ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Blue Origin Launches, Lands Fully Reusable Rocket In Industry Breakthrough.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/25, Pasztor, Subscription Publication) reports that on Tuesday, spaceflight company Blue Origin, backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced that it had successfully launched its automated, fully reusable New Shepard vehicle into suborbital space and subsequently landed its capsule and spent rocket on Earth, signifying a milestone achievement for the burgeoning commercial space industry. During the suborbital test flight on Monday, New Shepard flew 330,000 feet at almost four times the speed of sound before both the capsule and the rocket safely landed back at its launch site in West Texas, prepared for another flight.

Noting that the vehicle was named after astronaut Alan Shepard, “the first American to reach space in a similar suborbital flight in 1961,” the New York Times  (11/25, Chang, Subscription Publication) reports that the flight capsule “descended to the ground under parachutes 11 minutes after blasting off,” while the rocket, “firing its engines again, set back down at the launchpad at 4.4 miles per hour,” landed less than five feet away from its target. In an interview following the seminal event, Bezos said, “We’re walking on cloud nine,” adding, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” Bezo also noted that the flight could be considered “the beginning of a thorough test program,” and that the next launch “should be a matter of weeks.”

Bloomberg News  (11/24, Giles) reports that in a statement, Bezos said, “Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” adding, “Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.” According to Bloomberg News, the development of fully reusable rockets “is a central goal for a generation of companies that are trying to cut the cost of space travel and exploration.”

USA Today  (11/24, Woodyard) notes that in conjunction with successful test, Bezos also made his Twitter debut on Tuesday, referring to the landed booster as the “rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” and linking to a video of the liftoff and landing of the space vehicle. Notably, after initial congratulations, industry rival and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk retorted on Twitter, tweeting, “Jeff may be unaware SpaceX suborbital VTOL flight began 2013,” in reference to the vertical takeoff and landing of a rocket.

In a piece for Bloomberg News  (11/24, Vance), Elon Musk biographer Ashlee Vance recounts the rivaly between the SpaceX CEO and Bezos, stating that the “animosity between the two companies and their founders continues to swell,” adding, however, that, “engineering spats aside, SpaceX and Blue Origin have opened up the potential for incredible advancement in the space industry.” In particular, Vance notes that “the U.S., having gone from dominant to becoming utterly uncompetitive in the global launch market, has the two most promising space startups in the world and will perhaps be the leader in the aerospace industry.”

The AP  (11/25, Ritter) reports Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, successfully launched a rocket and then landed it in good enough condition to be reused. The creation of a reusable rocket is being heralded as a milestone that could reduce the costs of space flight.

Higher Education

Massachusetts AG Reaches Settlement With Student Debt Consolidation Firms.

The Boston Globe  (11/25, Woolhouse) reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced on Tuesday that her office has reached an agreement with two student debt consolidation companies under which they will “stop doing business in Massachusetts to settle allegations that the firms misled more than 200 borrowers and charged them high fees for minimal services.”

The Washington Post  (11/25, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that states are taking actions to help borrowers get relief “despite the millions of dollars the federal government pays student loan servicers to guide borrowers in repaying their debt.”

WBUR-FM  Boston (11/24) reports online that Healey “announced Tuesday that her office is launching a student loan assistance unit and cracking down on predatory student debt relief companies in the state.” The piece reports that the firms are accused of using advertisements that “made it seem like they were connected to the federal government and could help borrowers obtain unusually low monthly payments.”

WWLP-TV  Springfield, MA (11/24) reports online that Healey said “that her office is cracking down on a ‘cottage industry’ of unlawful debt relief companies in Massachusetts” and is “also launching a new effort to assist borrowers who are having trouble paying their student loans.”

Administration To Argue Before High Court On University Affirmative Action.

Roll Call  (11/24, Ruger) reports that the Supreme Court agreed to give the Administration time during oral arguments to speak in support of the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action admissions process. This is the case’s second time before the court; it previously sent it back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans with instructions to use a different legal standard. The circuit court again ruled for the university. The case is “closely watched by higher education, civil liberties groups and law groups,” as “it is unclear just how broad the Supreme Court might go with affirmative action requirements.” The ruling might threaten all affirmative action or only address specific parts of the school’s policy.

From ASEE
Adrienne Minerick on Diversity in Chemical Engineering
ASEE’s Diversity Committee chair is interviewed by AIChE.

ASEE Membership Benefits
Our members say why ASEE membership is important to them professionally.

Research and Development

Companies Developing Wireless Power Devices.

Oil Price  (11/25, Mcdonald) reports that companies like Ossia and uBeam “are leading the way” in wireless power. UBeam has attracted “big-name VC support” for a product that uses a form of ultrasonic emissions to power phones “from a longer distance,” which, if proven true, “could be a very big deal.” Ossia is “even more promising,” as it has developed an antenna-like device called Cota “that will be able to theoretically power any electrical device a consumer has.” Cota will be launched for the commercial market in 2016. The article says these devices have “obvious applications in healthcare and defense,” in addition to their applicability to cell phones and electric cars.

DARPA Developing New Disease Detection Device.

Stat  (11/24, Nather) reports that one of the newest project of the DARPA Biological Technologies Office is the “next big thing in disease detection.” The “small, secretive Pentagon outpost” seeks to “invest in research that sounds like science fiction.” Critics are opposed to the more “risky” approach of advancing biomedical research. The article adds that the “agency is widely seen as a smaller, gutsier alternative to the National Institutes of Health.” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins “said his agency is trying to learn from DARPA’s approach to ‘rapid-turnaround risky research.’” The two agencies are collaborating on “a project to develop biochips that can be used to assess the toxicity of drugs before they’re used on patients.”

Industry News

Electric Car Sales Lower Than Predicted For Many Reasons.

The Christian Science Monitor  (11/25, Chen) reports a recent survey by researchers at Indiana University and University of Kansas found that 75% of respondents were misinformed about the potential benefits of electric cars. The researchers conclude that electric car manufacturers could do a better job distributing information about the vehicles. The article also mentions a recent report by the National Research Council on why more American consumers have not purchased electric cars. Electric car sales have fallen short of past predictions by President Barack Obama and others. The report concludes high prices, short battery life, and a lack of charging stations are factors in the small number of electric cars on the road.

Engineering and Public Policy

Analysis: Derailments Expected Every Other Year If Oil Train Terminal Is Built.

The Bellingham (WA) Herald  (11/24, Tate) reports that a proposal “to build the largest oil train terminal in the Pacific Northwest could result in a derailment every two years and an oil spill from a derailment once every 12, according to a draft analysis by a Washington state agency.” The research, published Tuesday, highlights the lack of preparedness of most fire departments along the oil trains’ should a spill or fire occur following a derailment. In addition, only three out of 12 fire stations “said they had access to oil spill containment booms,” the article reports.

The Portland (OR) Business Journal  (11/24, Cronin, Subscription Publication) too reports that the draft environmental impact statement “on the megaproject from the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) for Washington state, out today, points out weaknesses in the proposal relating to derailments and earthquakes,” citing additional uncertainty about the performance of tank cars, whether new or retrofitted, “and their ability to resist breaching or failure during derailments.” Columbia Riverkeeper’s executive director Brett VandenHeuvel said, “The study demonstrates one thing: Tesoro’s oil trains and shipping terminal are too dangerous.” He added, “The combination of explosive oil trains, huge oil tanks on earthquake-prone ground and oil supertankers on the Columbia is reckless and takes us in the wrong direction. The study released today gives Governor Inslee ample reasons to deny dirty oil and stand up for a clean and healthy Washington.”

Green, Health Groups File Court Papers In Support Of EPA Ozone Standards.

The Hill  (11/24, Henry) reports that several environmental and health groups, including he American Lung Association, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), filed court papers on Monday supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new ozone standards against a lawsuit brought by the coal company Murray Energy Corp. Murray sued in October, arguing that the new standards would be too expensive to implement and lead to thousands of job losses. While the green groups weren’t happy with the final EPA levels, they had promised before the new standards to defend them against industry lawsuits.

Two State AGs Say US Climate Pledge Won’t Stand.

The Hill  (11/25, Cama) reports that Attorneys General from West Virginia and Texas want world leaders at next week’s climate conference in Paris to know that they think the US pledge is probably not legal. “We believe you have a duty to acknowledge to negotiating nations at Paris 2015 that the centerpiece of the president’s domestic CO2 reduction program is being challenged by a majority of states and will likely be struck down,” they wrote in a Tuesday letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. The Financial Times  (11/25, Crooks, Subscription Publication) adds that they note in their letter that a legally binding treaty in Paris would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Republican controlled Senate.

Coal-State Democrats Press Obama To Abandon Climate Change Plan.

The Washington Examiner  (11/25, Giaritelli) reports that “hundreds of Democrats from 32 states” are rallying against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, “which they say will cause unnecessary economic harm from increased reliance on renewable energy.” The coalition, known as CoalBlue, wrote Obama a letter on Tuesday, “telling [him] that the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules for power plants pose ‘serious and overriding concerns,’ representing the wrong approach to the problem of climate change.” CoalBlue’s message was meant to coincide with Obama’s participation at “the United Nations conference in Paris, which starts Nov. 30.”

City Of Las Vegas Targets 100 Percent Renewable Energy.

Bloomberg News  (11/25, Eckhouse) reports that Las Vegas aims to run all municipal building entirely on renewable energy, under a deal announced Tuesday with the Berkshire Hathaway Inc.-owned utility NV Energy Inc. “We will become the first city of our size in the nation to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for city operations,” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement.

The Las Vegas Sun  (11/25, Roerink) adds that the cost of solar for NV Energy will be about $48 a megawatt hour, a drop of more than half in five years. NV Energy CEO Paul Caudill said, “It’s cheaper than what we could build a new natural gas plant for.”

Google Joins Duke Energy Pilot Renewable Energy Program.

The Charlotte (NC) Business Journal  (11/25, Downey, Subscription Publication) reports that Google has signed on to Duke Energy’s Green Source Rider pilot program to help supply a $600 million data center expansion with solar-sourced energy. “Under the program, industrial customers building new facilities or undertaking major expansions can purchase power from solar, wind or other renewable sources through Duke to supply the new load created by the facilities,” the Business Journal explains. “We’ve agreed to purchase 1.2 gigawatts of renewable power globally and we’re working to power 100% of our operations with renewables,” says Gary Demasi, Google’s head of data center energy and location strategy. “As we pursue that goal, this is a really big moment for us and we’re thrilled to have created this program with Duke Energy.”

The Charlotte (NC) Observer  (11/25, Henderson) reports that Google will be the first customer of Duke’s Green Source Rider. “Having Google as the first company to publicly announce its participation is extremely satisfying,” said Rob Caldwell, Duke’s senior vice president for distributed energy. “We believe this will lead to similar announcements in the future.”

The AP  (11/25) also reports briefly.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Massachusetts Governor Lays Out Plan To Expand And Improve Career Education.

The Springfield (MA) Republican  (11/24, Schoenberg) reports Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker laid out a broad plan to reform the state’s career education system by expanding access, creating a single point of contact for businesses to contact the state about career education, and launching a “regional planning process that addresses education, workforce training and economic development.” The single point of contact, BizWorks, will allow the state to support businesses who want to relocate to or grow in Massachusetts taking advantage of the state’s career education opportunities. The Boston Globe  (11/24, Scharfenberg) adds that Governor Baker will be seeking new state funding for his plans to expand and improve career and technical education in the state. Massachusetts Education Secretary Jim Peyser said, “We’re certainly planning on investing new resources.” The governor’s plan would help him fulfill one of his key campaign promises to narrow or close the “skills gap” where many high school graduates in the state lack the skills in demand by employers. The article mentions that there is an ongoing debate about the existence, size, and relative importance of the skills gap affecting whether it should be addressed by state leaders or educators.

Utah School District Uses “STEM Fridays” To Teach Students Skills While Working On Projects.

The Park City (UT) Park Record  (11/25, Brown) reports the Park City Education Foundation in Park City, Utah has funded STEM Fridays, a series of activities at local elementary schools where students get to try out different types of engineering activities. Program for Academic Challenge and Enrichment (PACE) specialist Paula Krueger says students “light up” every Friday when they find out what kind of engineer they get to be that day. This year students have used STEM Fridays to build balloon-powered rocket cars, design magnetic levitation trains, and complete other projects requiring STEM skills.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Researchers Devise Safer “Water-In-Salt” Alternative To Lithium-Ion Batteries.
University Of Iowa Lowers Test Score Bar, Increases In-State Aid.
Delaware Researchers Working On Solar Power Breakthrough.
Netherlands’ Switch To Electric Vehicles Powered By Coal Plants.
Cybersecurity Industry To Grow 121 Percent Over Next Five Years.
Administration Offers Aid To Help Communities Dependent On Coal Industry.
University Of Tennessee Engineering School Working With Local High School Counselors.

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