Space

They have successfully test-fired 3D-printed combustion chambers made from multiple materials....

The news: By combining their manufacturing and testing capabilities, small-satellite launcher Virgin Orbit and NASA created a rocket combustion chamber that was 3D-printed from multiple metals. A combustion chamber is the container where all the propellants get mixed up and ignite—so it must be able to cope with extreme heat and force. The test part that used the chamber generated more than 2,000 pounds of thrust in a series of 60-second test fires. You can watch a video of the test firing here.

Why are chambers a challenge? Because it has to withstand so much, it must be designed to a very high standard, meaning the part is expensive and time consuming to make.

Since 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, creates parts by building them up rather than carving them from a block or casting them, it can make the process of manufacturing these parts faster and cheaper. It also allows engineers to improve upon their designs. For example, the engineers were able to strengthen the chamber by adding an additional alloy to the base copper part.

What's next: A number of companies are now working on creating 3D-printed rocket components, including Relativity Space, which is attempting to print 95% of its rocket. NASA is working on printing a number of other parts as well, and hopes to use the technology for future projects like lunar landers or deep-space explorers.

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Facebook’s efforts to build intelligent helpers show how badly AI needs some sort of grounding in the physical world....

Robots rising: Facebook is showing off a new robotics lab at its Silicon Valley headquarters, along with several research projects that involve robots learning how to do different things. So is the company looking to add arms and legs to its Portal devices to let them explore your home? 

Advancing AI: Nope (luckily). The project is actually a very natural extension of the company’s existing AI research. Machine learning can be used to teach robots how to do things that would be impossible to program. So the project might have practical applications somewhere down the line. More important, though, the way robots learn about the world can feed back into the algorithms applied elsewhere.

Curiouser and curiouser: As with Facebook’s other AI research, the robotics team is focused on developing algorithms that learn with minimal human supervision. An interesting aspect of their approach is a kind of machine curiosity algorithm that lets the robots learn without trying to achieve a specific end goal.

Real experience: This is important when you consider Facebook’s ongoing efforts to build a virtual helper of some kind. Simply training an AI algorithm on conversational text isn’t enough to create something capable of having a decent chat. As experts will tell you, that’s partly because those algorithms lack the understanding of the physical world that we take for granted.

Bio-inspired: “The only example of intelligence we have is humans or animals,” says one of Facebook’s AI research scientists, Roberto Calandra. “If we want to re-create the kind of intelligence we have in humans and animals, it seems very plausible that we might need that physicality.”

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Space

It turns out our home planet isn’t the only one with poles that can’t sit still....

Changing it up: Earth’s magnetic field is far from set in stone. The field’s consistent shifting is a phenomenon called secular variation. In fact, earlier this year it was found that Earth’s magnetic north pole was moving so quickly and unpredictably that our existing navigation models had to be updated years earlier than scheduled. 

We aren’t alone: The Juno spacecraft has now discovered that Earth isn’t alone in experiencing this. In a paper published Monday in Nature Astronomy, it was revealed that Jupiter’s magnetic field also moves. The shift was found by comparing readings from the Voyager, Ulysses, and Pioneer spacecraft data between 1973 and 1992 with Juno’s recent readings taken on its own visit to the gas giant. The changes detected between the two periods were small, but scientists still saw some differences.

Why? We know that Earth’s magnetic north pole is influenced by liquid iron moving underneath our feet. But Jupiter's magnetic field, which is thousands of times stronger than Earth's, is believed to be created by a large mass of hydrogen inside the planet. The pressure created within the gas giant is believed to create a liquid metal that generates the magnetic field. Researchers believe Jupiter’s changes are caused by atmospheric winds that may be stretching out and moving the magnetic forces around Jupiter. 

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