, some take-away observations and my initial design research output from the lunchtime poster session.

As always, Professor Rick Fleeter (Brown/La Sapienza) organized the workshop, this year with student lead Kat Pisani. The format varies some years, but this year it followed the pattern of a Wednesday early-arrivals talks followed by an intense, all-day workshop on Thursday consisting of panel discussions, talks by professionals and . The official website is  https://spacehorizons2017.wordpress.com/


General Proposed Architecture

Destination: Alpha Centauri examined proposals, research and funding to develop and fly swarms of postage-stamp sized spacecraft called WaferSats or ChipSats at relativistic speeds (0.3c is commonly cited) to the Alpha or Proxima Centauri (Rigel Kentauri) star systems. Rigel Kentauri is the current most-interesting target due being the closest star to our own Sun and confirmed to have planets.

Generally, a large phased-array laser Directed Energy (DE) cluster in the 100-300MW power range would be installed on the lunar Farside in such a way that it can’t ever face Earth or our geosynchronous satellites. The propulsion laser is automatically going to be perceived as a “weapon” so it needs to be emplaced cautiously for policy purposes. The laser array boosts each individual WaferSat to 30% light speed (.3c) in ten minutes and can propel about 40,000 chips per year in a continuous stream that extends between the stars. The result, in theory, is a massive, low resolution, interferometer stretching across several lightyears that contains the needed sensors to image planets and moons in the star system(s) they pass through. At .3c the WaferSats require about 20 years transit time to fly by the closest target stars.

Additional uses for the laser propulsion system include power transfer to other spacecraft as part of a space-based beamed-power network and for boosting much heavier payloads like crewed capsules. A 1-gram WaferSat can achieve .3c, a 10-ton capsule can be accelerated to get to Mars in a few weeks instead of six months, using the same system. Professor Fleeter describes this as, “The opposite of missions is infrastructure.” The technology advances could include in fiber laser amplifiers for photonics applications and system-on-a-chip devices for everything from aerospace to medicine to environmental monitoring. “There’s a lot to be done along the way and the more it has other uses the better.” according to Jordin Kare.

The teams working on various aspects of this include The Breakthrough Foundation, Dr. Lubin’s Experimental Cosmology Group at UCSB, Dr. Cahoy from MIT’s StarLab and LaserMotive, among others. Breakthrough has a budget of $100,000,000 dollars in overall funding between Starshot, Listen and their other space projects. This massive injection of private capital is important as it circumvents any protesting over government funding plus they award prizes to researchers doing useful work. UCSB’s Phil Lubin is developing WaferSat spacecraft and the phased-array lasers to drive them. Dr. Cahoy models communication systems at light-year distances and poses questions such as “How many photons do you need to form a bit?”. Jordin Kare of LaserMotive is turning his work on space elevators and laser-powered quadcopter drones toward the practical aspects of launching these relativistic WaferSats.

Other proposed technology paths and questions include using a diamond-wafer particle accelerator or other particle beam instead of lasers, using larger CubeSat-scale craft and whether each chip should communicate with Earth directly or intercommunicate in the swarm first.

Two Wafersat Prototypes, courtesy Phil Lubin, UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group. It’s not every day that you get to hold two space probes in one hand. These are flight-ready prototypes, Lubin’s lab continues to refine the devices and laser propulsion.

The schedule

  • Wednesday February 15
  • Michael Walthemathe, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, on importance of extending human reach beyond the solar system
  • Phil Lubin, UC Santa Barbara, on progress toward realizing interstellar missions
  • Thursday, February 16
  • Larry Larson: Welcome
  • Rick Fleeter : Introduction to Space Horizons
  • Pete Klupar: 2017 Keynote Address
  • Jim Head: The Science Imperative
  • Philip Lubin: ChipSat and laser propulsion
  • Ruslan Belikov (NASA Ames), Gregory Tucker (Brown University), Pete Klupar (Breakthrough Foundation) and Emily Gilbert (University of Chicago) on: The value of going to Alpha Centauri plus remote observation from near Earth
  • Panel: Going There vs. Observing From Here
  • Lunch and student posters
  • Kerri Cahoy: Communication link from a low power chipsat 4+ light years away
  • Zachary Manchester: Flying ChipSats
  • Jordin Kare: Separating Power Source and Vehicle
  • Michael Walthemathe: engaging society in exploration
  • Panel: Societal impact of interstellar exploration

Observations

“Low reliability ideas, high reliability hardware.” – Rick Fleeter

Professor Fleeter pointed out that there are thousands of ideas about what to do in space but only a few of which ever actually fly. This appears to scale with the extreme reliability of space hardware.

The main point of the workshop was that we could do this right now but some components are to expensive for it to be practical. A few more years and some developments in manipulating laser light and it will be affordable. This could create the next leg of a transportation network for developing our solar system while exploring neighbors like Rigel Kentauri. Such a DE array could help build massive space telescopes and provide a range of technical advances to any industry that uses lasers. The people developing the first trip to the stars are clearly focused on the technical and economic journey and it’s inspirational potential more than a single end goal. The amount of time, money and careers going into this project require long-term thinking.

Some combination of ChipSat swarms and phased-array laser clusters are probably the best way to fly. Separating thrust from craft is probably essential as Dr. Lubin had a presentation that showed how getting matter to relativistic velocities requires propulsion with relativistic exhaust velocities. This mostly excludes putative fusion drives and leaves only antimatter and Directed Energy as propulsion source candidates.

Example of COTS in this type of research. This 19-element phased-array laser uses standard DSLR camera lenses to provide focus for fiber-optic lasers. Courtesy, DeepSpace Lab at UCSB, J. Madajian and A. Cohen.

Much of the focus is on commercial-off-the-shelf hardware (COTS). For example, Dr. Lubin’s test arrays use standard DSLR camera lenses hooked up to fiber optic lasers. One issue made clear by all the researchers involved is that fiber laser amplifiers need to become much cheaper for Destination: Alpha Centauri to make economic sense. A goal of $1 or less per watt seems achievable, Dr. Cahoy pointed out that the fiber amplifier in a DVD drive costs about ¢.10 for the 1-watt element. Mass-produced, space-rated fiber amps should be able to be priced within an order of magnitude if enough are being made.

At Space Horizons 2016, Dr. Phil Metzger presented an idea of a boot-strap outer space industrial economy of self-replicating machines. At first, they just make low-efficiency solar panels or other simple objects. Over the course of several decades, the machines create an exponentially increasing industrial base. This topic came up separately this year as a way to enable interstellar flights through automated manufacturing and assembly.

Directed Energy boost creates in-system superhighways for nearby payloads to Mars and other destinations. DE may turn out to be a preferred means of propulsion, electricity and process heat for future inner solar system development, especially of Mars and Lunar craters.

A potential research point I’d like to see addressed before hardware is completely specified is whether microwaves, specifically in the 2.45 and 5.8 GHz ranges, can achieve similar results to a laser array. This would be specifically for integration in a putative Space-based Solar Power (SBSP) demonstration network.

Wafersats might be able to be propelled by a demonstration-level Solar Power Satellite (SPS) in Earth Orbit. This would involve a 100-300 kW beam-forming microwave antenna, likely in polar orbit and powered by solar panels. An assessment should look at recent advances in phased-array microwave sandwiches and life cycle assessment of both systems as part of an integrated beamed-power system. The analysis would look at the trades between lasers as an end output of a power system whereas the SPS would be part of the power system. There should be an effort to include power-beaming in some form in whatever external propulsion system is developed.  One immediate issue is beam-focus and whether active beam-forming could address some of the concerns without also flying relativistic mirrors as proposed by Dr. Forward in Vulpetti, Matloff and Johnson (2008). Proposed microwave “sails” have footprints that are orders of magnitude larger than proposed light sails.

Development of the Wafersat system could potentially benefit from this sort of integration with a beamed power network beyond supplying a Farside laser array with electricity. The SPS satellites could potentially serve as a DE propulsion system that can’t work as a weapon.


Design Research Exercise: Technical & Social Imaginaries of Destination: Alpha Centauri

Instead of a poster, I ran a simple design research exercise during the lunchtime poster session. The exercise consisted of a SWOT Matrix and an I Like/I Wish/What If list. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats; it is a very fast and efficient method for dissecting an idea, situation or scenario. I Like/I Wish/What If is a technique utilized by Stanford’s D.School for team ideation. Participants filled out each section, then ranked all the entries with dot stickers to indicate what they thought were most important in each category.

Results:

The most important Strengths of the concept were the vision and inspiration it can provide for children, the infrastructure aspect of multi-use directed energy arrays and having that kind of high-energy laser technology for other applications.

The greatest Weaknesses cited include the very large upfront costs and the possibility of the laser location not being under US control, which was also cited as an opportunity.

Opportunities behind Destination: Alpha Centauri include routine, fast access to our own Solar System (again, infrastructure that plays many roles) especially “student ChipSats of infinite types”, technical spin-offs, public engagement and interstellar dating. Several allusions to social networking with aliens were made across the exercise but ranked low. Everyone involved seems to hope the project will help us find life or even intelligent, technical species but aren’t holding those hopes to high. The last opportunity that was ranked by another participant was the so-called Overview Effect, the change that people experience in seeing the world from space.

Threats cited include the perception of these tools as weapons and their potential to spark a space arms race and the loss of interest should the first project fail.

Participants Liked that the laser arrays would likely be a multi-use,  multi-party piece of infrastructure. One entry suggested piles of large, unmarked bills.

Participants Wished that there was a near-term and smaller scale space-based test “to start playing with photon delta-V”. This is in some ways an obvious stepping stone between laboratory benchtops and megawatt facilities on the Lunar Farside but is also the exact kind of policy nightmare regarding space-based weapons that no government would allow to fly, private mission or public. One unranked idea that was discussed elsewhere in the workshop was “brakes” of some kind at the destination star. As it is, the individual WaferSats pass through the target star system in a few hours traveling at relativistic speeds. The advantage to Dr. Lubin’s proposal is that thousands of these craft make that journey in a continuous mesh.

What If questions included “What if I could change the gravity constant” and whether there are aliens and how that would impact the project and our understanding of our place in the universe.

Complete dataset:

These process photos include the final results, two development pictures and one of researchers participating in the exercise. In my experience, space scientists and engineers are often surprised and excited when designers bring our research tools to help them analyze their chosen fields and projects.

Final data snapshot. Participants wrote ideas for each category then ranked all the ideas using dot stickers.
Wall test, any wall will do.
Initial slide of concept, shared with colleagues online for feedback.
Dr. Phil Lubin and Peter Klupar interacting with the exercise.

Space Horizons is always an interesting conference. Professor Fleeter knows all the interesting people in the space sector and brings a keen sense of understanding what is nearly possible and about to happen in space projects. This year’s topic was closing a circle as the first Space Horizons was about ChipSats when they were a completely new concept. Now the discussion isn’t whether ChipSats or Wafersats for Dr. Lubin’s team are possible but whether they are appropriate as our first interstellar emissaries.

Real action is happening on this right now at deepspace.UCSB.edu, Breakthrough Foundation, Lasermotive and other labs across the US. This concept, whether as StarShot or another team, presents enormous commercial and academic opportunities along with workforce development, youth inspiration and the potential of a new  “Earthrise” moment from 4 lightyears distant.

Apollo 8 Earthrise. Image courtesy, NASA.

References

  • Vulpetti, G., Johnson, L., & Matloff., G. L. (2008;2009;). Solar sails: A novel approach to interplanetary travel. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-68500-7

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Making Pinhole Cameras with a Laser Cutter

This is an old project from teaching at AS220’s Fab Lab Providence (now AS220 Industries). The premise was simple, to create a pinhole camera using the Epilog Minihelix laser cutter in the Fab Lab and shoot some pictures using equipment in the Paul Krot Community Darkroom. The cameras were made and used over two Saturdays in March 2010 with the fabrication class led by myself and the photography segment led by Miguel Rosario.

The cameras are unique for pinhole cameras in that they use reloadable film holders based on old large-format cameras. This enables them to be reloaded inside a black bag in the field. The film holders are sized for 4″x5″ film or photo paper. In the class, we used black and white photo paper.

The cameras largely follow Alan Kay’s concept of self-documenting software in that in cutting the files, the instructions are etched into the surfaces for easy assembly. There are also aiming guides etched into the top surface for lining up shots.


Download and cut your own! Pinhole Camera Class Files


Assembly instructions:

Materials: 1/8″ board, hot glue and glue gun, gaffer’s tape, scissors, utility knife.

Download files and laser cut them using your preference of materials. 1/8″ Foamcor, cardboard, plywood or MDF will all work.

Assemble the camera body by laying down base and attaching the front, sides and center divider. Attach the top cover. Hotglue all edges inside and out then seal over with gaffer’s tape or other light-proof material.

Take a small piece of copper, aluminum foil or copper cladding (3M EMI Shielding Tapes 1181) and place over the aperture on the inside front of camera. Tape it in place to guarantee a fit. Take a small needle or bobby pin and carefully poke a hole in the center of the foil.

Attach the back plate, glue and light-proof.

Attach the film holder cover with gaffer’s tape.

Make folding film holders from the two holder components and gaff.

Glue the two pieces of the lens cap together. Add the lens cap to the camera. It can be attached with hook-and-loop, tape or jammed into the aperture. Jamming it in place is not recommended for field cameras as it can damage the foil, but does work for practice assembly.

Insert film into holders, load camera and shoot to your heart’s content.

Orthographic promotional view of camera.
Miguel Rosario’s images, inverted to normal view.
Joshua Gigantino, negative images.
Cut file image, film holders.
Cut file image, camera body.
Laser-cut components in archival foamcor.
Student assembling camera.
Assembly.
Interior view showing gaffer’s tape seals.
Exterior front view.
Interior view without rear plate.
Student assembling a camera.
Student assembling a camera.
Film loading slot closeup.
Various cameras during development.

Overall this project was a real success. The workshop had only two students and two instructors but we all successfully built, shot and printed using these cameras. There is a lot of possibilities for combing these kinds of very old technology with digital fabrication.

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Testing out a LensBaby Spark tiltshift lens

Tiltshift lenses are all the rage but a decent one is painfully expensive. Lensbaby offers a range of affordable tiltshit and fisheye lenses in the $90-1300 range which is a far cry from the $2500 kit I really want from Canon. Here is a quick rundown of the cheapest tiltshift lens on the market, Lensbaby’s 50mm Spark. Overall this lens is fantastic for what it does at this price point.


Included here are some exposure tests, feedback on how the lens operates and a video showing what it can do with an older DSLR camera for both video and stills used as motion graphics.

Lone poppy, February 11th, 2017, midday, filtered sunlight. f5.6, 1/80, ISO100.

Tested on a Canon T3 with no extra filters. This lens is the most fun I’ve had with a camera since my first SONY Handicam with Niteshot.

Images and Video by SM@SH and J05H, shot February and March, 2017. Video footage was captured on a pleasant evening’s sunset, March 5th, 2017. No color balancing or other image editing has been done in an effort to keep it close to the camera’s output so readers can see what kind of images the Spark produces.

Also February 11th, 2017, midday, moderate sunlight. f5.6, 1/80, ISO100.

This poppy flower sprouted among the gravel in our xeriscaping and became the subject for testing this lens. This rugged but delicate flower has gone through three phases, first sprouting a single blossom, then two and back to one.

February 15th, 2017, midday, direct sunlight. f5.6, 1/80, ISO100.
March 6, 2017, midday, filtered sunlight. f5.6, 1/400, ISO100.

All focusing and effects are done in-camera using the Spark’s manual focus ring. This is accomplished simply, by holding the lens and directing the focal plane with the fingers. It is very intuitive when shooting both video and still images. The field-of-view is fairly narrow which helps to give it the dream-like quality when combined with the fixed f5.6 aperture.

The fixed aperture means that a modern Canon DSLR doesn’t recognize a lens is attached. The aperture is fixed at f5.6, there is no autofocus or image stabilization. All photo imaging needs to be done by manually adjusting any settings. Video has a warm, close feel due to the fixed lens settings and manual, touchy focus. Shooting with the Spark is a raw, fun experience.

Exposure Tests — Fixed f5.6 aperture, 1/100th second exposure, ISO in steps from 100 – 6400.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400


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Welcome to Mars | Fab Lab Tempe/DC Incubator Test 01

Overview

Welcome to Mars puts you in the rover next to Max as he fixes radios, robots and relays while remaining emotionally unavailable to his hacker coworker Aubrey. Max is a disgruntled technician working out his five-year contract on the surface of Mars, Aubrey is somewhere within radio range. Their employer is Red Ram Energy Drinks, LLC, they are in space to prove that Red Ram NITRO EDITION is the only energy drink tough enough to colonize another planet.

Welcome to Mars is an upcoming short film being developed by Connor Coffman (DC 2016). It is being produced over the second half of 2016. Welcome to Mars started as part of Connor’s coursework in ASU’s Digital Media program and has grown into a test-case for the DC Incubator.

This is Connor’s first film project.

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The mostly-complete suit.

As a test of the DC Incubator system Welcome to Mars provides an exact test case. Connor recently finished in Digital Culture program and has an interest in integrating the entire chain of production. He has been working on the concept for Welcome to Mars for years but only recently started to put production of it together. It combines fabrication, product development, cinema and critical analysis of potential cultural situations.

The film, trailers and other material will be entered into various festivals and film competitions.

Welcome to Mars is more than just space fantasy. It looks into issues of corporate power, individual agency, unintended consequences and the inherent nihilism of existence. Welcome to Mars aims to be a technically accurate, politically & socially acute examination of space exploration and human development as it seems to be evolving.


Welcome to Mars teaser and suit movement test:

The Story

Well, that’s the surprise.

( a disgruntled roboto technician goes to Mars as part of the RED RAM mission. Hilarity, ennui and long drives in a lychen-transformed desert ensue. )

Team

Connor Coffman — Director, writer, editor, plays ‘Max’, etc.

Joshua Gigantino — Producer, Technical Consultant, etc.

Shooting Locations

Welcome to Mars is being shot on location… in Arizona. Specific sites include the Monarch Theater in Phoenix, local industrial sites, Arizona desert locations (the perfect stand-in for a partially terraformed Mars), and studio sets.

Suit Development

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Dr. Paul Webb’s Space Activity Suit (SAS), a Mechanical Counter Pressure spacesuit. It was successfully tested in an altitude chamber at 38,000′ equivalent in the 1970s. Admire that ‘stache. Retrieved from www.elasticspacesuit.com on 10.12.2011.

The suit is representative of what is called a Mechanical Counter Pressure spacesuit (MCP). This is a type of vacuum garment that uses fabric pressure drawn across the skin to protect the wearer. The effect is somewhat like a wetsuit or thick leotard. These suits were tested successfully in the 1970s by Annis & Webb (1971) and have been in off-and-on development since, notably through Dava Newman’s team at MIT’s Man-Vehicle Lab with their Bio-Suit concept and by Akin & Korona with their work on MCP gloves.

The Welcome to Mars suit provides certain functionality tests and usage examples for daily activities during hypothetical  Mars surface activity. These include extended periods of driving in unprepared or semi-prepared terrain, tasks in non-optimal conditions, equipment malfunctions with minimal support and other potentially lethal events.

It is built on top of a go-kart jumpsuit, motocross chest protector and skydiving helmet. The backpack or PLSS is custom designed. Normal boots and gloves are being used, the boots in a similar way to how Mercury astronaut suits were worn, the gloves are a stand-in.

Suit Development 

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Sketches

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AlpineStars K-MX 5S Go-Kart suit

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Hard Upper Torso. HUT is based on motocross chest protector.

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Inspiration can be found in popular media as well as old NASA research. Promo shots from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

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Suit buckle.
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Inspiration from reality. Dava Newman in MIT’s Bio-Suit mockup. Retrieved 20.09.2016 from https://mvl.mit.edu/sites/default/files/images/Newman_biosuit.jpg

Backpack Development

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Helmet Development

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Finished helmet with Red Ram branding.

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Skydiving Helmet.

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Inspiration from Baumgartner’s Red Bull helmet.

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Another example of a lighter-weight space suit helmet. NASA Space Shuttle helmet, mid-1980s. Clamshell based on Navy helmet model HGU-20/P.

 

 

Fit & Movement Test

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screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-8-49-52-pm screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-8-49-12-pm
Cropped screengrabs from Teaser video.

Other Props

slack_for_ios_upload_1024-2
Handheld Contoller.

Other props being developed for Welcome to Mars include a rover based on a dune buggy, handheld controller device, Aubrey’s cockpit and other sets. We are attempting to use as much actual space-related hardware and existing but modified equipment as possible. One interesting item is a small satellite ground station donated by the local hackerspace HeatSync.

Red Ram Brand Development

Red Ram is tough, aggressive, in-your-face, no-bull ENERGY for the modern liquid consumer’s hydration needs. Packed with caffeine, electrolytes and our special mix of mood enhancers, Red Ram NITRO EDITION brings new meaning to the word ENERGY.

The brand concept and overall action is based on Red Bull’s work with Felix Baumgartner and Monster energy drinks. Red Ram is specifically marketed to young men with nothing to lose except the Amero credits in their pocket. They regularly hold stunts, sponsor extreme sports events and storm the heavens.

Red Ram brand development
nitro_edition_vz_1_720 Monochrome vector illustration of a stylised ram
red_ram_logo_1024 download-3

Production Tools

The teaser was cut in Resolume, the trailer and movie will be cut in Adobe Premiere. A variety of digital video cameras are being employed in production.

A Creative Roadmap for DC Incubation

Welcome to Mars’ production provides a ready model for a Digital Culture Incubator. The scenario is that a finishing DC student needs a little more mentoring, production, fabrication or just other’s to help maintain a pace on a worthwhile project. ASU has amazing startup channels such as Edson Institute but these tend to be for projects that are almost ready for market. A DC Incubator would provide students with a framework and access so they can then utilize other channels toward final fruition.

As a stand-in for an ASU-based workshop while building out Welcome To Mars equipment and props this summer, Connor has relied on HeatSync Labs in Mesa. HeatSync is a local hackerspace that provides access to some fabrication tools and lots of community input.

The only element missing as an initial test-case for a DC incubator is other teams actively mentored under the same system working side-by-side.

Conclusion

Welcome to Mars initial production has been largely successful in that in 3 months of summer work Connor has built most of a prop spacesuit, accompanying material and put together most of the production chain for shooting in cooler temperatures this autumn. A first treatment of a script has been written along with supporting text. An autumn shooting schedule is being implemented.

References

Annis, J. & Webb, P. Development of a Space Activity Suit. (NASA report CR-1892)  (1971). LARC, Hampton, VA.

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Icons for eight principles of Common-Pool Resource governance

Overview

Design Principle IconsDeveloped during Spring 2016, this icon set represents Ostrom’s eight design principles for common-pool resource governance. The icons are being used as part of the NSF-funded  When Strengths Can Become Weaknesses project for outreach in four countries and an upcoming edition of the International Journal of the Commons.

The icons and associated media support the discussion being led by Professor J. Marty Anderies at Arizona State University’s Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment. The icon system was developed in collaboration with CBIE professors and graduate students.

Deliverables have included the icons for the IJC issue, a color wheel, palette, supplementary graphics, brochure layout collaboration and the icon masters. These files are currently hosted on a private GitHub page and shared in Dropbox.

 
1. 2.
Design Principles
for
Common Pool
Resource
Governance
&
Institutional
Analysis
Defined Boundaries
Clearly Defined Boundaries
 Proportional EquivalenceProportional
Equivalence
 3. 4.  5. 
Collective Choice Arrangements
Collective Choice Arrangements
MonitoringMonitoring Graduated Sanctions
Graduated Sanctions
6. 7. 8.
 Conflict Resolution
Conflict Resolution
Rights To Organize
Rights To Organize
Nested Enterprises
Nested Enterprises

Background

cpr_diagram
Diagram explaining the basic terminology layers and differences among commons researchers, specifically between the NSF and ASU.

The broader research project is based on political economist Eleanor Ostrom’s 2009 Nobel Prize-winning work into governance, recognized for having “challenged the conventional wisdom by demonstrating how local property can be successfully managed by local commons without any regulation by central authorities or privatization” (2014).  Commons are a type of institution determined by human need and agreement as resources available for a larger subset of the public than just an individual or corporation’s particular use.  Ostrom founded CBIE at ASU in summer 2006 along with Professors Anderies and Janssen.

copy-of-bifold-brochure
Bi-fold brochure for cross-lingual output. Developed with Skaidra Smith-Heisters.

First use of the icon set was in a brochure available in English and Thai, next intended for versions in Chinese and Spanish. The brochure communicates the results of an investigation into farmer’s participation in shared social and physical infrastructure. The study was conducted in Columbia, Thailand, China and Nepal, involving 118 rice-producing agricultural communities and involved Chiang Mai University, the International Water Management Institute, the Asian Institute of Technology, Universidad de los Andes and ASU’s CBIE. It draws further results from experimental tests at ASU using a five-person irrigation game and two formal dynamical models. The study is funded under National Science Foundation grant GEO-1115054 as “When Strengths Can Become Weaknesses: Emerging Vulnerabilities in Coupled Natural Human Systems under Globalization and Climate Change.”

The icon set was developed pro-bono as student research in
approximately 40 hours.

Process

The icons were developed using an iterative sketching process based on initial brainstorming done previously by the CBIE. These sketches were then tested using a set of Google Forms. CBIE specialists ranked and voted on each icon to develop messaging consensus. All attempts were made to ensure the icons are relevant across cultural and language boundaries.

Pen-inked line art was scanned into Adobe Illustrator 6, converted to single color line art then built up into the icon images. Sections of the drawings, for example the hands in #4 Collective Choice Arrangements or #6 Conflict Resolution, were drawn separately and composited as vectors in Illustrator.

An example of the development process can be seen here in the progress to finalizing #7 Rights to Organize.

 1. CBIE Brainstorm 2. CBIE Brainstorm 3. CBIE Internal Feedback
screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-29-14-am screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-29-22-am screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-27-11-am
4. First sketches to CBIE

Development Process for
#7 Rights to Organize

 5. Second round drawing
screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-26-55-am Sketch scan 1
6. Feedback Quiz 7. Approved line art 8. Final Art in color
screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-28-31-am 4 - Monitoring rightsorgfinal

One aspect of icon development that was proposed but discarded as duplicative was a set of wayfinding icons based on a set of three short bars and one long bar in various configurations. This was envisioned as tools for page layouts and possibly brainstorming sessions. The main icon set appears to work well enough for these purposes that the wayfinding icons weren’t needed.

The color wheel and palette are derived from photos of research sites and sessions in Columbia and desert sunsets in Arizona. The original photographs are from the project or original works. Histograms of regions of the photographs were explored using PixelStick software, matched to Itten’s color theories with special attention to what Itten (1970) refers to as “color chords”, a couple of stock color wheels and a Pantone set for verification with a 4-color process. The subtle tones and hues of sunsets, cacti, red Columbian irrigation ditches, sun-bleached concete and pale tropical sky present a bright, comfortable and immediately familiar palette.

2016-05-11-3 2016-05-11-2 Palette

 

 

2016-05-11-1 2016-05-11

Color WheelThe final palette tool is a color wheel that can be used to pick sets of complimentary colors along with binary and trinary colors. The successive inner rings are related compliments for use with the eight main colors as outlines, shadows, details and trim colors. The inner three rings are the sky and concrete lights and silhouette darks for backgrounds and other base graphic elements.

Conclusion

ijc2016_using-the-icon
International Journal of the Commons screenshot using the icons, as retrieved on 19.09.2016.

This project produced a set of icons for use in print, new media, rural outreach as well as dialogic policy development. They are currently in use in the International Journal of the Commons and in outreach material from CBIE. The project also produced a color palette and tools based on images related to the research. A range of supplementary material was also produced.

This project was an interesting collaboration with a dynamic group of mixed-methods social scientists. The project attempted to create tools that would be relevant and useful to them, their international research partners and collaboration partners in rice-farming areas worldwide.


References

  • NobelPrize.Org Editorial Staff (2014 ). Nobel Media AB 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2009/ostrom-facts.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elinor_Ostrom#Design_principles_for_Common_Pool_Resource_.28CPR.29_institutions
  • https://www.thecommonsjournal.org/30/volume/10/issue/2/
  • https://cbie.asu.edu/
  • Itten, J., & Birren, F. (1970). The elements of color: A treatise on the color system of Johannes Itten, based on his book The art of color. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.
Grain Bags
Grain bags having fun after playing on the see-saw in #2 Proportional Equivalence.

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THRESHOLD I

Nate Greene’s May 2, 2016 Masters performance, titled THRESHOLD I, tells the story of two characters: Pepe’ the Hero (in white) and his nemesis, Quetzl the Dragon, who chases Pepe’ through the world. The Dragon was a video-projection-mapped dragon character with live texture-mapping.

Image courtesy Nathan Greene
Image courtesy Nathan Greene

THRESHOLD was a motion-mapped, augmented, participatory theatrical piece. With projections on both the Hero and Dragon, it brings into question how technology might “extract individual identity” by overlaying alternate realities. This hero’s journey explores the self-aware transformation required to fulfill a quest.

A three-piece orchestra provided a live soundtrack. The performance also involved an online component called “the Participatron” that people could use by uploading tagged images to Instagram. These were then mixed into the projected video.

The story involves an awakening with the hero in dream-like light. This is followed by a jungle and failure then falling.  The situation is resolved with a reawakening and balance. Here is Nathan’s video of the show:

This project evolved from the Pepe the Lamp Hero project,  part of AME 598 Understanding Activity in Fall of 2014, performed in December 2014 at the Digital Culture Showcase. Nathan used our motion mapping code and the Lamp Hero experience as a base for THRESHOLD to great effect. 

My role was as co-producer & stage manager for the main performance, project consultant and motion-capture & video technician. Here is time-lapse documentation of the show, shot on a Canon T3, 28mm lens and Polaroid timer.


The full crew involved:

Costumes – RuthAnne Greer/Renee Aguilar/Nathaniel Jack Green

Participatron – Aaron Hill, Nathaniel Jack Greene

Music – Written by Alex Kohli, Randy Greer, Stephen Helms Tillery, Nathaniel Jack Greene

Mocap – Pavan Taruga, Varsha Iyengar, Nathaniel Jack Greene, Qiao Wang

MotionMapping – Nathaniel Jack Greene, Varsha Iyengar, Prashant Seshasayee

3D Rigging and Mesh – Zachary Robinson

Technical Director – Nathaniel Jack Greene

Virtual Puppetry Performance – Nathaniel Jack Greene

Quetzalcoatl – Georgann Prince, Ruth Anne Greer, Varsha Iyengar

Stage Manager – Joshua Gigantino

Projection Systems – Andy Stavro and Roaddogs Show Pros, Phoenix, AZ

Projectionist – Cooper Sang Yoo, Nathaniel Jack Greene

Video equipment – Broadcast Rentals, Tempe, AZ

Executive Producers – Xin Wei Sha, Todd Ingalls, Nathaniel Jack Greene

Special thanks to the Katherine K. Herberger Scholarship, School of Arts, Media and Engineering

Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts |Fulton Schools of Engineering

Arizona State University

Director – Nathaniel Greene


 

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NAS: Integration of STEM, Arts and Humanities

Washington, DC – December 2, 2015, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce hosted a one-day workshop on Integrating Education in the Arts and Humanities with Education in Science, Engineering, Technology and Medicine that included multiple members of the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities or A2RU. The workshop brought together members of government including the President of the National Endowment for the Humanities and congressional staff, academics from R1 and other research universities along with faculty, students and deans from a range of institutions.

The workshop was structured as an integrated design exercise with periods of small group discussion separated by lectures and panels.  Other sessions included a creative piece around the life of a young medical student, discussions on how employers see integrated education experiences especially companies like IBM and Oracle looking for “T-shaped professionals” and a structured brainstorming wrap-up. We would have been hosted at the NAS but instead were at the Carnegie Endowment because of an emergency meeting on CRISPR gene-editing technology which Ben Hurlbut of ASU provided an update on.

My role was as student on a panel hosted by Rick Vaz, Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Others on the panel included graduate students, an undergrad in nuclear and mechanical engineering and a recent bio-medical technology student. We discussed the needs and experiences of students already doing the types of transdisciplinary research the workshop is interested in prescribing to universities across the US.

The workshop goal was to further refine what is sometimes called “STEM-to-STEAM” or how to make STEM education more effective and inclusive of the rest of the Academy. When John Maeda coined the term STEAM, he wanted the Arts and Design community to lead the way for the rest of the academy. He probably wanted to prevent what one participant at an A2RU conference in 2014 referred to as “Science with Stickers!” Academy would be a better A in STEAM. This specifically addresses the concerns of anthropologists, writers and library sciences professionals along with the arts by incorporating all aspects of a classical liberal education.

The interest seems to be in what Giard (2009) refers to as “delta knowledge” or Simon (1976) calls the “sciences of the artificial” in the making and embodied knowledge around making that can only be learned by doing. Simon goes on to describe “a science of the artificial will be closely akin to a science of engineering—but very different.” Giard specifically recommends the corporate partnership over the student design competitions or sponsored design projects as a solution for design students to develop this delta knowledge of doing. These are the roots of what is now called design thinking as well.

One specific avenue for integrated education is to have instructors and teaching assistants in crossing fields — a Literature TA can bring up the writing level of an engineering or graphic design class, for instance. Projects like InnovationSpace at ASU that bring together and cross-train students across multiple fields is another way to bring realistic teams together to work on these complex or “wicked  problems” according to Brown et al (2010). Wicked problems are ones that defy disciplinary and national boundaries such as access to clean air and water, protection from pandemics and war, etc. These problems require people trained to think, interact and do in comprehensive teams, not just know and perform a specific task.

A key contrast is that some schools, like Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Lafayette College, have been conducting integrated engineering  education since the 1970s with good results that run counter to the specialization proposed and largely implemented from the 1955 Grinter Report. Grinter was part of the Cold War focus on technicians solving fairly straightforward problems and represented what Miller (2015) refers to as a “sea change”. Compared to contemporary wicked problems, the industrial and military issues of logistics and throw-weight from the Cold War are simple. Some of those wicked problems are related to the shortsightedness of that time, too.  Despite issues around metrics and quantifying more versus less integration in education, there is a demand for it, especially at the high-end. Another sea change seems needed for American education to tackle world problems in the 21st Century.

Schools and programs of special attention from the literature provided for the workshop, primarily Stewart-Gambino (2015),  is ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME), along with Stanford’s CS+X, U Utah’s Entertainment Arts program and California Polytech San Luis Obispo’s Liberal Arts and Engineering program. Daniel (2015) specifically refers to AME as “gaining traction”.  Each of these has in some way reintegrated Arts and Humanities back into some form of STEM education.

Key Takeaways from the December 2 Workshop, adapted from organizer Thomas Rudin’s debriefing, Rudin, T. (personal communication, December 7, 2015)

  • Continue this conversation at all levels.
  • Measure the efficacy of STEM/Humanities/Arts integrated programs and curricula.
  • Develop recommendations for multiple audiences — colleges & universities, K-12 schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations, professional education and disciplinary associations, and others.
  • Preliminary educational results like InnovationSpace and top corporate hiring at IBM and Oracle suggest the value of these kind of  integrated education experiences. Systematic metrics need to be created to capture the value of these experiences.
  • There are enough model programs in higher education to suggest that educators believe this more holistic approach works. This means there are plenty of programs to measure and see what works.
  • A committee centered around the NAS is forming to organize recommendations.

Conclusion:

The workshop was a wonderful experience. It was great to see A2RU’s efforts fit with the National Academies’ needs around higher education and workforce development. The key take-away of the workshop pointed to a growing recognition of the need for students and future workers to have deep and broad skills that help them cross boundaries and stay flexible while solving 21st Century problems.

References:

Daniel, Alice, 2015, “Full STEAM ahead”, Prism, March-April 2015

Giard, J. (2005). Design FAQs. Arizona: Dorset Group.

Harris, J, Brown, Valerie A, Russell, J. (2010). Tackling Wicked Problems. Routledge.

Miller, R. (2015) Why the Hard Science of Engineering is No Longer Enough to Meet the 21st Century Challenges. Retrieved from:   http://www.olin.edu/sites/default/files/rebalancing_engineering_education_may_15.pdf

Simon, H. A. (1996). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Stewart-Gambino, H. and Rossmann, J. “Often Asserted, Rarely Measured: The Value of Integrating Humanities, STEM, and Arts in Undergraduate Learning.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 2015.

 

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Space Horizons 2016 – International City on the Moon

Above, RISD pedal-powered moon rover featuring 13 second deployment time and hand-made tweels.

Space Horizons 2016International City on the Moon was held February 19-21 at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. This year’s topic on building an international base on the Moon was approached as an iterative design workshop involving for separate but related tracks: Business & Technology, Politics, Science and Infrastructure.

Space Horizons is an annual conference founded by Professors Rick Fleeter and Ken Ramsley that focuses on near-term but still generative subjects around space with a special focus on relevant topics to students. Past years included Desktop Delta-V which focused on lab-safe propulsion for CubeSats, ChipSat focused on circuit board spacecraft and other topics.

In the past it has been a 1 1/2 day conference, this year was a three day workshop run by a student committee and hosting about 80 students and space professionals. It featured the usual faculty from Brown such as Jim Head, Rick Fleet and Alden Richards, a recorded video welcome from the Director General of the European Space Agency, and mentors including Jim Muncy, Olga Bannova, Phil Metzger, Brent Sherwood of JPL, German theologist Michael Waltemathe and others who generously donated their time and talent.

Unlike prior years when I have been the only designer involved, this year Professor Michael Lye along with industrial & graphic design students from RISD attended. The designers were critical in creating the dialogic system that enabled rapid iteration across a wide range of subjects that all need to be synthesized for this kind of space project or the workshop itself to happen. The design-thinking techniques employed are based around IDEO practices and include How Might We, the 7 rules of brainstorming, affinity diagramming and others. Two ASU students, myself and Chad Stewart (Aero, ’16) were in attendance.

The workshop was structured around having multiple small teams inside each track performing separate ideation and fact-finding while periodically rotating around the room to critique and confer. Teams fluctuated on Saturday as participants somewhat self-selected. Friday afternoon the professional mentors set the stage with a series of talks, Saturday was the main workshop and on

Sunday the ~20 teams presented along with more lectures including Dr. Bannova talking about old Soviet moon plans. Brent Sherwood presented on why Solar Power Satellites are key to further space development by providing Earth with unlimited green energy and energy for space manufacturing and propulsion.  Dr. Phil Metzger discussed how to build a self-replicating industrial infrastructure in space that scales like Moore’s Law of computer processing power.

Some of the themes that came up in student and mentor presentations included managing the dust, providing base power systems, recycling of technological and organic nutrients,  building domes and other large structures using local materials and techniques such as 3D printing using D.Shape or spinning up a dome using SuperAdobe construction.

Specific teams had some interesting results from the research. One Business & Technology team produced a Net Present Value (NPV) rating of an arbitrary-sized Moon base (not full city) of around US $65 Billion. This number can be used as a valuation of potential future value to draw loans and fund aspects of the project. Infrastructure Team 5, consisting of three industrial designers including myself and a medical doctor, produced a planning timeline that tried to bridge the gap in defining the user case between the period when there are 4 government astronauts temporarily on the lunar surface to grow to a community of 16, 32 and 108 permanent residents from different supporting entitites. Our tool tracked base preparation, power systems and mental & physical health evolution as the Moon Village grows from what we called “camping” into “the Shires”.

Space Horizons is an annual event, the topic for next year will be announced soon.

Infrastructure Team 5 presenting results on our Moon Village planning timeline. Sunday, February 21, 2016. Photograph by Dr. Phil Metzger.
Infrastructure Team 5 presenting results on a Moon Village planning timeline. Sunday, February 21, 2016. Photograph by Dr. Phil Metzger.

 

http://www.spacehorizonsworkshop.com/#2016

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Solar Power Satellites and the issues going forward after WiSEE 2015.

December 14-16, 2015 was the WiSEE conference on Wireless for Space and Extreme Environments, hosted by University of Central Florida in Orlando and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). WiSEE included tracks on Space Solar Power, passive wireless sensors and space internetworking. Here is a summary of ideas behind Solar Power Satellites and some of the issues that are holding up progress.

Solar Power Satellites (SPS) are a conceptual form of Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP or SSP) that collect sunlight, transform it into microwaves or lasers and transmit that energy to locations on Earth or in space that need electricity. The receiving equipment is surprisingly simple, building these systems creates jobs and technical skills, and the end product is the greenest form of electricity generation ever invented.

SPS has a dual effect on spaceflight economics that can open up development of the Inner Solar System; it requires many rocket launches driving per-flight costs down while being able to provide kilowatts to gigawatts for in-space receivers for propulsion and industrial use. While eventually providing unlimited green power for Earth, SPS enables our next steps out into the Solar System.

SPS is the only known form of power generation that can provide the entire world with abundant electricity while maintaining the heat balance of Earth’s biosphere. SPS has an extremely low carbon footprint, less than 1/100th of terrestrial solar and around 1/10,000th that of combined cycle natural gas. Most currently proposed systems (by Mankins, Jaffe, Kaya) use gigahertz microwaves at 2.45 Ghz or 5.8 Ghz, 5.8 Ghz being nearly transparent to water, very important for heat balance.

Older SPS concepts typically involved massive metal space-frames covered in solar panels with mile-wide steerable transmitters, assembled by hundreds of astronauts. Modern concepts like Mankins’ SPS-ALPHA use a composite sandwich structure module with amorphous thin-film photovoltaics above a direct current bus leading into a flat phased-array antennae across the bottom. The modules are launched in stacks on conventional rockets and can either self-point at a target or be docked together into a large flotilla of panels, orbiting in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). Together the phased-array antennae beam-form to create pulses that generate current in the receiving antennae or rectenna. Rectenna are typically a large metal mesh suspended above the ground. Higher density signals and smaller receivers are possible under this flexible schema that would provide point-to-point power for in-space transportation along with Earth-based industrial and military applications. Several safety measures are built in, the largest security issue is rectenna and ground transmission lines. Ranching or solar panel fields can utilize the land under the rectenna mesh.

Trained professionals — An issue that is directly related to the IEEE and workforce preparedness is that there are relatively few researchers actively working on what has until recently been an intractable problem. The basic techniques are well-established; the real issues in deploying SPS systems may be a workforce ready to finish developing and build these systems. The number of researchers with current demonstrations can be counted on one hand. People ready to design the circuits, structures, software and enterprises to operate these systems is lacking. Developing what are currently exotic microwave receivers for Earth and space is both a technical and political issue. Integrating these systems with existing rockets is likely the simplest part.

A cohort of engineers trained in this new type of space system, designers and managers able to synthesize the new requirements and policy specialists willing to tackle these issues are needed to make it viable.

Policy — The case for space solar power and SPS systems needs to be made convincingly to both the public and political institutions. This should happen through both grass-roots teaching using devices like Dr. Jaffe’s demonstrator and through coordinated moves to encourage sympathetic policies.

Making young professionals into effective voices for positive change is essential to this effort.

Technology readiness — Many elements of a functional SPS system are at middle Technology Readiness Levels, defined by NASA as TRL 1-9 with 1 being an observed phenomenon and 9 being off-the-shelf hardware. Jaffe has performed vacuum chamber tests at NRL on a complete SPS sandwich module. Marzwell has demonstrated an end-to-end analog system with solar photovoltaic collection providing electricity to a transmitter, received on another mountain in Hawaii. Dr. Kaya has performed multiple lab, public and suborbital rocket demonstrations.

Mankins estimates that it would take around 15 years to go from the current state of the art to flying a power-generating demonstrator (TRL 8) and an equal amount of time to scale up to a 5GW plant in geosynchronous orbit (TRL 9). Currently critical subsystems are stuck between TRL 4 and 6 and some have uncertainty about where to develop further.

New labs and startups with this new cohort of young professionals can drive these subsystems to higher readiness.

Transmission Issues — There is a minimum strength power beam needed to trip the threshold voltage of a typical 20^km rectenna, or any receiving antenna. Ground tests between mountains by Marzwell and separate demos by Kaya and Jaffe show the principle works at smaller scales. Finding the right sizes of rectenna and beam characteristics is important, especially for in-space propulsion and mobile or smaller terrestrial applications such as a military forward operating bases or atop cargo container ships.

For stationary rectenna powering urban cores, much of the technology is fairly simple and can be located nearby on the ocean, desert or farmland. In that case the biggest transmission issues are communication interference from sidelobes and getting over the minimum transmission requirement. Inflatable or deployable rectenna with much higher beam density may be needed for in-space receiving.

Transmission issues are heavily dependent on system implementation and usage details that need to be further characterized as various SPS systems come online. Finding the right scales for in-space, limited/mobile terrestrial and baseline terrestrial beams is an avenue of currently needed research.

Financing & Business Development — The financial hurdle to fund a working SPS is mostly in funding the research & development and proving out the technology subsystems. The operational system can be earning money after the first launch and scales to literally out-of-this world markets.

An operable SPS system might be financed using commercial methods with a payoff time around 10 years after completion for sale of power to high-price markets. The goal is to achieve around $9 per installed kilowatt of capacity (2011 dollars) for a fully operational system. Some have argued that prototype units could be used for in-space propulsion to boost other client payloads but this is currently a small market.

While the payoff to electricity users (both industrial & residential) and to government (in taxes, military lives saved and new space colonies) is potentially quite large, the 15-40 year process of development toward those goals has proven daunting. Financing further technical readiness steps is also daunting as some of them involve spaceflight. NASA, JAXA and the Naval Research Lab have provided much of the previous funding due to the obvious potential but are neither mandated nor properly equipped to finance or run this type of project. Some kind of public-private partnership with loan and purchasing guarantees may be needed.

As SPS systems become viable, a business case must be made to current electricity providers, especially in coastal and desert regions. As with the development of wind and terrestrial solar, new construction sectors will need to evolve to build rectenna, ground transmission equipment and the factories to make thousands of these satellites. Development of one or several new companies will be needed.

Deeper modeling and trade studies are an opportunity to find the minimum viable products of this technology.

Orbits Utilized — The prospect of gigawatts of carbon- and heat- free power for terrestrial applications is compelling but comes at a cost. Most proposals for SPS systems place them in geostationary orbit (GEO), competing for orbital ‘slots’ with the proliferation of world telecommunications satellites. Orbital slots at GEO are precious, limited and nearly full. Multi-kilometer structures with unique control dynamics may not be allowed based on telecommunication needs.

Options include placing telecom transmitters directly on an SPS, beaming power to new, larger telecom satellites or to operate in other orbits. Prototypes, in-space beaming and high-power applications may benefit from flying in a sun-synchronous ‘high noon’ polar orbit. Final system options include Medium Earth Orbit below the GPS constellations or halo orbits around Earth-Moon Lagrange points if GEO slots are unavailable.

Space-based solar power in general and SPS in particular have tremendous potential environmental, technical and industrial benefits, costs to users that could rival terrestrial power sources, provide world energy security and fast in-space propulsion. SPS can be an enabling technology for lowering rocket launch and spaceflight costs. Convincing the US and international community’s citizens, regulators and politicians of this utility will require hard work and dedication among a new cohort of professionals who can practice an integrated approach to engineering these new systems.

 

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