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UK contributes to Mars landing, but manufacturing registers a fall

Briefing starts the week with hearty congratulations to NASA and everyone involved in safely landing the Mars Rover Curiosity onto the surface of the Red Planet.

The Engineer’s Stephen Harris gave a thorough overview of the mission and technology involved in the Friday Blog on 3 August.

Since then, the likes of e2v and Qinetiq have been in touch to remind us of their input into the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

Chelmsford-based e2v tells us that its high performance imaging sensors are installed in Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and Chemistry & Camera instrument (ChemCam).

CheMin uses e2v’s CCD224, an imaging sensor array optimised for the detection of x-rays in a space environment, whilst ChemCam uses the CCD42-10, which is part of a range of imaging sensors used for commercial and high performance applications including ground and space borne astronomy.

Qinetiq’s Transceiver, currently in orbit around Mars on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, monitored NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory vehicle through entry, descent and landing on to the planet — the signals it received, shifted into the audible frequency, can be heard here. Mars Express Lander Communications subsystem MELACOM will support the rover during its operational life on the surface of Mars.

Back on Earth, it looks like Eastman Kodak could throw itself a potential lifeline through the sale of its substantial portfolio of around 1,100 patents.

Intellectual property law firm Withers & Rogers informs us that patent portfolios are becoming the single most valuable asset for technology companies and speculation is mounting that Eastman Kodak could net around $2bn from the sale.

The Eastman Kodak patent auction will take place on August 8 with the winning bidder being announced on August 13.

Word now from the Combined Heat & Power Association, who tell us small-scale combined heat and power (CHP) units are on the rise.

They say that annual statistics produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show that over 300 CHP units were installed last year, with the majority of units in the 30–600kW category. The small-scale CHP sector is said to have been growing by an average of 20 per cent year-on-year and now represents around 400MW of capacity.

Overall, CHP now provides 7.5 per cent of the UK’s electricity requirements. The statistics also showed a rise in the use of renewable fuels in CHP plant to just over six per cent, continuing a trend of the last eight years.

Wind energy now, and news that Triodos Renewables has launched a new public share issue.

Proceeds from the offer, open from 31 July, will be invested directly into building new onshore wind power assets to expand the company’s portfolio of renewable energy projects in the UK, such as Caton Moor and Dunfermline.

The funds will be raised through a targeted placing of around 4m shares at £1.90 per ordinary share, with a minimum investment of £570. The offer is open to new investors and existing shareholders and the shares will be tradable on the Matched Bargain Market.

Good news from Lincoln-based Dynex Semiconductor which today launches its new Research & Development Centre (RDC), a facility that is part of an £11.25m investment in ‘groundbreaking technologies and new jobs’.

The RDC is part of a three-year programme that is creating up to 40 skilled engineering jobs and safeguarding its 315-strong city workforce.

The company designs and makes high-power bipolar semiconductors, insulated gate bipolar transistor modules and electronic assemblies.

Dynex inform us that the RDC is already making its mark by allowing it to develop new technologies and new semiconductor products, which can be assembled in its neighbouring factory.

Last week’s Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) showed that the downturn in Britain’s manufacturing sector gathered pace at the start of the third quarter.

Figures published today by the CBI show that output has fallen among the UK’s small and medium-sized manufacturers.

In their latest quarterly SME Trends Survey, which had 359 respondents, the organization reports that 23 per cent of manufacturers said output volumes had increased in the three months to July, with 28 per cent said they had fallen.  

Export orders fell slightly and domestic orders remained flat, with both expected to fall in the next quarter.

More on this story will appear later in the day in the Business Briefs section of The Engineer.

Finally, ergonomists might be interested to learn that the 2013 Ergonomics Design Award has launched, with entries being accepted until November 30th.

The award is organised by the Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors and sponsored by CCD Design & Ergonomics and the aim of the award is to recognise the application of ergonomics to the highest standard in a product or design.

For information about the award, together with an information leaflet and download able entry form, visit www.ergonomics.org.uk/awards/ergonomics-design-award . Finalists will be notified in February.


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