Nature: The 20 member nations of the European Space Agency have agreed to provide €10.1 billion ($13 billion) in funding over the next five years, which is €2 billion less than the requested amount. The reduction will force the agency to adjust many of its programs. The budget provides funding for the development of both an upgrade to the Ariane 5 rocket and an entirely new Ariane 6. Instead of pursuing development of its own manned space capsule, the agency will contribute technology from their Automated Transfer Vehicle to the development of NASA’s Orion capsule. Although plans for a robotic lunar lander were not funded, two missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018 were approved in partnership with Russia’s Roscosmos. Significant cuts to the agency’s environmental observation programs were also made. The details have not been determined, but it is likely at least one mission will be delayed.
Los Angeles Times: Solar power plants, part of the renewable energy push by the Obama administration, are proving to be more of a burden than a boon to local economies in California. Unlike most large projects, which traditionally mean new jobs and more revenue for the counties that host them, solar plants eat up land and require large investments from the counties themselves to upgrade roadways and increase fire, safety, and other public services. Counties such as Inyo in California’s Mojave Desert are finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place: the state and federal governments, which support the growth of solar power with loans, tax credits, and property tax exemptions, and the solar power companies, which are balking at absorbing any of the extra costs to the counties where the plants are built.
BBC: Funded by nations throughout the Middle East, the SESAME synchrotron light source, which is under construction in Jordan, is planned to be operational by 2015. A synchrotron accelerates electrons through a circular tunnel, causing them to emit beams of radiation used to study the structures of target objects. Including such countries as Cyprus, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Turkey, the project is part of an effort to open scientific communication across otherwise hostile borders. Although SESAME still needs about $10 million to complete the construction, the decade-long project is already considered a success by many of the scientists involved because of the work they have done with their counterparts from other countries. When the project is completed, it will be the first synchrotron in the Middle East. Researchers from the nations that contributed to the project will share resources in much the same way as the researchers who access the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Science News: The chemical composition of certain metals in medieval and early modern European coins is helping researchers trace not only where New World silver was mined but also which route it took to Europe. In their paper published online in Geology, Anne-Marie Desaulty and Francis Albarede of the École Normale Supérieure in France discuss their analysis of 15 English coins dated between 1317 and 1640. From the coins’ copper, lead, and silver content, the researchers were able to determine that coins minted before about 1553 were made from metals mined in central Europe or England and those minted immediately after that date had silver from Mexico. However, silver from Bolivia that was mined at about the same time as that from Mexico didn’t show up in English coins until almost a century later. The researchers propose that silver from Mexico was exported eastward and therefore found its way into English currency faster than did Bolivian silver, which was probably shipped westward via China.
Wall Street Journal: “Superstorm Sandy,” writes former New York Republican governor George Pataki, “exposed perhaps the greatest flaw underpinning the American way of life: insecure and unreliable electrical infrastructure.” He calls for burying local distribution networks underground and increasing the number of high-voltage DC transmission lines from power plants. They can be buried less expensively over long distances than can AC lines, he observes, and they can be placed underwater, like the Cross Sound Cable between Connecticut and Long Island. Whether underground or underwater, burying DC cables helps to “enhance their reliability.” He advocates “distributed power generation through fuel cells, microturbines, and the simultaneous ‘cogeneration’ of both heat and power,” with small installation footprints and reliability even during grid outages. Pataki also calls for smart-grid technologies that automatically post trouble reports, for “so-called self-healing transmission and electric-system technology [that] can help the electrical grid react to system damage as it occurs by isolating outages,” and for improvements to federal procedures that counterproductively mandate replacing disaster-damaged obsolete equipment only with the same technology.