Long way down

News editor

An attempt on a 52 year old record will be made this week that carries a high level of personal risk to the person attempting it and wouldn’t be at all possible without significant engineering input.

If weather conditions are acceptable Felix Baumgartner will ascend to 120,000 feet (36.5km) in a stratospheric balloon and make a freefall jump that will see him descend to earth at supersonic speeds before parachuting to the ground.

The attempt, originally scheduled to take place today from Roswell, New Mexico, requires weather conditions conducive for the eight-hour process of laying out and pumping 850,000 cubic metres of helium into the 168m high balloon that will carry Baumgartner and his 1,300kg space capsule to the stratosphere.

If successful, Baumgartner will break Joe Kittinger’s record jump from 102,800. Good luck Felix!

Moving on now from the edge of space to the International Space Station (ISS), which is expected to be resupplied this week by SpaceX’s Dragon, the first commercial spacecraft.

Dragon was launched at 2035 ET yesterday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX say Dragon will deliver materials to support investigations planned for the station’s Expedition 33 crew, plus crew supplies and space station hardware. It will return with scientific materials and space station hardware but first it has to dock with ISS, a procedure expected to be complete by Wednesday.

SpaceX said in a statement, ‘Dragon will now chase the space station before beginning a series of burns that will bring it into close proximity to the station. If all goes well, Dragon will attach to the complex on October 10 and spend over two weeks there before an expected return to Earth on October 28.’

Still with aerospace and news that BAE Systems has until Wednesday to decide whether it agrees to the proposed merger with EADS, wants to abandon it or apply for more time from the UK Takeover Panel.

The financial and political considerations surrounding the merger are proving highly contentious and over the weekend there was even a suggestion that the deal could be hindered by Germany if the new entity wasn’t headquartered in Munich.

HQ aside, Company Watch has been in touch to inform us that the deal could threaten 7,500 UK suppliers and 52,000 defence industry jobs.

They believe that if the merger is agreed, UK companies could see contracts and job opportunities begin to move to rival European companies already supplying EADS.

They maintain that the merger would significantly weaken the financial strength of the combined group, arguing, ‘EADS’ balance sheet is much bigger than BAE’s, the merged company would be significantly weaker financially overall, which could restrict credit limits approved by trade insurers, forcing suppliers into difficult decisions about their ongoing relationship with the new entity.’

Prof Sang Yup Lee of KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) is in London to explain how metabolic engineering could spearhead a renewable chemical industry.

Metabolic engineering is claimed to enhance the production of chemicals made by microbes in so-called “cell factories”.

In practise, metabolic engineering involves the modification of microbial cells to enhance the production of bioproducts, which, we’ve been told, can be something that the cell produces naturally, like ethanol or butanol. It can also be something that the cells mechanisms can produce if their natural metabolic pathways are altered. The range of uses of this bioproduct can be broadened through metabolic engineering, which can also optimize the overall process of bioproduct synthesis.

Prof Lee will introduce general strategies for systems metabolic engineering which will be accompanied by examples, including the production of chemicals, fuels and materials such as propanol, butanol, 1,4-diaminobutane, 1,5-diaminopentane, succinic acid, polyhydroxyalkanoates, and polylactic acid.

Prof Lee will present the 5th Environmental Microbiology Lecture this evening at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Gastech celebrates its 40th birthday this week and its organisers say the world’s most influential energy figures will be present to explain how advances in technology are driving the global gas industry.

Free to attend and taking place at London’s Excel Centre between the 8-10, Gastech 2012 will showcase innovation, technologies, products, services and suppliers involved in the energy industry.

This afternoon Gastech hosts Neville Hargreaves, business development director, Oxford Catalysts Group who will deliver a talk entitled Distributed Gas-to-Liquids for Shale Gas Processing.

Hargreaves will discuss how distributed gas-to-liquids (GTL) plants, based on modular technology and incorporating microchannel reactors, show promise for improving the profitability of shale gas and other smaller scale gas developments, worldwide.

Coinciding with Gastech, George Osborne today announced that the government will engage with industry to develop a targeted tax regime for the shale gas industry as it believes the gas has the potential to create jobs and support UK energy security.