Teachings of a Spacefarer {Future}5rt

We’ve been on Earth for a few million years. Every observation and learning is based on how we experience things here. Until we managed to look outside the planet; we did not know the rules of the game. Now we are trying to create a theory of the universe sitting on a rock that has its own atmosphere and its own way of life. The secrets of the universe are still leaning in through a few that are able to forget what is in front of them and look far beyond.

What if we are in that environment in space? What if we are in the belly of the cosmos, beyond the Earth, and within the influence of the sun? And later, beyond the influence of the sun. A mind that is seeing a whole new world, that is experiencing a whole new phenomenon, wouldn’t that find a pattern that is “obvious”?

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Visions for the Future with Carbon Nanotubes

Visions of a future with Carbon Nanotubes

Gadhadar Reddy

Carbon is a versatile material capable of forming Structures that are both simple and complex with ease. This ability of carbon has made it the material of choice for life on earth. The material is abundant on earth and nearby planetary bodies. Just when we thought that we knew everything; It had a few more tricks up its sleeve. While observing Starlight, Professor Kroto found that there were lines of carbon that did not seem to match any known forms of carbon. He met Richard Smalley at a conference at Rice University, and they began talking about the strange new forms of carbon. At that time, Dr.Smalley had access to the world’s most powerful laser and used it to fire various materials to see what they’re made of. Sitting on a couch, they decided to carry out a few experiments by blowing up carbon in the presence of Iron to see what happens. The experiments yielded the first conclusive evidence of a new form of carbon called fullerenes. These unique football-shaped molecules played a pivotal role in kickstarting nanotechnology.

Further developments in fullerenes led to the discovery of carbon nanotubes. Especially single-walled carbon nanotubes. These unique molecules seem to have the ability strength and properties that were unmatched by any known material. These were the fictional diamond tubes the authors had always predicted but had been incredibly difficult to manufacture. Studies on the properties of the carbon nanotubes revealed that they had strength higher than any material known to humanity. They also had unique electrical properties, the ability to withstand radiation, and the ability to self-repair any ability to form complex chain molecules like their precursor carbon. The applications of the material were enormous, but the manufacturability was incredibly tough. A familiar situation in the history of materials, just like Napoleon used aluminium vessels to feed his guests because it was the most expensive metal. Nanotubes are in a similar place. In the following few lines, we’re going to look at all the opportunities and things that would be changed by making use of carbon nanotubes in our daily lives.

I

t’s March 2041, humanity’s permanent settlement on Mars is celebrating the natural birth of a human being beyond earth. A thrilling moment for an exploration that led us to conquer Space. The baby’s cries resonate across living rooms on Earth, the entire cabinet is in attendance, laboratories on the Moon and the miners on Phobos/Deimos are all at a standstill to bear witness to a new leap in mankind’s journey. Hope fills up the atmosphere and people have come to standstill as one species.

Countless people worked tirelessly for this moment. Computers watched the baby and mother real-time in-situ. The Gynecologist in charge was a Brain Computer Interface integrated to the captain. He could see virtual doctors scurrying around the room, looking at data, interpreting results and ensuring the data was in line with experience. The robotic arms with human like muscles could perform intricate movements and hold heavy weights. A quantum link ensured real-time communication despite the vast distance. The medical bay was a structural marvel by itself. The entire structure was held in tension by ropes that swirled down smart tent material that could deflect meteorites and repair itself in case of damage. The self-repairing composite had the ability to sense pressure, temperature and external forces. The tables doubled up as chargers. There were no wires anywhere. All objects charged as soon as they were on a table. Data syncs happened instantly. The cameras were live streaming the room in 3D. Millions of people had walked in the medical bay and seen the baby within a few seconds of the announcement. The baby was kept warm by clothes that were capable of heating and cooling as per the temperature needs. It had been set to a warm 25C by the research team from Vani Vilas Hospital, Bangalore. The one city whose weather is still hard to beat anywhere in the solar system.

The emergency lights turned on as the main power system was shut down due to a fuse blowout. A common occurrence from the dust clouds. A small announcement was the only sign of the shutdown. The structures protecting the base could generate and store energy. Every fabric tile was an independent source and store of power. They had efficiencies of 80%. The Light patches on the cloth doubled up as displays and had an optical efficiency of >99%. Just like the tables; as soon as you connected a device to the wall; it came online. Windows were generated in real time through all the walls. Skylight, windows into the dust storm or the beautiful night sky were all just a wish away.

Outside the equatorial base, construction of an elevator to space was going on in full swing. The structure was built using ropes imported from earth on the Obava class vessels. The new vehicles could get into space in a single stage. Refueled in the Neeru depots powered by cells that rapidly broke down water into Hydrogen fuel and Oxygen. These were cryo-cooled by massive heat sinks facing the cold side of space. Water for the depots came from moon rocks and dust filtered with Nano filters. The fully fueled vessel hurtled towards Mars boosted by their water thrusters. The rocket unfurled a massive 10km sail that weighed just 100kilos. It generated large amounts of electricity that were channeled through hair sized wires that could withstand gun shots. The space craft was equipped with weapon systems to smartly detect and eliminate meteorites and targets using a compact Electromagnetic coil made of the same wires in the solar sail. The compact, accurate guns packed a punch. They had already revolutionized warfare and reduced human fatalities from gunshots to zero. The built in AI and powerful algorithms coupled with Realtime decision making had saved millions back on Earth.  

All these advances had one common thread. Nay! one common tube; A Carbon Nanotube. The incredible material had been discovered in starlight. An equivalent did not exist and so researchers set about finding ways to create a material that replicated star light. This led to the creation of HiPCO – a technology that produced tubes that were 200000x smaller than hair. The process was complex for 20th century and was difficult to master. The process would have been abandoned if not for the grit of an obscure company in Bangalore; NoPo Nanotechnologies. NoPo’s founders were driven by a desire to enable humanity to be a space faring species. This vision required creation of technologies to produce copious quantities of Carbon Nanotubes. Fortuitous accidents, the right people, and a seemingly unstoppable desire conquered challenges which were thought to be impossible.

NoPo developed the first Nanotubes and doggedly pursued applications. The first property to be leveraged was water transportation through the Nanotubes. Tubes of a small diameter have the ability to filter water about 100x better than incumbent technologies of 2021. The filters solved Earth’s looming water crisis and created a dependable technology to water extraction on any celestial without fear of contamination. The membranes led to development of aligned tubular strcutures that exhibit sensing capabilities. These were used to release a line of smart products based on CENCE – A Carbon Nanotube enhanced composite. CENCE evolved into sensing structures. The backbone of all space structures.

CENCE evolved into a multi-functional material with high strength, sensing and other capabilities. High strength was achieved by cross linking Nanotubes. These evolved conductive materials became the backbone of Brain Computer interfaces. Carbon was fully compatible with human body and the high-speed channels offered gave enhanced capabilities to humans.

Electronics made with Nanotubes produce little to no heat. More complex computations were done without breaking a sweat. 3D structures helped pack even more transistors than ever thought possible.

The metallic Nanotubes along with their semiconducting nanotubes were used to create reconfigurable Carbon Nanotube antennas that could form a charger in real-time. This became the defacto standard for charging devices on the go. All one had to do was lay down the phone on a table and in seconds it spoke to the table understood how much charge was needed and received packets of energy all without a user intervention.

Water needs an energy of 1.5eV to be broken down. That’s like the energy of blue light! Theoretically all the water should be broken down if this were true; however, thanks to its ability to be transparent; we have oceans of water. This Photolysis of water can occur if we can provide a surface on which to break down water. It turns out Nanotubes offer the perfect surface. Especially when made with Semiconducting Carbon Nanotubes. This enabled Hydrogen economies to suddenly make an appearance. In orbital depots, the Nanotube based structures enabled rapid generation of fuel on Orbital depots while solving storage issues by storing the same as Water.

The same structures were excellent absorbers of sunlight at various wavelengths. All it needed was different diameters of tubes. Vertically aligned rectennas embedded inside the water membranes functioned to absorb light directly as a wave. This led to Rectennas whose performance was beyond any cell designed. The Nanotube rectenna cells ultimately became the de-facto standard on Earth systems.

The coming together of all these technologies in a short span of a decade changed humanity unlike any event in history. Suddenly all the systems required to conquer space were readily available. The final straw was the announcement of the Sub-Orbital flights of the Akkamaha class of SSTO built using CENCE. The first Single Stage to Orbit vehicle flown by anyone. Fiction suddenly became a reality. Every quarter the payload doubled while costs stayed the same. Each flight reduced cost of the next payload. The unique saucer shapes provided excellent control and a large surface area during re-entry. Evolving designs, improved technologies and a team that trusted each other with their lives created an exciting, hopeful future.

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Why I want a New India and not the glory of Ancient India

India’s growth story has been on the premises that we will achieve greatness of the country as described in the ancient scriptures. This doesn’t give us a future but puts on the pathway for a confused history.

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A Material Manifesto for Space

We are a fragile species. To survive the vagaries of space we need a protective cocoon. A material that can be a second skin enhancing safety. It needs to have certain properties

  1. High Impact Strength
  2. Radiation resistant
  3. Light-weight
  4. Self-Sensing
  5. Self-healing

Such a material could withstand micro-meteorite strikes, fix itself upon damage, survive re-entry repeatedly. Let’s refer to it as CCC. This material is not available off the shelf. However it can be created in a sustainable manner over a 5 year time frame. The next few lines talk about the strategy to make CCC available in a big way.

The basic building block for CCC would be Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes. The puzzle to manufacture the material at scale has been cracked by NoPo Nanotechnologies which allows me to think of the next steps.

Creation of CCC requires a 2 pronged approach consisting of Research and Market adoption happening in parallel. The creation of CCC with all described features would be an effort requiring 7 years. The development process can be a sustainable business if each feature can be worked on and released as a useful material targeting different markets.

CCC would be a material made of Carbon in various forms such as fiber, matrix, sensing material and matrix reinforcement. Realization of CCC would require creation of a Carbon Fiber Composite reinforced by a Carbon Nanotube matrix. I refer to this material as CNCNC. Nanotubes would be present as this sheets providing delamination resistance and a self sensing matrix within the Carbon Fiber composite. The important component of CNCNC is the Carbon Nanotube sensing material. These are thin films of Carbon Nanotubes that are used as a strain sensing element that provides real time information on status of the material. This is referred to as CENCE a material to provide sensing capabilities to any material.

CENCE provides an interesting capability to the world. Every man made object exists to sustain us. Today, these objects are more complex than ever and few can talk to us. Imagine living in a body without the ability to sense stress, detect failure etc. This is the world we live in today. CENCE can change that completely. Provide the ability to sense to every material. A progression in CENCE is the presence of Carbon Nanotubes which act as an actuator. This provides the self healing capability. Integration of these capabilities would progressively lead to CNCNC, a material where CENCE is integrated in a Carbon Fiber composite. Besides strength, the material would have sensing and healing capabilities. The next step in evolution of CNCNC would be CCC; a material that is radiation resistant by virtue of being made of Carbon has an incredibly high shock resistance while having the sensing and healing capabilities of it’s prior version.

This is the material roadmap to realize our space faring future.

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Phase II : The Vehicle

Often times, I get a confused look from people trying to figure out what I am doing. One day I’m in Silicon Valley talking to VC’s, then there’s news of being in Canada for the CDL program, next I’m in a Biotech conference in Bangalore talking about Nanotube-Silk, there’s an announcement of being part of a DARPA challenge, then I’m in Delhi taking an interview with the British High Commission, the French Consulate in Bangalore. Confused? Read along to find out more

As a teenager, I dreamed of going to Mars in my own big rocket. With time, the dream became a vision to enable humans to transition from Sapiens to Spaciens (A species that has learned to live and thrive in Space).

As described in a previous post , the search for the one thing that would be fundamental to realize the grand vision led me to Carbon Nanotubes. Nanotubes are to space just as Silicon is to Electronics; they would be the fundamental building block in our conquest of space. I spent the last 16 years researching and realizing technology to manufacture Carbon Nanotubes with a high repeatability. This is what NoPo did; thanks to help from parents, brother, family, friends and later the Governments of Karnataka & India. Nanotubes are a wonder material with numerous other applications in areas of Biotechnology, medicine, electronics, water etc.

Once the first Nanotubes were made, I began looking at applications esp space use cases. In hindsight, companies is built to create value for its shareholders. It needs to think of profits from Day 1 but this wasn’t the case with NoPo. I believe in creating value and then going after the money. NoPo has created tremendous shareholder value but this hadn’t translated to Dividends, profits or an exit plan. All of the company’s earnings have been ploughed back into R&D as we improved production techniques and developed deep expertise in Heat, Pressure, Vacuum, Control Systems etc. Thanks to the investor patience, we have been able to get this far. Another strategic move was that the US patent for HiPCO with my co-founder as a co-inventor was valid till Nov 2018. Starting today, NoPo Nanotechnologies owns the Trademark, HiPCO. It is a small but significant step in the journey to profitability for our backers. There are multiple applications of Nanotubes, but we can’t really work on everything at once. So, we went with a systematic approach by looking at different sectors, built prototypes, gauged market and reached out to potential end users to see if it is an area with a big pain point and with no solution in sight. We made water filter membranes using aligned Nanotubes for Sewage treatment, Nanotube Silk for Clothes, Super Black coatings with linear performance for Star Trackers, tested Nickel Nanotube composites. With each prototype we then went out to see if it made a difference and how much people were willing to pay. Either the margins were extremely low or the markets were too small or there was an alternate cheaper technology. With each application, we went all in and developed a functional prototype; this is what took us to forums such as Water filtration, Black Coatings, Silk, Space etc. People within NoPo and close friends know the phenomenal energy and dedication of everyone working on the project. NoPo is a great place for people wanting to make a difference to the world and to produce output equivalent to 100 smart Humans.

The visit to Silicon Valley added a new word to my lexicon, ‘Unapologetic Capitalism’. It is to do things that benefit other people without being afraid to receive money for it. This along with inputs received as part of the IIGP 2.0 program re-oriented NoPo’s focus from technology to sales. The huge amount of knowledge we had built around Nanotubes would now be sold to help others.

When it comes to the one product we would be making, we did a detailed analysis of 150 markets ranging from Jewellery to Spacecraft. We looked at areas where we could make a big difference to the world while also being able to create continuous value to shareholders. This led us to a team favorite: a solid structure made of Carbon Nanotubes designed for use in Spacecraft. It’s extremely strong, light weight, radiation resistant, environment friendly, expands very little with heat, heat resistant, and bio compatible. This kind of a material has been known for a long time as a C-C composite. We are making it 10x easier, faster and cheaper to produce. Initial use case is as a structural material for satellites and spacecraft and eventually into every part of life on earth and space. A natural progression for such a building block is rockets.

This is exactly what we are doing with Pythom. Pythom is probably the most unlikely group of people to build a rocket . The team is made of extreme adventurers with a reputation for building things, surviving and pulling off miracles with minimal resources. Tom and Tina have climbed the 3 poles. I met Tina and Tom through Sven; we all share a common passion for going to Mars. We are disturbed by the non-existence of a National mission so set out to build whatever doesn’t exist. Tina and Tom have been at it much longer than me and met a large number of folks in the industry. We applied for the US DARPA launch challenge with the rocket that was being designed to land on Mars surface. Now that we’ve been selected; it’s exciting. The rocket would potentially some of the Carbon Nanotube structures.

Space is so vast that it doesn’t belong to one person or one country. Everyone has a say in it. It’s great to have friends than skeptics. By engaging with Government and nations as partners, I’m trying to build a friendly atmosphere where everyone knows we are not a threat and only mean good for the world. I spend time getting to know Bueraucrats and use every opportunity to connect with Nation states. Britain, France, US, India for now and hopefully Russia, China, Australia and every other space faring nation in the near future.

By the end of Phase-II of this incredible journey, we should have all of the technology to land a human on Mars.

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