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!



/images/7acbbaf195dd66c3e0345cda37401859.jpg
"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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March 24, 2012

Ogilvy Assures Me There is Nothing To Worry About

Regards this.

Amateur astronomers are puzzling over a seemingly anomalous cloud that has shown up on images of Mars taken over the past few days. Is it really a cloud, or a trick of the eye? Does it really extend 150 miles up from the surface, as some of the observers suggest? And what churned up all that stuff, anyway?



The chances of anything living on Mars are a million to one he said.

 


"Uuu-Laaa!"

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April 12, 2011

50 Years Ago A Human First Orbited the Earth

..which is why we celebrate this date as Yuri's night.


Thank you! Thank you all so much. I...wait, what?

There's an awesome recreation of Gagarins' flight here...



There is much more on Gagarin here.



This is also the 30th anniversary of the first flight of Columbia. With that ship now lost and the whole shuttle program being disbanded this year one might think this is a bittersweet anniversary.  Rand Simberg explains why that is not so.

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January 03, 2011

Engage Spinnaker Drive!

Brian Wang has a lengthy post on the potential of Drexler style solar sails. He also makes some important points about light pollution.... really impressive light pollution.


Official NASA art

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October 21, 2010

Space: Earthlike Worlds, Rocketry, Balloonery and Amusingly Quidnuncish Bureaucrats

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes takes a moment from enjoying a lab accident (entirely too much) to bring us news from the final frontier. As she will gleefully tell you, rocketry is all about controlling explosions.

There was quite a buzz recently about the discovery of a rocky planet orbiting Gliese 581. Now it turns out that this discovery has not been independently confirmed. This does not necessarily mean it isn't there, but given that it's the smallest exosolar planet yet discovered, the readings are necessarily very faint and hard to distinguish from background noise. Thus more study is needed. The star system in question is pretty interesting nonetheless with 5 other planets already confirmed, two of which are theoretically on the outer an inner edges of the so-called "life zone" (where water can exist in the open as a liquid). The presence of even two such planets is remarkable as a Red Dwarf has a very narrow habitable zone. The big news with this planet (if, indeed, it does exist) is that it is pretty much in the middle of the life zone. Even if tidally locked, as is likely, some estimates have the surface temperatures ranging from 160 degrees F. on the hot side to - 29 F. on the cold. This is not far above the highest recorded temperature on Earth (136 degrees Fahrenheit ) and well above the lowest so it could be quite hospitable.


In any event, the discovery of two and possibly three rocky planets in the life zone around a single example of the most common visible type of star vastly increases the likelihood for life bearing planets to exist.

SO LET'S GO!

Well we can't. We can't even get to the moon right now except with very tiny probes and 20 light years away is really close in astronomical terms, but its really really far. Light travels 186,282 miles per second. A light year is the distance it travels in a year, so 20 light years is...( carry the 2...) umm...real far. Voyager 1, and Helios 2, the fastest things we've ever launched, would take thousands of years to get there.

We'd need to start now on figuring out how to even determine the trade-offs and design needs to even begin to design a starship and it doesn't look like....oh wait.
NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA.

It's unclear if this is a design study for a starship with a mission time of a hundred years, or a design study aimed at seeing how we might go about building one a century from now. Still, it's nice to know that some thought is being given to these issues even if we can't afford to spend large ammounts of money on them now.

The above link also mentions new efforts being put into cheap access to orbit, including microwave beam propulsion.

In the nearer term, though not quite getting to orbit, Virgin Galactics suborbital tourist spaceship Enterprise recently made its first free flight and launch from its booster plane. Here is the video.




In other commercial space news. Armadillo aerospace has been doing a lot of tests with their Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing test beds to gain an understanding of how  to control such a vehicle. They've also been competing for the NASA Lunar Lander Challenge and doing various other things with rockets.



Their experiments are less polished but similar to the DC-X program of 20 years ago and they are working ultimately towards the same goal, a VTVL reusable spacecraft of 1 or two stages. However they are getting a good deal more experience with controlling such systems than that program did before it was cut short.


On an even smaller budget  and not quite into what the law defines as outer space space,  a father/ son team from Brooklyn nevertheless has achieved transcendental coolness by sending their iPhone to 100,000 feet and getting pictures of the curvature of the Earth.




Finally, at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the dynamic father son team of space balloonists,  we must take a moment and ponder the sheer silly asshattery of the UN and bureaucrats in general. You see, the UN is now poised to make it a crime to block out the sun. While this may at first blush seem  reasonable if a tad redundant decision, this is in fact potentially troublesome. While we here at BB think the Global warming issue is more than a bit over-hyped,  if the worst case scenarios were to come to pass a sunshade would be a very effective way of dealing with the problem and unlike other, kind of scary, geoengineering schemes, would be quickly reversible if it caused excessive unforeseen consequences. This is the cleanest, least disruptive short term solution to the problem these very people have a monomaniacal focus on, however...

[ quote ] ...But others, such as the ETC group, an environmental and social advocacy group, fear simply blocking the sun is a bandage, meant to cover up the problem, and allow humans to continue using fossils fuels... [/ quote ]

 ...in other words it could solve the problem they claim to see as a transcendental threat, but does not provide the solution in the way they want (which  tends to involve a lot of misery for us and making their buddies rich through carbon trading). Nothing would seem to be a better demonstration that the people hyping this problem do NOT believe it is a transcendental threat...which is actually NOT to say definitively that it is not...just that either way, these particular people are either liars or idiots.

Note that depending on how it is worded, such a ban could have deleterious effects on Space Based Solar arrays, which, while completely unworkable now, could be a very environmentally favorable solution to power problems in subtropical to tropical areas and cislunar manufacturing and settlement  if launch costs were to drop ( well...drop a whole HELL of a lot).

Oh well....silly season.

  Finally, a reminder. The Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch to the ISS on November 1, at about 16:40 EST. This will be one of the very last opportunities to see one of these.  

Science Babe is Nice Holystone from Baccano! Because "expwosives is all about kemistwy" and chemistry is SCIENCE!

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September 21, 2009

WATER!?

This could be very big.

Via Rand Simberg comes word that NASA is planning a press conference on Thursday regards some analysis of the data sent back by India's moon probe.

It seems that a lot more water than expected seems to have been found.

This would greatly simplify logistics for all sorts of things.

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July 20, 2009

40 Years



40 years ago our parents and grandparents did this.
Then they gave up.
Let us not betray our children's birthright the way ours was.





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May 11, 2009

Godspeed Atlantis

Atlantis launched this afternoon on one of the last of NASA's shuttle missions. This is also the final repair and preventive maintenance mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.




Gahlran puts the task facing the astronauts in some perspective.

STS-125 is considered one of the toughest space missions in decades, repairing equipment that was never intended to be repaired in space. For context, imagine replacing a hard drive in your computer, while in a zero gravity environment, while wearing a space suit, while traveling at 17,500 mph, and oh btw you have to replace nearly 100 hard drives. Don't lose those little bitty screws either, because you have to use them to put the thing together when your done.


Difficulties beyond trying to repair items never intended to be fixed in space include the danger of debris from both the Chinese ASAT test and the possibly related breakups of two old Kosmos satellites.How dangerous? NASA estimates the odds of LOCV (that's loss of crew and vehicle!) on this mission at 1 in 185.
The Hubble Space Telescope is one of  the few things considered worth this risk. With its replacement not scheduled to be launched untill 2013...assuming no pragram slippage...the Hubble is one of the most important scientific space assets in existance.
The mission is considered sufficiently hazardous that Shuttle Endeavor is standing by in the event a rescue mission is necessary (and possible).


The STS 125 Crew:7 very gutsy volunteers

NASA's overview of the mission (STS-125) is here.
NASA TV is streaming mission control live here.
One of the astronauts is 'Tweeting' and can be found here. (lolwhut?)


Apropos of nothing, this is the 100th shuttle mission after Challengers last flight.

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March 07, 2009

Columbiad of the Atom Age

We`ve talked about launch techniques including space cannons before, and we`ve talked about pulse nuclear drive as well. Now in this post Mr. Wang brings these two indescribably cool things together with a touch of Jules Verne. He proposes a cannon powered by underground atomic bombs using underground nuclear testing testing technology. This is akin to Project Plowshare...but rather more sane as the radioactivity can be kept underground. Of course it is unworkable in the current political climate and a failure of the vessel would, of course, be....bad.
It is probably best suited for a lunar site but it is an interesting proposal nonetheless.

 Rand Simberg has a response here. And Mr. Wang continues his proposal here and here.

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January 31, 2009

Another Job For Debris Section

Oh wait....we don't HAVE a debris section...that's just a cartoon.
More is the pity

Steeljaw Scribe posts on the unsavory fate of Cosmos 1818 an old soviet era nuclear powered satellite that has had what NASA euphemistically refers to as "a fragmentation incident".

It seems that the satellites reactor coolant system either ruptured due to wear and tear, or the satellite was hit by debris, possibly from the infamous Chinese ASAT test....in any event the satellite has excreted a cloud of stuff....most likely hardened coolant (it used a liquid metal coolant) forming a cloud of metallic pebbles of various sizes on various courses.


This satellite is causing some people concern because is a later version of the well known Cosmos 954 that rained radioactive scrap over several hundred miles of Canadian taiga back in 1978. However, the radioactive threat is limited. Actually it is negligible given that the vehicle is not in a decaying orbit.

Image of COSMOS1818 via Encyclopedia Astronautica

What is worrisome is the fact that Cosmos 1818 is still up there and is in lots of little hard to track pieces on different vectors. This greatly adds to the navigational hazards of an orbital torus already very full of dangerous debris, and it can only add to the overall threat of collisions from orbital fragments.

 If this was due to a debris strike then it is a mini example of the sort of thing that could easily lead to something called the Kessler Syndrome. That is debris hit satellites and other structures..thereby causing more debris...which in turn cause yet more collisions....this leads to a geometric increase in the generation of hyper-velocity projectiles orbiting in random directions until it is simply impractical due to the high likelihood of catastrophic collisions to continue in space. This sort of thing needs more attention...As it is, we are reinforcing the walls to our own prison.

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January 28, 2009

20 Years Ago



Due to the presence of Christa McAulliffe, the first teacher in space, it was watched with rather greater interest than most launches, and around the country, thousands, if not millions of schoolchildren witnessed the explosion and death of 7 brave men and women.

This is a somber week for space enthusiasts.Yesterday was the anniversary of the deaths of Grissom, White and Chafee in  Apollo 1 fire...

.... and 3 days from now will mark the anniversary of the deaths of Columbia's final crew.


17 of our best have risked and lost everything to open up for us a frontier of limitless opportunity. No words I can write will do these people justice.

There are choice words however for the visionless mandarins in congress and the federal bureaucracy whose venal machinations and lack of foresight have  ensured that 20 years after the Space Shuttle Challenger we have done next to nothing to get us farther along in opening the frontier these brave people died to explore.

These same malevolent mandarins chose this somber day to virtually bankrupt the nation, and their priorities revealed in the stimulus package show that investments in our future and moving the nation forward rank far below their greed and visions of power.

It is not by accident that I call these people Mandarins, for the story we see unfolding before us has happened before, as I wrote in a previous post of what happened to China...

...In possession of the largest merchant fleet in history, the oldest and most advanced civilization  on earth decided in the early 1400's to stop exploring and engaging the world. The nation rapidly lost the applicable technologies and did not become a world power again until the 1960's...and was not a serious economic power until the early 90s.

The lead in economics and power the US currently enjoys is infinitesimal in comparison to the lead in technology, knowledge, and both hard and soft power that China enjoyed in the 1400s. Other nations were literally centuries behind, and yet a group of visonless bureaucrats, for reasons of both well intentioned but short sighted idiocy, and the most venal self interest, stymied through legislation (or simply outlawed) not only emerging technologies, but existing ones as well. China was leapfrogged and became the plaything of the nations who had put her inventions to good use. In a last fit of bureaucratic group think, the descendants of those who had brought this about, ended the modernization efforts of the Tang Dynasty solely because they feared that the new ministries and corporations focused on technological development  would threaten their power and relevance. The result was 70 years of blood, culminating in the worst mass murder humanity has ever seen.


We are very close to repeating one of the most calamitous mistakes any nation has made. We have leadership that does not like free enterprise and due to today's events, we face a generation or more of severe parsimony on the government side as well....if we are not to completely bankrupt the nation.

There is hope of course.

Like a farmer facing drought we can muddle through this and prosper in the end, but only if we don't eat our seed corn. Technology investment is the seed corn of a modern nation. We would do well to remember that and see to it that future leaders encourage rather than stymie it.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 08:11 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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December 21, 2008

More on The Paths not Taken

Over at the Unwanted Blog, where Scott Lowther has a selection of pictures from Project Meteor, a hugely ambitious program from 1956 that was as Lowther puts it...

This was somewhat similar to the “Colliers” space program as envisioned by von Braun and others… just not so small and limited.*

Not so limited indeed...the station was half a mile long and the gravity deck (centrifuge) was 1500 feet in diameter. This was the size of an O'Neal colony...in 1956!

srrsly guys...manuver carefully!
I was familliar with the interesting and forward thinking Meteor ferry rocket, from Ron Millers, The Dream Machines. However I had NO idea that it was tied to such an ambitious project.

According to Lowther, the numbers largely work, this was a very serious proposal, but I suspect this...like other 1950's station proposals, would have run afoul of the then unknown Van Allen problem
In theory, the optimum altitude for a station is around1050 miles up or so which is beyond all traces of the earths atmosphere, however what was not known prior to Explorer 1 is that that orbital sweet spot is smack blam in the middle of in the Van Allen Belts. Low earth orbit, though considered a hard vacuum, still has enough trace atmosphere to cause some over time drag, making satellites there non-permanent or high maintenance. However, given the investment in the thing and the plans concurrent project for reusable space launchers, this could have probably been made to work.

Lowther has a 59 page report describing the project in great detail for sale here along with several other forgotten chapters of aerospace history.

*Explanation of the irony in this statement can be found at this awesome site. dedicated to the "Colliers Space Program"

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 09:25 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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