August 21, 2019

A Follow-Up on Positron Dynamics

Back in March we had a brief post on a company called Positron Dynamics and their claims to have solved the production and containment issues with antimatter regarding space propulsion.

Specifically, they are using positrons (anti-electrons) to catalyze a small fusion reaction. Positrons can be generated on the spot using a radioactive isotope of krypton, thus solving the antimatter storage problem, and being positively charged can be directed with a fair bit of ease solving the handling antimatter problem.

Now one of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes points us to a follow up to this story she found by months of diligent research...


"Actually, it was posted this morning over at Atomic Rocket"


Positron Dynamics submitted their report to  N.A.S.A. for peer review this past January. It has now passed muster and is published in the N.A.S.A Rechnical Reports Server. There is a PDF of the report here for your perusal.

Basically the conclusion is that it works, though the version that is looked at in the N.A.S.A report has much lower thrust than one would expect from something with the words "Fusion" and "Anti-Matter". Indeed, its thrust compares unfavorably to most ion drives.

However, it has the astonishing exhaust velocity of  2,943,000 meters per second and a Delta V (the change in velocity over the time an engine burns) of 60,000 meters per second. Now it burns a looong time and accelerates imperceptibly, but its DeltaV is actually better than some of the smaller Orion drive designs which involved using exploding atom bombs as propellant.


Note the diagram and the little object marked "D2 tank".

That's all the the Deuterium propellant needed for a 60,000 meter change of velocity. Yes the thrust is minuscule but over time it adds up. This is for a notional asteroid mission using the design as it is now.


The speed of New Horizons and the Voyager probes, the fastest things ever sent out by mankind is less than 17,000 meters per second.

Winchell Chung puts it thusly:
With many other propulsion systems, rocket designers are happy if the spacecraft is only 75% propellant and 25% everything else. A spacecraft with Radioisotope Positron Propulsion is pretty much 100% rocket and payload, the propellant is only a few micrograms.  Granted that a one metric ton space probe with such an engine will have an measly acceleration of 0.0001 meters per second (0.0125 snail-power), but you can't have everything.

 Be that as it may, the report compares their positron engine with an electric propulsion engine for a hypothetical capture/redirect of asteroid 2009BD and the positron engine kicks the electric engine to the curb. 

Theoretically you can use multiple engine arrays if you must have a higher thrust.


Or perhaps you could use a different engine (say a regular chemical engine) for emergencies. As an aside, the engineers seem to anticipate higher thrusts in the future but that is not mentioned in the peer-reviewed paper and must be considered to be speculation at this point.



There's a good deal of work still to do as noted at the end of the report, but it does now appear that this proposal to field an anti-matter propulsion system in the next few years is indeed practical.

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July 20, 2019

50 Years



It's been 50 years since Neil Armstrong became the first person from this planet to set foot on the moon. A mere 7 years prior, an American president set this most epic of endeavors as a national goal, in the same year the first American Orbited the Earth. it should be noted that U.S. rockets were not particularly reliable at the time...



...yet in less than 7 years our civilization overcame immense technical hurdles to put 2 men on our nearest satellite. 10 more would follow.

 In 7 years, we had figured out how to do it reliably 6 out of 7 times and the reason for the one failure was quickly figured out and corrected for the subsequent missions.

Oh and we saved that crew too.

Now with the hard part done and over and a sevenfold increase in the time it took to do the hard part, one might expect that we could now vacation at 6 Flags on the Moon.

Instead, 50 years later the moon is adorned with...6 flags (one of which fell over).

50 years.

We have not been able, as a society to do what we did then.

Keep in mind that then we were fighting a land war in Asia, staring down the most implacable evil of the 20th century (which at the time had over 20,000 nuclear warheads aimed at us and defined peace as an absence of opposition to communism) and we were engaging in the final heavy lifting in expanding the American dream to all races. We were skeet shooting, chewing gum, talking, and horse-diving at the same time.

And yet, here we are.

Looking at old movies, of when we were young and free and full of hope.



Who robbed us of our future and how were we so foolish as to let them?

At least today we can look to Musk and others to pick up the dusty, forlorn baton...

...50 years late.
 

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May 18, 2019

On Bezos and Space

Jeff Bezos, last week, gave a talk on his plans for facilitating the expansion of humans into space.

This.
Is.
AWESOME!



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"We're convinced. We're dressed and ready to go!"


Indeed! That's fantastic!

And yet...I'm conflicted. 

Now I'm firmly in the Dandridge Cole / Jerry O'Neil school as opposed to the Musk/Zubrin (MARS!MARS!MARS!MAARRSS!1!) camp.

There are reasons for this.

The perils of raising kids in 38% gravity is not being given any study. We don't know how much gravity is needed for extended human habitation, but we know that zero gravity is bad, sometimes surprisingly so.  Furthermore, the whole point of going into space is to get out of the gravity well.  Being in a 38% gravity well is better than the 100% gravity well of Earth, but it's vastly inferior to orbiting Ceres, Pallas or Psyche. So I think we should certainly go with Stanford Torus's and such.  With those we can make 1g habitats and we can go pretty darn big.


...but it's Bezos. He's banning books from his bookstore, spying on us and seems to be an authoritarian prick. "Seek a Brighter Future in the Outer Colonies...as an Employee of Vault Tech or Weyland Yutani" This is not frontier I'm looking for. 

Elon Musk is striving like mad to travel....to the bottom of a gravity well.

OTOH Musk is working hard to make it accessible financially to middle class people willing to, say, sell their houses. Musk seems to me to be much less likely to set up a dystopian  hellhole at the intersection of 1984 and Outland than Bezos, who seems to be a member of the authoritarian tech-weasel association in good standing (which is odd, given that his parents risked everything to escape Castro's Cuba in the 1960s.

On the other hand, Bezos is completely right about best to go about becoming a spacefaring civilization. Rather than Mars and a couple of moons, we can place rotating habitats in or next to any of the thousands of asteroids, and we can use solar power as far afield as Jupiter.

One other thing I will say about both Bezos and Musk. They are thinking big and they are thinking ahead. Despite all the crazy nonsense we see today that fills us with trepidation for the future of our society, this fact can give us hope: Both men are working towards starting something truly noble that will not come to fruition until long after they are gone.

"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit."

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April 07, 2019

Better Footage of the Starhopper Hopping

Albeit very brief footage.



One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes brings us analysis of the test.

"What's to analyze? There was a rocket test.
Unfortunately, the apparent evaporation of the webcam resulted in damned unsatisfying footage of the associated 'splody. So here's some completely unrelated non-chemical 'splody."




"Science Babe" is actually unrepresentatively SFW art by Saori. One can support her Pixiv Fanbox page here.

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March 26, 2019

71 Years Ago Today



And he did it with broken ribs!


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January 12, 2019

Just as God and Robert Heinlein Intended

While the news is distracted by the government shutdown, one of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes brings us news from Southeastern Texas, where consequential things are happening. 






And they are happening QUICKLY.

7 days ago, there were reports that Space-X might do a flight of their "Starhopper" test rig for their upcoming Mars Rocket in a little as 70-120 days. This was much sooner than had been projected. 

However, the engineers have been working nonstop, through weekends and with astounding alacrity. Now the prototype is assembled (at least externally) and Musk is hinting at a much earlier test. 
 SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that the company’s first Starship prototype – a low-fidelity hop test vehicle – has finished assembly in South Texas, paving the way towards a series of experimental vertical take-off or landing (VTOL) hop tests that could begin as early as February or March 2019.

This is a low altitude test vehicle intended to work out hovering, and landing techniques and refine some design concepts for the ultimate design. It may well be run to destruction to test the limits of the vehicle.

Even more astounding, the first of the actual orbital prototypes is expected to be ready to fly as early as June pending the results of the Starhopper tests.  

The Starship Interplanetary Spaceship will be a remarkable vehicle. It is expected to be able to insert itself into orbit without a booster (albeit with virtually no useful payload). Assisted by the Super Heavy booster it will be able to carry more payload than even the Saturn 5, and transport 50 to 100 people to the Moon, Mars or beyond, or, for a more down to Earth application, a much larger number anywhere on earth in under 37 minutes as an inter-continental ballistic passenger rocket

The frantic speed of the test program is somewhat odd. One would expect a more reserved and methodical approach. There are a couple of possibilities, but two stand out. Space-X is tight on cash and just laid off 10% of its employees. It needs a spectacular PR stunt to woo more investment money. Also, NASA's SLS rocket, which has been delayed numerous times, is now expected to fly in 2020. If Musk can get a Starship orbital flight before then, that might well kill the NASA rocket (which, being expendable, and having a lower payload is inferior in every way). This would grant Space-X a much bigger share of the US launch market. 

This would also have the benefit of killing off a program that has already wasted 14 billion dollars of the U.S. taxpayers money just since 2011.

Remember that NASA was given a mandate to go back to the moon in 2005. Note that it's 2019. Using something we like to call MATH, if we take 2019 and subtract 2005 from it we get 14 years, which is exactly twice as long as the 7 years it took from 1962-1969 to do the exact same thing but with the exception that the technology was 50 years more primitive and going to the moon had never been done before. Now, 14 years after being told to repeat something done with far more modest technology, NASA can point to the fact that China has landed a rover on the moon, but on the far side, which has never been done before. Also; NASA'll have that rocket of theirs running soon

If Musk can pull this off, and finance the large numbers of rockets needed for the Mars missions he has planned, then the 2020s will usher in a new era in the history of mankind, one that may well save us. 

However, this project is pushing engineering to the limit. Some crashes and explosions are to be expected in the engineering test rigs. Unfortunately, investors and the public generally don't have a grasp of sound engineering principles and learning curves will look like failures to many of today's risk adverse generation. It remains to be seen if Musk can 
keep this most worthy of projects financed and supported.

Fingers are crossed!

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September 18, 2018

Just as God and Robert Heinlein Intended



Space X has redesigned their interplanetary rocket, the BFS. 



The 55 meter long rocket now has three rather than two fins, each sporting a landing leg, presumably this gives it a wider footprint and more stability when landing on Luna, Mars, Callisto or Mercury. Its aerodynamics have been revised to further facilitate aerobraking.

The ship is to start doing short test flights next year but its big trial run will be a circumlunar test flight about 5 years from now. In addition to a crew of engineers and technicians to evaluate the ships performance and some scientists to do observations during the voyage, Must has, with his typical fair, provided luxury accommodations for some paying passengers on this flight. 

Well, Monday, it was revealed that Yusaku Maezawa., a Japanese  billionaire, publishing magnate, fashion guru and art connoisseur has bought up bought ALL the tickets. He plans to distribute the 6 to 8 other seats amongst various artists in the hopes they will use the experience to further their art. 

Elon Musk is focused almost fanatically on the settlement and eventual terraforming of Mars, though this rocket has far broader potential. Space X is touting the design for exploration and settlement as far afield as the outer solar system. However, the ship is non nuclear and relies on solar power for electricity, which is only really practical as far out as the Jovian system.


"He says with all the knowledge and expertise that a History major has in such matters."

That being said, The space between Jupiter and Mercury is really, really big. 

Furthermore, the engines run on Methane + Oxygen and the ship is designed with in-situ propellant manufacturing in mind. That is, given enough carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and sufficient solar power, it can make its own fuel. Mars, with its ice and CO2 atmosphere is ideal for this, but many asteroids, particularly the Trojans have considerable potential to be so utilized with some effort. This ship can potentially fuel itself and go anywhere within the limits of its solar collectors. Musk specifically proposes establishing propellant depots on Mars and Ceres to facilitate this. 

There's more from Musk here:


One of the concerns I keep hearing is that the Techweasels intend to use space as an escape route to abandon us and space will be the playground of the ultra rich

Roberta-X has thoughts on this.

I know it has become fashionable these days to decry space as a place where the rich will flee to escape us clods -- but in fact it is harsh and desolate, a set of environments where recycling isn't just a nice idea but a near-necessity -- and where conditions are such that you're already set up to work with harsh and dangerous processes while being isolated from them.  We can extract exotic metals and process radioactives on the Moon all we like and not endanger a single newt or squirrel -- or person, if they do it right -- and the aftermath won't be a spreading contaminated lake in China or a massive disposal problem in the Pacific Northwest.  

     Or, I suppose, we can hunker down in shared, egalitarian* poverty and every year there will be less and less, until one day, it'll all be gone.

Someone's gotta do the plumbing, someone's got to run the HVAC, and the aristocrats who aren't going to get their hands dirty aren't going to long be running things. What's going to be needed in space are going to be overwhelmingly what is seen today as blue collar, engineering, mining, construction/repair, mechanics, farming, doctors and short order cooks who can make the tilapia and zinnia taste different the thousandth time around.There will be very little need for lawyers, and NONE for sociology majors. I rather suspect that the need for an aristocracy whose jobs are based on status and appearances will not be strongly felt by the majority of those who will inhabit at least the early settlements. 

There was a similar issue in Jamestown in the early 1600s. The expedition was run by aristocrats who had skillsets that simply did not mesh well with the needs and morale of the larger organization. This situation did not last long. 

 
That aside, it is worth noting that Musk is particularly interested in making sure that his transportation system is affordable by ordinary people and not just the billionaires whose high end flights are financing it. It's mentioned in the above video when he discusses the Moonbase.

Yes. The Moon Base. 

This Kurzgesagt video got a response from Elon Musk within 24 hours.

 

You know, this here 21st century is finally starting to show real potential. 


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May 31, 2017

Copenhagen Suborbitals

Well this is neat. An amateur rocket club club in Denmark is looking to loft an amateur astronaut into space in the next two years. They're launching a proof of concept rocket from Jutland this summer and if their concepts are thus proven they expect to be sending one of themselves into space (but not orbit) in a year or so.



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September 01, 2016

Goshdarnit....


A Space-X rocket exploded today while doing a pressure fire test. Thankfully, it appears that no one was hurt.


India successfully tests its own scramjet engine in flight on board an Advanced Technology Vehicle rocket.


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December 28, 2015

One Giant Leap

One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes is all suited up and ready to go after observing the successful landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. 



'Science Babe' is actually ZZGundam's Elle Vianno as rendered by by Monocoque.

The stage will be reused and that will go a long way towards reducing launch costs moving forward. This is a big step towards the fully reusable multistage rockets that have been dreamed of since Von Braun's time.


Space-X did a lot of similar operations earlier. Jeff Bezos's company which has a much lower performance rocket for suborbital space tourism achieved a similar feat a few weeks ago and several similar landings were done by the DC-X in the early 90s. However, this is the first time this has been successfully done as part of an actual satellite launch. 

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July 20, 2015

46 Years Ago



A quarter of those who walked on the Moon have already passed


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June 28, 2015

Well. Crap.

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May 13, 2015

Abort Test

Space-X successfully tested its launch abort system recently. Instead of a disposable tower the system uses the landing retro rockets to remove the capsule from an exploding rocket and send it down range. 

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February 09, 2015

Handy Dandy Online Schedule

One of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes takes time from her twin hobbies of astrography and gunzelling to give us a handy dandy calculator for getting the most out of an interplanetary line-bash. 




The Cosmic Train Schedule has launch windows and trip times for Hohmann transfer orbits between Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter (Sorry Ceres) out to about the year 2326. 

WHY one might have need for this? I'm sure that I have no idea. But it is certainly a neat resource and if one ever stumbles across enough unused Delta V laying about and decides not to listen to one's mom... 


...it will make a useful addition one's blaster and freezer gun. 

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If You Ever See This

Get underground fast!


Multiple Russian ICBM warheads heading towards their targets on the Kura test range.

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January 18, 2015

It Wasn't Deceptions After All

Beagle 2 has been found apparently intact, with no other nearby robots or their botprints in evidence. 




"No!...My THESIS! "

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November 14, 2014

November 14: The Day IT Support Came into Its Own

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October 28, 2014

Now I REALLY Regret not Driving up to Chincoteague Today


Alas, it turned out not to be visible from here after all. 
But a sincere thanks goes out to Pete for the heads up nonetheless.

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July 20, 2014

45 Years Ago


How far have we come as a nation since that triumph 45 years ago?
Well, for one thing, here is big chunk from the sidebar of the YouTube page linked above. 


A dark age does not come about because a society simply can't do something they did before. That can happen because of a setback, changing conditions or hard times. Rather, a dark age is when the members of a society no longer believe that the society's great accomplishments could have possibly been achieved by mortals. 

Dark ages are bad things.

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July 01, 2014

Well, THIS was unexpected



One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes reacts to the astonishing news that wild Chimpanzees have mastered fire.

A few individual apes seem to have originally developed a rudimentary technique of rather poor efficiency, but the group gradually improved it through experimentation and observation over the last few months. They are now able to create and maintain a fire, which they have been using mostly to scare off predators and cook some of their food. Some individuals in particular among the group, seem to have rapidly grown a taste for cooked foodstuffs, especially flying squirrels.  

That's really COOL!
On the other hand....yeah.....we're doomed. 

UPDATE: Doomed I say. 
 
Even Updatier:
In the comments Edward M makes some claims that seem to revolve around the indefensible theory that nicking a story from Ace's sidebar before rushing off to work with none of the regular second source checking is somehow not a blogging best practice. 

As"evidence" for this unsupported and scientifically dubious notion, he calls into question the veracity of other news stories on the site linked above. 

Given the obvious presence of the word NEWS in the url this means that Edward M is arguing against authority...worse, given that out of a focus group of two blogs, the story has been treated credulously by 100% of the sample, HE'S ARGUING AGAINST CONSENSUS which as we all know is a form of denialism (not to be confused with Denaliism,...the worship of Mount McKinley...which this blog does not have an official position on) 

Furthermore, his calling into question the accuracy of other stories is easily debunked by demonstrating the non-impossibility of the news articles. For instance, it is known that Dracula was based on a real person (Vlad Tepes) so it is entirely possible that a descendant of that individual could be a mass murdering cannibal.  Assuming they existed, the Knights of the Round Table have to be buried somewhere, and England would be a logical choice, which would make finding the tomb of one of them in the UK unsurprising. I do not find it in any way unlikely that a single set of quadruplets containing babies of 4 different races would surprise experts. In fact, this story would be quite unbelievable if the experts were NOT astonished. If anyone were to claim that Putin is the third Antichrist...it would as likely as not be a Nostradamus expert. Libertarianism is far more likely to appeal to squirrels, than, say, bees. The story about the Sauropod terrorizing a group of oil field surveyors in Nigeria is in the Paleontology section, where dinosaur stories belong. The site has no cryptozoology section which is an actual indicator of high idiocy.

So there you go. 
I think my rebuttal speaks for itself. 

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