Physics Today’s online staff summarize the most important and interesting news about science from the world's top media outlets.
There are 39 posts for the selected month (July 2016).
Science: China's space program has set an ambitious schedule as it tries to be seen as an equal partner to NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The schedule includes launching more than four missions over the next 13 months. Moreover, the country's lunar exploration program hopes to launch a sample return mission next year, and its first-ever landing on the far side of the moon is planned for 2018. Beginning in 2020 China will launch four science missions and the nation's first Mars probe. Unlike NASA or ESA, the Chinese space program doesn't receive annual funding but instead gets one lump sum every five years. That arrangement doesn't adjust for inflation or allow for last-minute plan changes. In addition, the country's different space agencies are competing for scarce resources and missions. The solution, say Chinese space administrators is to merge agencies into one.
New York Times: Tenure-track professorships are one of the most desirable jobs for PhD holders in the sciences. However, in many disciplines people earning PhDs significantly outnumber the available positions. In popular fields like biomedicine, less than one position is available for every six PhD recipients, and across all science and engineering degrees fewer than 50% on average enter academic positions related to their degrees. Many entering academia in non-tenure-track positions end up in low-paying narrowly focused jobs and then leave the field after four to six years. Richard Larson of MIT and his colleagues have calculated replacement rates—how many PhDs professors each trained during their career—for tenure-track positions across several science fields. The highest rate they found was 19.0 PhDs trained per tenure-track professor for environmental engineering; biological and medical sciences were at 6.3. Larson's work suggests that this measurement could be used to help PhD students decide whether to enter academia, industry, or another career field.
Ars Technica: On Tuesday, UK-based Reaction Engines signed a £10 million contract with the European Space Agency for the development of their Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE). That agreement fulfilled a funding requirement for an additional £50 million from the UK Space Agency. Reaction Engines says that the new funding comes on top of an earlier £20.6 million from BAE Systems and allows the company to develop a ground-based demonstration SABRE engine by 2020. SABRE is a hybrid rocket–jet engine that functions as a jet at low altitudes and as a rocket at high altitudes. The company says the design is possible because of its pre-cooling heat exchanger, which can cool incoming air from 1000 °C to –150 °C in 1 ms (and prevent freezing by injecting methanol into the cooling system). In theory, the engine would be able to power a spaceplane from a horizontal take off all the way to low Earth orbit. This single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch system would be a potentially significant alternative to traditional rockets.
Nature: CubeSats, 10-cm-sided spacecraft often built with off-the-shelf parts, are widely used in low Earth orbit (LEO) for a variety of tasks. Although several CubeSats have been designed for interplanetary missions, however, they are still sitting on Earth, waiting for a ride into space. Generally, the spacecraft piggyback on rockets as secondary or even tertiary payloads. Whereas LEO launches are relatively common, launches into higher orbits or out of Earth orbit are far less frequent. Now NASA and the European Space Agency are planning to include CubeSats on several long-range missions, including technology tests and small probes to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and Jupiter's moon Europa.