Central Florida Roundup
NASA grant helps UCF team develop method to extract lunar ice
Lunar mining will grow more important as the United States seeks to establish a presence on the moon. While the Trump administration is drafting international agreements — known as the Artemis Accords — to govern mining on the moon, some Central Florida scientists are working on low-energy and cost-effective techniques to extract lunar deposits.
With a $125,000 grant from NASA, Philip Metzger, a University of Central Florida planetary scientist, and his team at the Florida Space Institute have come up with a patent-pending method it calls “Aqua Factorem” to extract lunar ice and other resources at the poles of the moon. The process separates the fine grains of materials such as moon ice from “nonessential” materials, leaving behind distinct piles of ice, metals and minerals. The ice could then simply be hauled to another location and converted into rocket fuel for vehicles such as space tugs, which pull satellites and other spacecraft into orbit more quickly.
Metzger’s method requires significantly less energy than other proposed methods, such as using heat to turn ice into vapor, or strip mining, which would require vehicles carrying heavy loads of moon rock that could potentially get stuck.
Besides water, the moon is also rich in Helium-3, a rare element that is a potential source of nuclear energy, and more than a dozen rare metals used in modern electronics. Metzger believes space mining could one day help reduce the environmental burden of mining here on Earth. “I believe that by the end of the century, we can move more than half of the machinery off the planet, which would be extremely beneficial for biodiversity,” he said. “This kind of endeavor is only possible from economically feasible methods of extraction.”
- Jeff Vahle, a 30-year Disney veteran and former president of Disney Signature Experiences, was named president of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. He takes over from Josh D’Amaro, who is now chairman of Disney Parks, Experience and Products — a key leadership position that has him overseeing the company’s travel and leisure businesses, including its six theme parks, cruise line and other vacation businesses. Thomas Mazloum, who had been senior vice president of resort and transportation operations at Walt Disney World, replaces Vahle as president of Disney Signature Experiences.
- Kalera, an Orlando-based company that farms lettuce indoors, will open a growing facility in Atlanta in early 2021. The company recently completed multiple rounds of fundraising for millions of dollars and has begun selling its produce at Publix stores.
- The story of Florida’s Black artists who made their living selling landscape paintings up and down highways in the Jim Crow era is coming to the big screen. Stars North, an Orlando-based independent motion picture production company, is preparing to film scenes of The Highwaymen at locations around Central Florida. The film is based on a script by Lucien Christian Adderley and Richard “Byrd” Wilson, a South Florida screenwriting duo who write for the OWN series David Makes Man, which is set in Liberty City.
- Kyle Crooks was promoted from president and chief operations officer to CEO of AVT Simulation in Orlando. Robert Abascal, AVT’s founder and owner will continue to guide the company as chief strategic officer. AVT recently landed a portion of an $8-million contract to provide post-deployment software support for the Army’s Medical Simulation Training Center.
- The University of Central Florida ranked 29th among U.S. universities for securing patents, up from 31st in 2018.
- Orlando-based Universal Engineering Sciences merged with Nova Geotechnical & Inspection Services, which has offices in Las Vegas, Reno and Irvine, Calif. The combined firm now has 1,500 employees in 29 offices nationwide and is working on Virgin Trains’ Florida rail expansion and Virgin’s rail project connecting Las Vegas to the Los Angeles suburb of Victorville.
- Dix Developments, a Central Florida developer, is moving forward with plans to build a $98-million class A office campus at the intersection of University Boulevard and Econlockhatchee Trail near the University of Central Florida.
- Amazon is hiring workers for its 1.4 million-sq.-ft. distribution center along I-4 in Deltona, which is expected to open in November.
- PGT Innovations, a window and door manufacturer, shuttered its Orlando assembly plant as it consolidates.
- A group of Orlando Sentinel employees won the right to unionize in May.
- The Orlando Magic got a thumbs up from Orlando’s Municipal Planning Board to build a downtown practice facility on a 3.8-acre parcel near the Amway Center in Parramore. The facility’s sports medicine clinic will be open to the public.
- BRIDG, a microelectronics manufacturing facility in Kissimmee, signed a three-year contract with a $28-million ceiling with Radiance Technologies in Huntsville, Ala., to develop advanced semiconductor packaging technologies. UK-based Printech Circuit Laboratories, which makes custom circuit-based components, has opened an office at Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University.
- The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority projects passenger traffic at Orlando International Airport will drop to fewer than 27 million people in 2020 and not quite reach 25 million in 2021. Passenger traffic reached a record 50.6 million in 2019.
- Universal Orlando and SeaWorld reopened their theme parks in June with added safety protocols. Walt Disney World reopened its four theme parks in July with limited park capacity. And Winter Haven’s Legoland reopened June 1 at limited capacity.
- Orange County is setting aside $73 million — 30% of its $243.2 million in CARES Act funding — to establish a grant program to help 6,500 struggling businesses. Small businesses with fewer than 25 employees could apply for a one-time, $10,000 grant to offset expenses such as labor, rent and lost business. Seminole County is creating a similar program.
Read more in Florida Trend's August issue.
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