Tech Roundup, Sep. 27, 2019 | Brazilian technology to make space travel cheaper

Brazil's 'slingshot' to save fuel on space missions

You’re reading The Brazilian Report‘s weekly tech roundup, a digest of the most important news on technology and innovation in Brazil. This week’s topics: space travel, streaming, fears of technology, and flying cars.

Brazil’s ‘slingshot’ to save fuel on space missions

A spacecraft docks to a 100 km cable, anchored to an asteroid.

Held secure by this space tether, the craft rotates around the celestial body, gaining energy as it does so. It eventually undocks from the tether and shoots off in a different direction. This &#8220;slingshot&#8221; mechanism would alter trajectory by many kilometers and could even be used to send<a href=""> spacecraft out of the Solar System</a>.</p> <p>A paper on the theoretical feasibility of this maneuver was delivered to the <a href="">Sixth International Conference on Tethers in Space</a>, held at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) in Spain, on June 12-14, 2019.</p> <p>The lead author, Alessandra Ferraz Ferreira—from the University of São Paulo&#8217;s Guaratinguetá Engineering School—won a Mario Grossi Award for the most innovative project by a young scientist presented at the conference.</p> <p>“One end of a cable is fastened to the surface of a body, such as an asteroid, and the other end has a docking device. A satellite or other object is launched toward the body and docks to the device on the free end of the tether. The speed at which it arrives forces the cable to rotate, producing a slingshot effect,” explained Ms. Ferreira.</p> <p>The model can be used to enable bodies with smaller mass than planets and natural satellites to gain momentum. Other techniques may be used for larger bodies, such as swing-by maneuvers in which thrust is applied to the spacecraft by a gravitational field, saving fuel—a critical factor on space missions.</p> <p>Ms. Ferreira’s work is designed to provide a theoretical basis for the feasible use of small bodies such as asteroids (which lack gravitational fields as powerful as planets) in slingshot maneuvers to save fuel.</p> <h4>Space elevators</h4> <p>Used in space missions ever since Gemini 11, launched by NASA in 1967, space tethers are usually between 20 m and 1 km long. The rare exceptions include a 19.6 km tether used by NASA in 1996.</p> <p>The concept dates back to at least 1895, when Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) described a space elevator consisting of a cable lifting cargo to a space station orbiting outside Earth’s atmosphere. However, space tethers to the scale proposed in that particular paper have never been used.</p> <p>How such a cable would be made, what it would be made out of, how it would anchor to an asteroid, and what the docking device would look like are all unanswered questions. The point of the Brazilian scientists’ study was to establish the parameters for a tethered slingshot maneuver, assuming these questions had already been answered.</p> <p>“We used a generic asteroid system but based it on data from an existing system,” Ms. Ferreira said. “We calculated the satellite approach on the basis of the parameters for this system. In a real-world application, it would suffice to alter them to those of an actual system.”</p> <p>The asteroid used as a reference was 99942 Apophis, located 11,602,976 km from Earth.</p> <p><em>An abstract of the paper “Three-dimensional tethered slingshot maneuver in the elliptic restricted problem” by Alessandra F. S. Ferreira, Rodolpho V. de Moraes, Antonio F. B. A. Prado, and Othon Cabo Winter can be read on page 60 of the Book of Abstracts for the Sixth International Conference on Tethers in Space, available </em><a href=""><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p style="text-align:center"><strong>with André Julião | Agência FAPESP</strong></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>uberAIR: the flying car Uber set to test in Brazil</h2> <p>uberAir is a project launched by ride-hailing company Uber to introduce flying vehicles into urban transportation. The idea is to add flying cars to the company&#8217;s list of services, including shared rides, UberBag, or luxury taxis. The company plans to test these inventions in Brazil next year—so the service may be operational by 2023. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are, of course, the most likely testing grounds.</p> <p>However, the flying cars will not be developed by Uber, counting on partnering companies instead. Last year, <a href="">Embraer</a> was the first to show a concept for a final craft. Following Uber’s guidance, it has high-mounted wings fitted with multiple small helicopter-like rotors (eight, in this case). Instead of fossil fuels, however, the flying vehicle will run on electricity.</p> <p>The new flying car—the Electrical Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft—is being built by EmbraerX, a U.S.-based division of the Brazilian planemaker, focused on developing disruptive businesses. These eVTOL vehicles would, in theory, help people avoid traffic between suburbs and cities.</p> <p>In San Francisco, Uber has a prototype developed by French multinational aircraft maker Safran as a model to be followed by other contractors. It includes a glass partition to isolate pilots (thus avoiding distractions) and four passenger seats. Uber Engineering Director of Aviation Mark Moore told <em>TechTudo</em> that some companies have begun testing in undisclosed locations.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilians lose faith in technology</h2> <p>While technology has become unavoidable in our everyday lives, Brazilians seem to be less than enthusiastic about the innovations thrown their way. A new <a href="">study</a> by think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas shows that the Brazilian population is growing increasingly pessimistic about the true impact of a more and more connected world.</p> <p>Research director André Micelli links the results to recent scandals, such as major data breaches and the use of personal data on social media for political gains. There is also the looming fear of automation—we have shown a recent Pew Research survey indicating that <a href="">90 percent of young Brazilian professionals</a> are scared of the consequences of automation will have on their professional lives.</p> <p>The data shows that optimism about technology follows a clear pattern: older groups are more prone to favor good aspects of technological advances.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/715007"></div><script src=""></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Can a Brazilian Netflix thrive in the streaming market?</h2> <p>A group of Brazilian entrepreneurs in Brasília has launched <a href="">Lets</a>, Brazil&#8217;s first streaming platform. It comes with over 2,200 titles (including series and films) and subscription plans between BRL 12.90 and 16.90 (compared to Netflix&#8217;s range of BRL 21.90-45.90 range).</p> <p>The new platform also plans to enable interactive content, including chat platforms and a sort of quiz tool with rewards. Also, Lets will have a 24-hour newscast about international news. &#8220;By Brazilians, to Brazilians,&#8221; say the founders. The company&#8217;s journalism studios will be in Miami, and will only employ Brazilian journalists. Lets says it wants to fund local, original productions—and aspire to be a driving force to foster audiovisual content production outside of the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro axis.&nbsp;</p> <p>Other initiatives to create cinema hubs across Brazil were attempted in the past—but were short-lived. The most recent case came in the city of Paulínia (São Paulo state), which built state-of-the-art cinema infrastructure costing BRL 490 million and offering tax breaks as an incentive to attract cultural productions. The hub hosted 42 productions between 2008 and 2014—but is now nearly abandoned.</p> <p>The streaming market in Brazil is highly concentrated, with Netflix enjoying an 18-percent market share (five times the share of second-placed GloboPlay).

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.