NASA Moves Closer to Manned Missions to Mars

NASA has moved one step closer to sending astronauts into deep space with the announced development of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

The MPCV replaces the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, commissioned under President Bush and nixed under President Obama due to budgetary constraints. Funds used in the development of the Orion ship had exceeded five billion dollars at the time of the project’s cancellation.

President Obama has instead set goals of a manned mission to a near-earth asteroid in the next twenty years, and a possible manned mission to Mars in the next thirty. NASA hopes the MPCV will help meet these goals. Unlike the Orion, which had been developed with the moon as its only destination, the MPCV will be used as the primary vehicle in the manned exploration of entirely new frontiers, such as asteroids or the Martian moons.

The development of the MPCV was brought about by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which shifted NASA’s focus away from the moon and towards a “permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke on the Authorization Act and development of the MPCV in a statement released Tuesday.

“We are committed to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and look forward to developing the next generation of systems to take us there. The NASA Authorization Act lays out a clear path forward for us by handing off transportation to the International Space Station to our private sector partners, so we can focus on deep space exploration,” he said.

The MPCV will consist of three components – a launch abort system, the crew module, and the service module, though only the crew module will return to Earth. The launch abort system peels off after the successful climb to orbit, while the service module, which generates electricity, stores oxygen, and can deliver scientific payloads, separates from the crew module immediately preceding re-entry.

The spacecraft is expected to be able to carry four astronauts into deep space, on missions lasting up to 21 days. On missions of longer duration, the MPCV would append a larger module, acting in a dormant, supportive capacity. The MPCV will also be capable of standard “in-space” activities, such as extravehicular activity or docking, and will serve as a possible fallback for delivering crew and cargo to the International Space Station.

In total, the volume of the pod-like MPCV will be approximately 690 cubic feet, of which 316 cu ft will be habitable.  The ship will take-off aboard a larger rocket and will splash land off the coast of California. Although reminiscent of the old Apollo spacecrafts, the design of the MPCV maximizes safety – its launches and landings are expected to be ten times safer than those of the space shuttles.

The contract for development of the spacecraft remains with Lockheed Martin Corporation, the primary contractor of the scrapped Orion ship. The decision to stay with Lockheed Martin drew some criticism given the final costs of the Orion project. SpaceX, a private company, has also indicated it can develop a similar ship for significantly lower costs.  However, NASA officials were careful to point out that budgetary considerations remain paramount.

“This selection does not indicate a business as usual mentality for NASA programs,” stated Douglas Cooke, an associate administrator with the NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. “The Orion government and industry team has shown exceptional creativity in finding ways to keep costs down through management techniques, technical solutions and innovation.”

The announcement of the development of the MPCV comes a little over a month before the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. Scheduled for liftoff in early July, Atlantis’ completion of the STS-135 mission will signify the end of the shuttle program.

Photo Credits: NASA nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon up Six-Fold

According to recent satellite images, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased 470 percent in the last year. Approximately 103 square kilometers of forest were lost in March and April of 2010, compared with 593 sq km lost during the same period this year.

The Brazilian government has convened an emergency cabinet to address the six-fold increase in illegal clearing. When last measured in December of 2010, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was at the lowest levels seen in over two decades, with just 6,451 sq km of forest lost between August of 2009 and July of 2010.

The majority of the illegal logging is centered in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, where soy farming is a key industry.  Local ranchers in the Mato Grosso region also blame “alien” loggers, arguing that loggers from other Brazilian states come to Mato Grosso only to make a profit and move on.
This claim was corroborated in part by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency. Curt Trennepohl, President of IBAMA, spoke to the Guardian on the influx of out-of-state ranchers and loggers.  “We will contain the hemorrhage,” he stated. “This will not happen in south Amazonas because we have this intelligence and we are watching. Any aliens who arrive buying land will be watched.”

Led by Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, the cabinet hopes to cut deforestation levels sharply within the next two months. Environmental police officers have been deployed in the hundreds to help enforce forestry laws.  IBAMA has also vowed to increase its presence in the region, including planning over 200 operations throughout the next year. The operations will target illegal deforestation, as well as any timber or cattle earned in the process.

The report comes before the Brazilian government takes up a key vote on its Forest Code. Formed in 1934 and amended in 1965, the Forest Code dictates that farmers may clear only 20% of the forest on their lands, conserving the remaining 80 percent, or the “legal reserve”.

Under the proposed reforms, large farm would be required to conserve only 50% of forest found on their lands, with this figure dropping significantly for farms under 400 hectares. The reforms were introduced by Brazil’s Communist Party and supported by a group in Brazil’s Congress that believes more land should be opened up for agricultural development.

Local ranchers agree, arguing that some compromise is necessary. Citing the lack of opportunities available for the rural poor, the forest is described as one of the few viable sources of revenue.

“Our survival has to come from the forest. There is no other way,” one local logger told the Guardian. “There are no universities here. There are no factories. If you don’t have a government job, you have to claw some kind of survival from the rivers and the forest.”

Some environmentalists have argued that it is the possibility of laxer regulations which has sparked pre-emptive deforestation by ranchers.

Speaking to Reuters, Greenpeace campaigner Marcio Astrini said, “You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays. The only relevant factor is the Forest Code.”

Voting on the proposed reforms has been delayed, but is expected to occur before the end of this month.

Over 60% of the Amazon Rainforest is found within Brazil. The Amazon forest is home to approximately one third of the Earth’s biodiversity, ranging from 40,000 different species of trees and plants and 3,000 different species of fish. It is also a significant carbon sink, absorbing approximately 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.

Photo credit: NASA LBA-ECO Project 

First Possibly Habitable Exoplanet Found

A group of French researchers with the Laboratoire de Métrologie Dynamique (CNRS/UPMC/ENS/Ecole Polytechnique) at the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in Paris have posited Gliese 581d as the first exoplanet possibly able to sustain life.

The team utilized a new atmospheric model, similar to the climate models currently employed to study the Earth’s atmosphere. The team’s findings have indicated that due to its location in the “Goldilocks zone” – that distance from a star where temperatures on a planet allow for the presence of liquid water – the planet may be habitable.

Gliese 581d’s atmosphere, believed to consist primarily of carbon dioxide, is thought to allow for features and weather phenomenon akin to those seen on Earth, such as liquid oceans, clouds and rain.

Discovered in 2007, the rocky Gliese 581d is one of six planets thought to orbit the star Gliese 581.  Located approximately 20.3 light years away in the constellation Libra, Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star. Although the most common type of stars in the galaxy, red dwarfs can be more volatile than their larger cousins – because of the variance created by star spots and flares, their energy outputs can vary from almost half their normal average to twice their normal average, sometimes for months at a time. Gliese 581 is a typical red dwarf star, with a mass one third that of our Sun. Unlike the Sun, however, the light emitted by Gliese 581 is generally in the infrared spectrum.

Gliese 581d orbits its star outside its planetary neighbor, Gliese 581g, which was originally considered a stronger candidate for possible habitation. Also thought to be a rocky world, Gliese 581g was discovered in September of 2010, and was believed to be three times larger than the Earth. Gliese 581g’s discovery caused a great deal of excitement, as it orbits in the middle of Gliese 581’s “Goldilocks zone”. However, as other astronomers have had difficulty independently verifying the planet’s existence, there is now some debate regarding the methodology used to find Gliese 581g, raising questions as to whether the planet exists at all.

Physically, although Gliese 581d is twice the Earth’s size, its mass is seven times larger than that of our planet. Gravity’s effect on the face of Gliese 581d would therefore be double that of Earth. Also, although Gliese 581d is closer to its star, it receives only one third of the energy from its star that the Earth receives from the Sun.

Scientists had previously discounted Gliese 581d for a number reasons. First, the planet was considered too far from its red dwarf star, and therefore its temperatures too cold to sustain liquid water. Secondly, Gliese 581d may be tidally locked to its star, meaning it’s always day on one side of the planet and always night on the other. The possibility of the planet being tidally locked seemed to preclude the existence of a moderate climate – any atmosphere significant enough to warm the planet would probably freeze off completely on the night side.

The new model, however, posits that a greenhouse effect – the circulating of warm temperatures on the sunlight side to the dark side by the atmosphere – combined with a thick, carbon atmosphere could allow for temperatures warm enough to maintain liquid water.           

Despite being in close cosmic proximity to Earth, however, Gliese 581d’s distance renders it too far for human visitation in the near future. Utilizing current Earth technology, it would take almost a third of a millennium to reach the planet.

Even studying the rocky world has proven difficult, as current telescopes are not powerful enough to observe the planet in sufficient depth. However, as telescope technology improves, Gliese 581d will remain a prime candidate in our quest for exoplanets capable of sustaining life. 

Photo Credit: Lynette Cook nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/Gliese_581.html

Warmer Temperatures May Cause Arctic Treeline to Spread 500 Kilometers North

According to the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) group, the Arctic is “greening” faster than expected. By the year 2100, the presence of trees in the Arctic may spread north by 500 kilometers (300 miles), completely reshaping the landscape and wildlife dependent upon it.

The predicted northern drift of the Arctic treeline could eliminate up to 51% of the current tundra, with wide-ranging negative impacts for local biodiversity. As temperatures warm, southern species, such as certain species of Arctic goose, have already exceeded their environment’s carrying capacity.

Conversely, populations of northern species, like the oft-cited polar bear, continue to decline. The CAFF group highlights these implications in their report, The Arctic Biodiversity Trends – 2010: Selected Indicators of Change.
“The plant communities that make up tundra ecosystems– various species of grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens– are, in some places, being replaced by species typical of more southern locations, such as evergreen shrubs,” the report stated. “Depending on the magnitude of change, the resulting ecosystems may no longer be considered “Arctic”. The result may be that many of the species that thrive in the Arctic today may not be able to survive there in the future.”

The northern spread of trees is attributed to warming trends – temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the global average rate. As snow and ice recede, increasing amounts of soil and water are exposed to the Sun. Unlike ice, which is reflective, the darker soil and water absorb a greater portion of the Sun’s energy.

This has impacted a number of Arctic ecosystems. Permafrost in the northern peatlands, which in addition to supporting unique wildlife also holds vast quantities of organic carbon, is decreasing significantly, in both duration and breadth. In the last three decades, Arctic seasonal minimal ice extent has decreased by as much as 45,000 square kilometers annually.

The CAFF report discussed the loss of ice, stating  “Sea ice, however, is being lost at a faster rate than projected by even the most pessimistic of climate change scenarios, such as those reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

The study received renewed attention as the Arctic Council met in Nuuk, Greenland on Thursday. The Council is made up of the eight nations whose land borders the Arctic Ocean –  Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. In addition to discussing environmental issues, the Council signed an agreement that will coordinate search-and-rescue missions across 13 million miles of northern ocean.  Experiencing record ice melt, the Arctic Ocean continues to become increasingly accessible by ships, resulting in some disputes over territorial claims.

The “Search-and Rescue” accord sets a precedent as the first legally binding agreement produced within the forum of the Arctic Council. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on the importance of cooperation amongst the Arctic Council states.

“The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing, and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem,” she said. “For more than 15 years, the Arctic Council has established itself as the region’s preeminent intergovernmental body, and the United States is committed to this forum.”

Secretary Clinton was the first Secretary of State to attend the bi-annual meeting, indicating the increasing importance placed on Arctic issues by the United States.

A working group of the Arctic Council, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme has also released a report on the state of the Arctic cryosphere. The result of a multi-year study, key findings include that Arctic summers are experiencing temperatures warmer than anything seen in the last 2,000 years, the average rate of ice melt is increasing decade over decade, and that the Arctic Ocean may experience mostly ice-free summers within this century.  

The Report also highlighted possible global implications of Arctic warming, stating that if current warming trends prevail, the Arctic may become a net carbon dioxide and methane emitter.

Photo Credit: John Sonntag/Wallops Flight Facility nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge/news/spr10/index.html

Solar Plane Successfully Completes Maiden International Flight

The Swiss solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse HB-SIA, completed its first international flight Friday morning, leaving the Payerne military airfield in Switzerland at 8:40 am local time, and landing in Zaventem airport Brussels at 9:30pm Friday evening. The Solar Impulse crossed Switzerland, Luxembourg and France in its 630 kilometer (391.4 mile) journey.

The plane completed the journey powered entirely by energy generated from the 11,628 solar cells on its wings and horizontal stabilizer. By charging the solar cells in the day, the Solar Impulse was able to use the charged cells to fly into the night.

After landing, CEO, co-founder and flight pilot André Borschberg stated, “It’s unbelievably exciting to land here in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, after flying across France and Luxembourg. And to fly without fuel, noise or pollution, making practically no negative impact, is a great source of satisfaction.”

Built on a carbon-fiber “honeycomb” skeleton, the Solar Impulse’s upper wings are covered in a solar cell-embedded skin. Its underside is covered with flexible, lightweight film. Two pods are fixed under each wing, with each pod consisting of a motor with a maximum power of 10 HP, a polymer lithium battery, and a management system.

Flying at an average altitude of 6,000 feet, the total flight time was 12 hours and 59 minutes. The long flight time was due both to the plane’s low speeds – up to 50 kilometers (approximately 31 miles) per hour – and restrictions imposed by the Zaventem air traffic control. The volume of planes landing at Zaventem airport resulted in the Solar Impulse being granted an off-peak landing slot, at 9:00pm local time.  

Brussels Airport Company CEO Arnaud Feist discussed the relevance of the flight for the airline industry.
“This airplane, the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2, symbolizes the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased use of renewable energies,” he stated.

The Solar Impulse weighs approximately 1.7 tons, with a wingspan a little larger than a Boeing 777 at 64 meters. Its cockpit currently seats one person. Following its successful maiden voyage in July of 2010, the solar plane has subsequently completed flights across Switzerland, in addition to a successful night flight.

The primary challenge of the international flight was navigating the busy European airspace. Due to its slow speeds, the Solar Impulse is difficult to pick-up on radar, and is slow to maneuver. Designating a flight plan that avoided larger, faster planes was a priority.

“Usually, the separation distance between aircraft is 300 meters vertically and 8 kilometers when flying at the same height. In the case of Solar Impulse, our margin of safety is much greater” Niklaus Gerber, one of the Solar Impulse team’s air traffic controllers, stated. “There are aircraft that are travelling at between 400 and 900 kilometers per hour. So the other aircraft are the ones that have to make adjustments to avoid it…An aircraft that passes above it needs to be at least 900 meters higher, due to the turbulence it creates”.

After having completed its maiden international flight, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA will be displayed in Belgium and France. Between May 23rd and 29th, it will be on show to the European institutions in Brussels. It will afterwards fly to the Paris International Air show, where it will again be displayed as a “special guest” from the 20th to the 26th of June.

Solar Impulse was founded by André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard in Switzerland, with the goal of developing solar flight technologies. Both are pilots, with Piccard completing the first non-stop balloon flight circumventing the globe, and Borschberg trained as an engineer and fighter pilot.

Photo credit: Matth1 commons/c/cc/Flea_Hop_HB-SIA_-_Solar_Impulse.jpg

Mysterious Gamma Ray Bursts Stun Scientists

The otherwise steadfast Crab Nebula has stunned scientists by emitting a huge burst of gamma rays, the source of which remains a mystery. According to NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope (formerly the Gamma Ray Large Area Telescope, or GLAST), the burst emitted was up to 30 times the nebula’s normal output of gamma rays, and five times more powerful. 

The Crab Nebula is located  in the constellation Taurus, approximately 6,500 light years from Earth. It is comprised primarily of the remnants of a supernova – the explosion of a dying star. The light from the supernova which formed the Crab Nebula reached Earth and was recorded by astronomers at the time in the year 1054 AD.

What’s left of the core of the star, located in the center of the iconic gas cloud, is a spinning neutron star, or pulsar. Each of the neutron star’s 30-second rotations blasts huge beams of radiation outward. Referred to as a “constant candle”, the Crab Nebula has long since been considered a steady emitter of light, radio, and high-energy radiation, making the recent bursts of gamma rays particularly singular.

Of all the waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, gamma rays have the smallest wavelengths and the highest energy. Gamma ray bursts release significantly more energy than traditional stars.  

“An individual gamma ray burst can release in a matter of seconds the same amount of energy that our Sun will radiate over its 10-billion-year lifetime,” stated NASA scientist Neil Gehrels.

While waves of visible light or radio emissions permeate through our atmosphere, gamma rays are absorbed before they reach the Earth’s surface. This is beneficial for organisms on Earth, as gamma rays can be fatal for living cells.

However, this also makes gamma rays more difficult to study, requiring highly sensitive equipment, like the Fermi Telescope, often placed in the upper reaches of or above the Earth’s atmosphere.   

Speaking with the BBC, scientist Rolf Buehler explained part of the mystery surrounding the Crab Nebula’s sudden gamma ray bursts.  “If you look in optical light, the Crab is very steady,” he stated.  “In radio emission, it’s very steady; in very, very high-energy gamma rays it’s very steady. Only in this part between do we see it varying.”

The Fermi Telescope, which through its GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM) specifically studies gamma ray bursts, was able to record the first burst on April 12th, 2011. The GBM has the capacity to detect as many as 200 gamma rays bursts annually.

“It’s amazing that gamma-ray bursts are so powerful that a small detector you could hold in one hand can observe them from distances of billions of light-years,” stated GBM Principal Investigator Charles Meegan of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

The information was discussed at the Third Fermi Symposium in Rome, which ended yesterday.  Fermi’s observations were corroborated by similar findings on the AGILE, the Italian Space Agency’s satellite.

Speaking on the gamma ray flares, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Alice Harding stated, “These superflares are the most intense outbursts we’ve seen to date, and they are all extremely puzzling events.”

Theories do exist as to the source and nature of the gamma-ray bursts. Scientists with NASA believe that the flares are a result of restructuring of the pulsar’s magnetic field, which can accelerate particles to very near the speed of light. 

Gamma ray bursts are thought to arise from the consequent interaction of these high-speed particles, like electrons, with the pulsar’s magnetic field. While scientists estimate that the emitting region must be within a third of a light year from the pulsar and approximately as large as our solar system, the exact source of the bursts remain unclear.

Photo credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT/R. Buehler, ESA, J. Hester, A. Loll (ASU) nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1604.html

Penultimate Space Shuttle Launch Delayed Again Until End of Week

The launch of the NASA space shuttle Endeavour was scrubbed three hours before lift-off, due to problems with one of the shuttle’s three auxiliary power units. The auxiliary power units provide hydraulic power, used by the shuttle for steering purposes during ascent and re-entry.

The astronauts, led by Commander Mark Kelly, were already in the Astrovan when the launch was scrubbed.

A heater in the first auxiliary power unit (APU-1) has stopped working. The heater is one of two on APU-1, and is used to prevent the APU’s hydrazine fuel from freezing once the shuttle reaches orbit. NASA technicians have been systematically checking the thermostat associated with the APU-1 fuel line.

Though the thermostat is still not operational, NASA technicians have yet to determine whether the issue lies simply with the thermostat, or with an electrical switchbox or shorted wire. According to NASA, no decision on the feasibility of a Monday launch will be made until Sunday morning, at the earliest. The target launch time for the Endeavour shuttle is currently set for Monday at 14:34 eastern time.

Speaking on the decision to scrub the launch, Mission Management Team Chair and Shuttle Launch Integration Manager, Mike Moses stated, “It was pretty straight-forward scrub today. The team made a very good call.”

Endeavour’s external fuel tanks were drained Saturday. The draining of the “rocket fuel” – 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and  liquid hydrogen, is necessary for NASA technicians to safely reach the aft of the shuttle, from which they will attempt to diagnose the issue.   

The failure of the Endeavour launch was described as “disappointing” by shuttle launch director Michael Leinbach.

“A disappointing day for Team Endeavour and the astronauts, but as we always say in this business, ‘we will not fly this machine until it’s ready’ and today it was not ready’, ” he said.

The Endeavour mission is scheduled to bring a $2.1 billion dollar payload to the International Space Station, including the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) and spare parts. The AMS-02 is a particle physics detector which will search for dark matter and antimatter.

Sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, it was built and is operated by an international consortium spanning 16 countries and 56 institutes, and will be the first magnetic spectrometer to operate in space.

The launch was of particular historical importance. The mission, STS-134, was to be Endeavour’s last, and the penultimate space shuttle mission before the space shuttle program is discontinued. Built in 1992, the Endeavour is the youngest orbiter, and has successfully completed 35 previous shuttle missions.  It has orbited the Earth 4,429 times, and has spent over 280 days in space.

The Endeavour will spend two weeks in orbit. Following its re-entry in May, plans have been made for the shuttle to be displayed in a California museum.

The mission has also received additional attention due to the presence of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the wife of Commander Kelly.  Congresswoman Giffords was shot during a public meeting with constituents in January, and is currently undergoing physical rehabilitation in Texas.  She was on site to watch Friday’s launch from a private area reserved for the astronauts’ families.

President Obama was also present to watch the shuttle’s scheduled launch on Friday. He met with the astronauts and Congresswoman Giffords.  Following the launch’s scrubbing, the President took a tour of the Kennedy Space Center with his family.

On Sunday, the launch was again scrubbed because engineers had to replace a switch box in the engine compartment. The new target launch date is later this week.

As the space shuttle program draws to a close, attendance at the launches has grown significantly. Police have estimated that as many as 750,000 people were expected to watch the Endeavour launch from the surrounding roads and beaches.

Space shuttle Atlantis, scheduled for launch June 28th, 2011, will be the last orbiter to fly before the 30-year shuttle programs ends. The shuttle will carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module and spare parts to the International Space Station.

Photo Credit: nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts134/multimedia/gallery/gallery-index.html

World’s Largest Solar Thermal Project Receives $2.1 Billion Federal Loan

The Solar Trust of America is to be the recipient of a $2.1 billion loan from the US government, given in support of the construction of what will become the largest solar thermal power plant in the world.

The funds will be used in the construction of the Blythe Solar Power Project, a joint venture between Solar Trust of America, itself a partnership between the German companies Solar Millennium AG and Ferrostaal AG, and Chevron Energy Solutions. 

Once completed, the plant will meet nearly ten percent of the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 goal, which seeks to source at least ten gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2015.

The project represents the latest in a number of solar thermal power plants currently in construction by Solar Trust of America.

The conditional loan guarantee, offered by the Department of Energy, is part of an initiative to provide funding for innovative projects utilizing often “unproven” technologies, which may consequently have trouble generating revenue using traditional channels.

Located in southern California, eight miles to the west of the City of Blythe, the project will span approximately 7,030 acres in total, with the enclosed plants comprising 5,950 acres of that total.  Total construction costs are currently estimated at approximately six billion dollars.

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who represents the district containing the Blythe Solar Power project, echoed her support for both the US loan and the implications of the Blythe Solar Power Project.

“Solar Trust of America’s Blythe Solar Power Project is now one step closer to reality,” she stated.  “I look forward to continuing my work supporting projects in Riverside County that will harness our local energy resources and help reduce our nation’s dangerous dependence on unstable foreign oil.”

Utilizing solar parabolic trough technology, once completed the initial two units of the Blythe Solar Power project will produce an estimated 484 megawatts of energy. Overall, the project, consisting of four independent solar plants producing 250 megawatts of energy each, is expected to produce 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal energy.  The energy produced would be enough to power over 300,000 households annually.

Speaking on the project, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, stated,

“Solar Trust of America’s Blythe Solar Power Project will soon be the largest solar project in the world. It brings over a thousand jobs, billions of dollars in private investment to our state, and is further proof that California is leading the way in clean energy development. This clean, renewable energy will make our communities better places to live.”

The process of generating the energy incorporates both innovative and traditional technologies. As parabolic mirrors collect and refocus heat energy into receiver tubes, an oil “heat transfer fluid” (HTF) is filtered through the tubes, becoming hotter as it circulates. After reaching temperatures of up to 750°F, the HTF is circulated through heat exchangers, where it creates steam. In combining this steam with a traditional steam turbine engine, electricity is produced.

The project will also result in the creation of over 1,080 construction and plant operations jobs. Bill Perez, Executive Secretary of the Riverside and San Bernardino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke on the economic importance of the plant for the hard-hit construction industry. 

“At a time when job creation is sorely needed in Riverside County, this project and the economic boost it will provide will help us put tradesmen back to work and fuel local economic development,” he stated.

The Blythe Solar Power Project will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the area by as much as one million tons per year, the approximate equivalent of eliminating 300,000 cars from the road. Most of the water utilized in the process of generating energy will be recycled back into the system.

The facility will also use 90 percent less water than a traditional solar plant, due to the utilization of dry-cooling methods, such as large fans, in place of industry prevalent wet-cooling methods.

Photo Credit: energyalmanac.ca.gov/renewables/solar/pv.html

United States on the Way to Reaching 1 Million Electric Vehicles by 2015

obama-electric-car

According to the Department of Energy, the United States is on track to having one million electric vehicles in use by 2015, the goal established by President Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.

The reaffirmation came from David Sandalow, Assistant Energy Secretary, following his keynote speech in Detroit to the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Speaking to reporters, Sandalow stated, “”The pace of innovation in this industry is extraordinary…If you look at the plans of the major automotive manufacturers, there’s a clear pathway to a million vehicles.”

The President has often subsequently reiterated the goal, including mentioning it in this year’s State of the Union address. “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” he said.

Across the industry, demand for electric vehicles remains high. According to General Motors Spokesperson Robert Peterson, plans to produce and sell 10,000 Chevy Volts this year remain on track, with this number rising to 45,000 by 2012.

The Nissan LEAF also remains extremely popular, with the 20,000 cars already reserved in the US currently exceeding available supply. According to Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault-Nissan, sales of the LEAF are expected to reach 300,000 globally within three years. Ford expects to produce 10,000 – 20,000 units of its Focus Electric car annually, scheduled for release later this year.

President Obama has sought to bolster private sector sales with a number of government incentives, including a proposed $7,500 consumer tax credit in his fiscal year 2012 budget, research and development funding to generate innovations in battery technology, and grants for up to 30 communities which embrace electric vehicles. Obama has also called upon Congress to develop policies in support of innovations in natural gas vehicles.

The Obama administration has also sought to reform the Federal government’s fleet, calling upon government agencies to set 2015 as the year by which all new vehicle purchases will be electric or alternative-fuel powered.

According to the Department of Energy, the number of vehicles operated by the federal government currently surpasses 600,000. To date, steps taken under the Obama administration have already led to the doubling of hybrid and electric vehicles in this fleet.

The Obama administration has also taken measures to encourage the utilization of electric and hybrid vehicles among commercial fleets. The National Clean Fleets Partnership pairs the Department of Energy with five corporations – AT&T, FedEx, PepsiCo, UPS and Verizon – in a bid to reduce both fuel consumption and the number of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles on the road.

Currently, the fleets of the five corporations collectively comprise over 275,000 vehicles.  The Department of Energy will assist these corporations in introducing 20,000 alternative fuel vehicles into their fleets, which will also reduce their petroleum consumption by 7 million gallons annually.

The Department of Energy hopes to expand the partnership to include other companies, seeking to help replace the 3 million gasoline-powered commercial fleet vehicles currently in use with alternative energy vehicles.

Critics remain skeptical of the President’s goal, however, citing the often limited range of electric vehicles, prohibitive cost of batteries, high sale price, and niche demand as deterrents to widespread use. Based on current sales of hybrid vehicles, the Center for Automotive Research estimates that closer to 469,000 electric cars will be in circulation by 2015.

Cuts to the Department of Energy’s budget may also present difficulties, with incentive and R & D programs likely to suffer. However, the Department of Energy has indicated that reductions in funding will not affect its commitment to promoting energy efficiency. 

“We will march forward aggressively to promote clean energy and we’ve got the budget to do it,” Sandalow stated.

Photo Credit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/images/electric_car_blog.jpg

Christie’s “Green Auction” Raises $2.4 million for Environmental Causes

auction-gavel-Christie'sThe international auction house Christie’s has raised a total of $2.4 million for environmental causes, through its “Green Auction: Bid to Save the Earth” event. Through collaboration with charitybuzz.com, the event included a live auction on March 29th, combined with three weeks of online auctioning ending on April 7th.
Sales from the live auction totaled $1.4 million, with $750,000 raised through the charitybuzz.com online auction and $10 donations sent via text message.

The four beneficiaries of the funds are the Central Park Conservancy, Conservation International, Oceana, and the National Resources Defense Council. The non-profit organizations were selected based upon their four-star rating by the charity rating agency, Charity Navigator.

Edward Dolman, Chairman of Christie’s, discussed the auction house’s goals for the event, stating, “By hosting the Green Auction, Christie’s is taking the lead with innovative ways to raise crucial funds and awareness for the preservation of our planet, and we are happy to be a global catalyst in such a noble endeavor.”  

Auction lots varied from pledges of support for the featured environmental non-profits to tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Numerous social and political figures were featured, including letters of support from Prince Charles of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Monaco, flying lessons with Harrison Ford, and backstage meet-ups with Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

Environmentally-themed art, luxury “eco-conscious” vacation packages, and tickets to television finales were also offered.

Prices for the lots varied, with an hour long tennis lesson with John McEnroe selling for $26,000, while a day spent with former President Bill Clinton was auctioned for as much as $100,000.

The event was co-hosted by François-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek, Graydon and Anna Carter, Vogue Magazine, and David and Susan Rockefeller, the latter of which is also a member of Oceana’s board. Speaking to Reuters,  Rockefeller, a respected environmental activist and documentary film maker, called the event “multi-tiered”.

“Art, philanthropy, music and fashion can all transform the way you see something and make it come alive,” she stated. “All these people from different walks of life, with different talents, scientists, lawyers, all working toward protecting the environment.”

The live auction at Christie’s also featured a “Runway to Green” fashion show, in which most major fashion houses, totally 24 brands in all, participated. Sponsored and underwritten by Tiffany and Co, designers ranging from Gucci to Marc Jacobs donated or crafted pieces for the show. All featured pieces were afterwards made available for purchase online at Net-A-Porter. 

A percentage of all proceeds from the “Runway to Green” sales were donated to numerous environmental organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign, the National Resources Defense Council and the Alliance for Climate Protection.

Participating designers also made pledges to investigate the National Resources Defense Council’s sustainable manufacturing practices, as put forth in the non-profit’s “Clean by Design” initiative.

Lorenzo Roccia, the Chairman of “Runway to Green”, commented on the fashion industry’s growing awareness of its environmental impact.
“This collaboration constitutes one of the most important commitments made on behalf of the fashion industry to learn and address its impact on the environment,” he stated. “It uses the power and reach of the industry to deliver a global message about the relevance and necessity to be educated on our individual role and responsibility in protecting the environment.”

This is Christie’s second annual “Bid to Save the Earth” event, with last year’s auction raising over $2 million for the featured environmental organizations. The auction itself strove to be carbon neutral, with electronic catalogues, the utilization of Christie’s LIVE for real-time online bidding, and carbon off-sets offered to those travelling to the event. 

Photographs and further information on the event can be found here.

Photo credit: yuma-az.gov/8265.htm

 

The international auction house Christie’s has raised a total of $2.4 million for environmental causes, through its “Green Auction: Bid to Save the Earth” event. Through collaboration with charitybuzz.com, the event included a live auction on March 29th, combined with three weeks of online auctioning ending on April 7th. Sales from the live auction totaled $1.4 million, with $750,000 raised through the charitybuzz.com online auction and $10 donations sent via text message.

The four beneficiaries of the funds are the Central Park Conservancy, Conservation International, Oceana, and the National Resources Defense Council. The non-profits were selected based upon their four-star rating by the charity-rating agency, Charity Navigator.

Edward Dolman, Chairman of Christie’s, discussed the auction house’s goals for the event, stating, “By hosting the Green Auction, Christie’s is taking the lead with innovative ways to raise crucial funds and awareness for the preservation of our planet, and we are happy to be a global catalyst in such a noble endeavor.”  

Auction lots varied from pledges of support for the featured environmental organizations to tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Numerous political and social figures were featured, including letters of support from Prince Charles of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Monaco, flying lessons with Harrison Ford, and backstage meet-ups with Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga. Environmentally-themed art, luxury “eco-conscious” vacation packages, and tickets television finales were also offered.

Prices for the lots varied, with an hour long tennis lesson with John McEnroe selling for $26,000, while a day spent with former President Bill Clinton was auctioned for $100,000.

The event was co-hosted by François-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek, Graydon and Anna Carter, Vogue Magazine, and David and Susan Rockefeller, the latter of which is also a member of Oceana’s board. Speaking to Reuters, Mrs. Rockefeller, a respected environmental activist and documentary film maker, called the event “multi-tiered”.

“Art, philanthropy, music and fashion can all transform the way you see something and make it come alive,” she stated. “All these people from different walks of life, with different talents, scientists, lawyers, all working toward protecting the environment.”

This is Christie’s second annual “Bid to Save the Earth” event, with last year’s auction raising $2 million for the featured environmental organizations. The auction itself strove to be carbon neutral, with electronic catalogues, the utilization of Christie’s LIVE for real-time online bidding, and carbon off-sets offered to those travelling to the event.  

The live auction at Christie’s also featured a “Runway to Green” fashion show, in which almost all the major fashion houses, totally 24 brands in all, participated. Sponsored and underwritten by Tiffany and Co, designers ranging from Gucci to Marc Jacobs donated or crafted pieces for the show. All featured pieces were afterwards made available for purchase online at Net-A-Porter. 

A percentage of all proceeds from the “Runway to Green” sales were donated to numerous environmental organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign, the NRDC and the Alliance for Climate Protection. All participating designers also made pledges to investigate the National Resource De

The international auction house Christie’s has raised a total of $2.4 million for environmental causes, through its “Green Auction: Bid to Save the Earth” event. Through collaboration with charitybuzz.com, the event included a live auction on March 29th, combined with three weeks of online auctioning ending on April 7th. Sales from the live auction totaled $1.4 million, with $750,000 raised through the charitybuzz.com online auction and $10 donations sent via text message.

The four beneficiaries of the funds are the Central Park Conservancy, Conservation International, Oceana, and the National Resources Defense Council. The non-profits were selected based upon their four-star rating by the charity-rating agency, Charity Navigator.

Edward Dolman, Chairman of Christie’s, discussed the auction house’s goals for the event, stating, “By hosting the Green Auction, Christie’s is taking the lead with innovative ways to raise crucial funds and awareness for the preservation of our planet, and we are happy to be a global catalyst in such a noble endeavor.”  

Auction lots varied from pledges of support for the featured environmental organizations to tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Numerous political and social figures were featured, including letters of support from Prince Charles of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Monaco, flying lessons with Harrison Ford, and backstage meet-ups with Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga. Environmentally-themed art, luxury “eco-conscious” vacation packages, and tickets television finales were also offered.

Prices for the lots varied, with an hour long tennis lesson with John McEnroe selling for $26,000, while a day spent with former President Bill Clinton was auctioned for $100,000.

The event was co-hosted by François-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek, Graydon and Anna Carter, Vogue Magazine, and David and Susan Rockefeller, the latter of which is also a member of Oceana’s board. Speaking to Reuters, Mrs. Rockefeller, a respected environmental activist and documentary film maker, called the event “multi-tiered”.

“Art, philanthropy, music and fashion can all transform the way you see something and make it come alive,” she stated. “All these people from different walks of life, with different talents, scientists, lawyers, all working toward protecting the environment.”

This is Christie’s second annual “Bid to Save the Earth” event, with last year’s auction raising $2 million for the featured environmental organizations. The auction itself strove to be carbon neutral, with electronic catalogues, the utilization of Christie’s LIVE for real-time online bidding, and carbon off-sets offered to those travelling to the event.  

The live auction at Christie’s also featured a “Runway to Green” fashion show, in which almost all the major fashion houses, totally 24 brands in all, participated. Sponsored and underwritten by Tiffany and Co, designers ranging from Gucci to Marc Jacobs donated or crafted pieces for the show. All featured pieces were afterwards made available for purchase online at Net-A-Porter. 

A percentage of all proceeds from the “Runway to Green” sales were donated to numerous environmental organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign, the NRDC and the Alliance for Climate Protection. All participating designers also made pledges to investigate the National Resource Defense Council’s sustainable manufacturing practices, as put forth in the non-profit’s Clean by Design initiative.

Lorenzo Roccia, the Chairman of “Runway to Green”, commented on the fashion industry’s growing awareness of its environmental impact.
“This collaboration constitutes one of the most important commitments made on behalf of the fashion industry to learn and address its impact on the environment,” he stated. “It uses the power and reach of the industry to deliver a global message about the relevance and necessity to be educated on our individual role and responsibility in protecting the environment.”

Photographs and further information on the event can be found here.

 

fense Council’s sustainable manufacturing practices, as put forth in the non-profit’s Clean by Design initiative.

Lorenzo Roccia, the Chairman of “Runway to Green”, commented on the fashion industry’s growing awareness of its environmental impact.
This collaboration constitutes one of the most important commitments made on behalf of the fashion industry to learn and address its impact on the environment,” he stated. “It uses the power and reach of the industry to deliver a global message about the relevance and necessity to be educated on our individual role and responsibility in protecting the environment.”

Photographs and further information on the event can be found here.