Space technology company builds a functioning artificial heart.

Space technology company builds a functioning artificial heart

Space technology company builds a functioning artificial heart

An artificial heart that took 15 years to develop has been approved for human trials. The device, which was fashioned from biological tissue and parts of miniature satellite equipment, combines the latest advances in medicine, biology, electronics, and materials science.

It’s built by the Paris-based company Carmat and it’s the brainchild of French cardiac surgeon Alain Carpentier. The state-of-the-art device is the result of a collaboration with aerospace giant Astrium, the space subsidiary of EADS, along with support from the French government.

In order for it to qualify for human trials, the developers had to create a heart that could withstand the demanding conditions of the body’s circulatory system. It has to pump 35 million times per year for at least five years — and without fail. This is why Carpentier’s team turned to space technology, which is known for its resilience and compact size.

“Space and the inside of your body have a lot in common,” said Astrium’s Matthieu Dollon in an ESA statement. “They both present harsh and inaccessible environments.”

Indeed, Telecom satellites have similar demands placed upon them; they have to last for at least 15 years and function 36,000 km above Earth.

“Failure in space is not an option,” he added. “Nor is onsite maintenance. If a part breaks down, we cannot simply go and fix it. It’s the same inside the body.”

Space technology company builds a functioning artificial heart

In addition to space-tech, the artificial heart combines synthetic and biological materials as well as sensors and software to detect a patient’s level of exertion and adjust output accordingly. MIT‘s Technology Review explains more:

In Carmat’s design, two chambers are each divided by a membrane that holds hydraulic fluid on one side. A motorized pump moves hydraulic fluid in and out of the chambers, and that fluid causes the membrane to move; blood flows through the other side of each membrane. The blood-facing side of the membrane is made of tissue obtained from a sac that surrounds a cow’s heart, to make the device more biocompatible. “The idea was to develop an artificial heart in which the moving parts that are in contact with blood are made of tissue that is [better suited] for the biological environment,” says Piet Jansen, chief medical officer of Carmat.

That could make patients less reliant on anti-coagulation medications. The Carmat device also uses valves made from cow heart tissue and has sensors to detect increased pressure within the device. That information is sent to an internal control system that can adjust the flow rate in response to increased demand, such as when a patient is exercising.


Satellite measures ‘quake island’.

The “quake island” that rose from the sea off Pakistan this week is pictured clearly in a new satellite image.

It was acquired by the French Pleiades high-resolution Earth-observing system, and has enabled scientists to map the muddy mound’s precise dimensions.


It is almost circular – 175.7m on the long axis and 160.0m on the short axis, giving a total area of 22,726 sq m.

The island, sited near the town of Gwadar, came up after the 7.7-magnitude tremor in the region.

Scientists say the intense shaking likely disturbed previously stable sediments and gas at the sea floor, which then oozed to the surface rather like a mud volcano.

The feature is not expected to persist. The ocean will erode the soft sediments, like it has with similar quake islands in the past.

The Gwadar mound is reported to be the fourth in the region since 1945, and the third during the last 15 years.


Pleiades is primarily a French national space project. It comprises two satellites that can resolve features on the ground as small as 50cm across.

The pair were built by Astrium, Europe’s largest space company; the imaging instrument was supplied by Thales Alenia Space (France).

Pleiades has both a civilian and a military role, and a number of European countries (Austria, Belgium, Spain and Sweden) have part-funded the project to get access to the pictures.

Lasers Boost Space Communications.

Before NASA even existed, science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in 1945 imaginedspacecraft that could send messages back to Earth using beams of light. After decades of setbacks and dead ends, the technology to do this is finally coming of age.


Two spacecraft set for launch in the coming weeks will carry lasers that allow data to be transferred faster than ever before. One, scheduled for take-off on 5 September, is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a mission that will beam video and scientific data from the Moon. The other, a European Space Agency (ESA) project called Alphasat, is due to launch on 25 July, and will be the first optical satellite to collect large amounts of scientific data from other satellites.

“This is a big step forward,” says Hamid Hemmati, a specialist in optical communications at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Europe is going beyond demonstrations for the first time and making operational use of the technology.”

These lasers could provide bigger pipes for a coming flood of space information. New Earth-observation satellites promise to deliver petabytes of data every year. Missions such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) already have constraints on the volume of data they can send back because of fluctuations in download rates tied to a spacecraft’s varying distance from Earth. “Right now, we’re really far from Earth, so we can’t fit as many images in our downlink,” says Ingrid Daubar, who works on the MRO’s HiRISE camera at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Laser data highways could ultimately allow space agencies to kit their spacecraft with more sophisticated equipment, says John Keller, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). That is not yet possible, he says. “We’re limited by the rate at which we can download the data.”

Today’s spacecraft send and receive messages using radio waves. The frequencies used are hundreds of times higher than those put out by music stations on Earth and can cram in more information, allowing orbital broadcasts to transmit hundreds of megabits of information per second. Lasers, which operate at higher frequencies still, can reach gigabits per second (see ‘Tuned in’). And unlike the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is crowded and carefully apportioned, optical wavelengths are underused and unregulated.

Efforts to develop laser communication systems struggled for much of the twentieth century: weak lasers and problematic detectors derailed project after project. But recent advances in optics have begun to change the situation. “The technology has matured,” says Frank Heine, chief scientist at Tesat-Spacecom, a company based in Backnang, Germany.


In the 1980s, Europe took advantage of improved lasers and optical detectors to begin work on its first laser communication system, the Semiconductor Laser Intersatellite Link Experiment (SILEX). Equipped with the system, the ESA satellite Artemis received 50 megabits of information per second from a French satellite in 2001and then exchanged messages with a Japanese satellite in 2005. The project taught engineers how to stabilize and point a laser in space. But it was abandoned after its intended application — a constellation of satellites to provide Internet services — was dropped in favor of the network of fiber-optic cables now criss-crossing the globe.

Since then, Heine’s team at Tesat-Spacecom has created a laser terminal for satellite-to-satellite communication, at a cost to the German Aerospace Center of €95 million (US$124 million). The laser, amplified by modern fiber-optic technology, achieves a power of watts — compared with the tens of milliwatts reached by SILEX. In 2008, terminals mounted on two satellites transferred information at gigabits per second over a few thousand kilometers.

ESA’s Alphasat will extend the range of this laser terminal to tens of thousands of kilometers once it is positioned high in geostationary orbit. Future satellites that sport laser terminals in lower orbits will be able to beam as much as 1.8 gigabits per second of information up to Alphasat, which will then relay the data to the ground using radio waves. Alphasat’s geostationary orbit means that it can provide a constant flow of data to its ground station — unlike low-Earth-orbit satellites, which can communicate with the ground for only an hour or two each day as they race by overhead. “Other satellites will be able to buy time on our laser terminal,” says Philippe Sivac, Alphasat’s acting project manager.

One client will be another ESA mission due to launch this year: Sentinel-1, the first of several spacecraft to be sent up for Europe’s new global environmental-monitoring program Copernicus. It will beam weather data to Alphasat until the end of 2014. At that point, Europe plans to start deploying a network of dedicated laser-relay satellites that will ultimately handle 6 terabytes of images, surface-temperature measurements and other data collected every day by a fleet of Sentinel spacecraft.

But Europe’s space lasers have a significant drawback. Although they can shuttle information between spacecraft, they have trouble talking to the ground — a task that must still be performed by radio waves. This is because these lasers encode information by slightly varying the frequency of light in a way analogous to modulating an FM radio station. A beam modulated in this way is protected from solar interference but is vulnerable to atmospheric turbulence.

The laser on NASA’s upcoming LADEE mission will communicate directly with Earth using a different approach that is less susceptible to atmospheric interference. It encodes information AM-style by tweaking the amplitudes rather than the frequency of a light wave’s peaks.

NASA hopes that the LADEE demonstration will extend laser communications beyond Earth’s immediate vicinity, to the Moon and other planets. Deep-space missions currently rely on radio transmissions. But radio waves spread out when they travel long distances, weakening the signal and reducing the data-transfer rate.

Laser beams, by contrast, keep their focus, allowing them to shuttle the already greater quantities of information they encode over longer distances without using the extra power needed by radio transmitters. “Laser communication becomes more advantageous the farther out you go,” says Donald Cornwell, mission manager for the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration project on LADEE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

In 1992, the Galileo probe, on its way to Jupiter, spotted laser pulses sent more than 6 million kilometers from Earth. A laser on Earth pinged the Mars Global Surveyor in 2005. Another struck the MESSENGER mission en route to Mercury, which responded with its own laser pulses. In January this year, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter received the first primitive message sent by laser to the Moon — an image of the Mona Lisa that travelled pixel by pixel in a sort of Morse code.

LADEE carries NASA’s first dedicated laser communications system. With a bandwidth of 622 megabits per second, more than six times what is possible with radio from the distance of the Moon, the system can broadcast high-definition television-quality video. But even though its AM optical system is good at penetrating Earth’s turbulent atmosphere, it will still need a backup radio link for cloudy days when the laser is blocked. To minimize this problem, LADEE’s primary ground station is in a largely cloudless desert in New Mexico, with alternative sites in two other sunny spots: California and the Canary Islands.