April 23, 2013
February 01, 2013
Great things are not easy.
They require great people to take risks.
While we mourn there loss we are fortunate to have had such people as this...
May we continue to be so blessed...
In happier days, Leslie Fish eloquently captured the hope so many of us had when the great ship first took to the sky.
'Foundation of our future, courier of dreams..'
We should let that be the epitaph of the ship and her brave crew; an inspiration to do still greater things, for if the boundaries of the future are allowed to be set by the risk adverse, the timid, those unwilling to take risks...or far worse, those who would presume to forbid others from doing so...then our future will be a dark age.
January 28, 2013
January 27, 2013
December 25, 2012
First comes some follow up on a previous post here, namely that the Horizons newsletter of AIAA Houston has completed the second and third installments of their fully restored (and annotated), high res reprints of the iconic Colliers series on space travel from the 1950's. The series, Man Will Conquer Space Soon was an extremely important work in that it brought to the public the realization that space travel was possible in the near term. The two most recent installments focus on lunar exploration and while they diverge greatly in both architecture and scale from the Apollo program, the expedition envisioned in the articles are still largely sound from an engineering standpoint (though the procedure for setting up the shelter is not entirely practical). Von Braun and Ley worked out their endeavor in minute detail and provided sufficient weight margins for incorporating additional equipment should they be deemed necessary by subsequent discoveries. The Horizons team has provided high resolution versions which is especially important given that the articles were illustrated by Fred Freeman and Chelsey Bonnestell.
There's a lot more in both issues ranging from a helicopter-space-capsule to a newly discovered, highly accessible Near Earth Asteroid.
One of the advisers on this project is Scott Lowther , who publishes Aerospace Projects Review, one of the best journals available dedicated to obscure, or poorly understood chapters in Aerospace engineering history. He also has a wide selection of interesting articles and documents for sale...go check it out.
The impressive architecture envisioned by the engineers who consulted for the Colliers symposium required the use of multi-stage reuseable rockets....
...which brings us to the current efforts by Space-X. That company, which has made great strides in low cost access to space, is now working on a reusable version of its Falcon launch vehicle. Rather than try for SSTO or recover stages in the ocean they plan on having the individual stages land vertically under power. This promises impressive cost savings with a more conservative design than most reusable rocket proposals if it can be made to work.
A test flight of their Grasshopper test rig with a Cowboy crash dummy on December 17 was completely successful.
'Science Babe' with inscrutable expression is actually Emi from KatawaShoujo.
March 24, 2012
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.
April 12, 2011
There is much more on Gagarin here.
January 03, 2011
Official NASA art
October 21, 2010
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.
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.
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.
[ 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!
September 21, 2009
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.
July 20, 2009
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.
May 11, 2009
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.
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).
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.
March 07, 2009
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.
January 31, 2009
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.
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.
January 28, 2009
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.
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.
December 21, 2008
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!
*Explanation of the irony in this statement can be found at this awesome site. dedicated to the "Colliers Space Program"
November 03, 2008
In it Steven Den Beste takes up the Sagan argument, namely that we should not be sending people into space because exploration can be done much more safely and efficiently via robots.
I heartily agree that many, applications can be done better via robots, but I part ways with the assumption that that is the point.
To me the ultimate point of a space program is not exploration per se' but settlement. While it is easy to pooh-pooh the idea that we shouldn't put our eggs in one basket, the fact is that Earth is a small place in the great scheme of things. If we believe that there is any intrinsic value to humanity and its works then we should begin to decentralize our population. This is not an irrational view.
There are other reasons to go into space of course....
A society in the hostile environment of space is not likely to embrace luddism to any great extent as there will be no doubt that technology and its advancement is necessary to survival. (Even the most human friendly non-terrestrial environment in the Solar System....Titan...will require some serious technical skill to live on).
Frontiers are the birthplaces of liberty and innovation. Our own history here in the USA is a fine demonstration of that. Note that these 2 things, Liberty and innovation, are getting stymied world wide by expansive government regulation on one end and rising Islamic radicalism on the other.
Now a space colony is not likely to be the libertarian slackers paradise that some seem to think. Everyone will have to pull their weight and there will be a few things like smoking, serving natto and opening windows that will be disallowed with extreme prejudice. However, what regulation there is is likely to be practical and necessary as opposed to inane.
This last bit is speculative to be sure and is based in those most irrational of human traits hope and aspiration. However these qualities are intrinsic and necessary to Humanities survival...and they don't figure well into auto-cad.
What can be modeled empirically are the cold equations and they are not nearly as pessimistic as Mr. Den Beste suggests.....
It is true that launch costs are currently exorbitant, but that is due to a series of bad decisions dating from the early 70s. There is no reason that the cost of launching a person into space cannot come down dramatically in a decade or two.
A while back we posted a brief primer on how to get to space without using vaporware like space elevators or anything involving a long lost Tesla patent. Nothing there is terribly far fetched and most has been developed to one degree or another. The problem is misdirected priorities.
Getting to orbit is 3/4 of the battle. Once there the energy expenditures to get anywhere else are pretty modest.
As for long term survival and settlement, assuming that we are using nuclear power, there are places with enough metals, air and water to sustain us if we are clever. With no major breakthroughs necessary, Mars, Ganymede and Titan have everything we need to build large settlements and Titan is particularly benign due to its thick nitrogen atmosphere, which provides good radiation shielding as well as (obviously) nitrogen. There is nothing particularly far fetched about this. All that is lacking is will and money.
Note though that while the math has been pretty well worked out, and the hurdles are not nearly as difficult as they appear such an endeavor is not nearly as easy or as inevitable as some of the advocates assume.
While we strongly disagree with Steven on the practicality and benefits of becoming a multi-planet species, he is right that there is a strong streak of religiosity to some of these space advocates...and not only can they get tedious, they can lobby for and get space programs to go into utterly counterproductive directions.
One of these is the idea that pushing space based solar power will open the stars to us all. Space solar power involves big solar collectors (about the surface area of Manhattan) gathering solar energy, converting it to microwaves and beaming it to big antenna farms on earth where it is converted into electricity. Now the reasoning goes that putting these heuge solar power satellites in orbit will solve all our energy needs and build a space infrastructure that will make manned exploration of the planets an incidental expense....
OK there are a few problems with this cunning plan....
Launch costs are currently ridiculous...(admittedly that is fixable, see above.)
Additionally, a space based solar power array is likely going to be built by robots.
Well this is about as useful for building a human friendly infrastructure as the current program. Assuming the launch costs are brought down THAT would help but this alone nixes a lot of the appeal that the program has to my fellow space cadets.
"But space solar power will solve all of our energy needs"
Alas no...while space based solar power is theoretically possible it is unlikely to ever be practical. Even given very cheap launch costs or the handwavium of a space elevator it is not going to be competitive with terrestrial power sources such as nuclear power. You have to build these things in GeoStationary orbit...which is pretty crowded and more expensive to get to than the moon.
You have to maintain them on station and repair meteorite damage.
Geostationary orbit is a high radiation area and degrades solar panels so the satellites must be replaced regularly.
Station keeping is a hurdle I've never seen dealt with in the literature. Peter Glasser's baseline SPS designs have the area of Manhattan and the mass of a battleship...the broad face must be pointed toward the sun. This light structure has huge sail area and little mass. What you have is a big, expensive and inefficient solar sail. (Space exploration bonus...hitch a ride to L-5 )
Then there is the environmental impact statement necessary for beaming microwave radiation into an area the size of the National Mall at orders of magnitude the intensity allowed for human exposure. The idiot Luddites currently frenzy over power lines...a rectenna array will get their knickers in a wad and their lawyers rich to be sure. Finally one problem with a rectenna array.....the microwaves will interfere with regular WiFi and cell transmissions...not part of the equation in the 60's and 70's when these were proposed.
This does not even look into the wisdom of putting the nation energy infrastructure in one very fragile exposed basket in geostationary orbit. A basket that a few ASAT devices could smite with little trouble.
SPS arrays are not he key to space or energy independence. To the contrary they are most unhelpful and a waste of time, rescources and mental capital.
And I say that as somebody who would move off planet in a heartbeat and considers that only slightly far-fetched....
UPDATE: Space elevators are frequently brought up as a solution to all things spacey. They certainly have potential in theory but there are sufficient hurdles that we should continue development of reusable rocketry. Now everybody's favorite killjoy has a long, informative post explaining why even assuming we get needed breakthroughs in materials, they are not entirely straightforward in their execution.
No source available for astronekonaut
October 15, 2008
On the 9th NASAs Casinni probe successfully flew to within 16 miles (!) of the surface of Enceladus and managed to pass through the tenuous remains of a guyeser plume! Samples were collected and are being analyzed now by the probes dust analyzer. Previously, spectroscopic analasis had confirmed that the big guysers at the moons southern hemispere are very rich in organic matter as well as water. The probes dust analyzer may well give a better idea of what sort of organic matter it is.
NASA is also working on the Hubble Telescope which has suffered a major problem and are attempting to switch to redundant electronic systems. The Atlantis mission to service the historic telescope one last time is already delayed until next year.
Space X successfully launched its medium lift launcher several days ago. Brickmuppet Blog was remiss in not covering it at the time....but here is a You Tube in atonement.....
On the other side of the pond, the UK minister of science is endorsing the creation of a UK Astronaut corps, This is a sea change for the Brittish space program . More here and here.
France is studying microsatelites launched from a Rafael fighter. The Aldabran program is discussed here (HT RLV News) and there are other inexpensive small launchers proposed in this report.
ESA is looking into a means to bring things the other way..from space to earth..with an eye to a manned system as well as other aplications. To that end they are studying something with the rousing name of Intermediate Experimental Vehicle.....This is hoped to , amongst other things, allow for a rescue capability from the Space Station independant of soyuz.
Finally in a less near term time frame. International Space University has conducted a study of the engineering challanges of outer planet exploration , mainly with regards to the systems of Jupiter and Saturn. Report one from Project Theseus is mainly concerned with a Europa mission, though the ambitious spaceship design is scalable to loftier goals.
September 19, 2008
Arrrrr.....one of the Brickmuppet's crack crew of alchemaic wenches has picked up this bit of scuttlebut from that thar scurrvy dog Brian Wang.
It seems that a bunch o' 'lubbers at ESA have been lookin' into spacejammers, and have figgued ot how to get more speed outa their sun sails by usin' St Elmo's fire!
This here sail there talkin about doesnt ride the light from the sun like other spacejammers, it rides the suns own westerlies!
That might not be of any interest to us 'ceptin that this Wang feller has figgured out how to use this here contraption to find treasure amongst the planets. Real treasure mayties, not just gold and silver mind you, but platinum and fresh water too!
If'n this thing works it'll be fast too! ...about 1, 494, 625 kts faster than one of them new fangled 15 kt clipperships!
September 05, 2008
They point out that while we have had the math worked out on reaching space for a century and we've been doing it for about half as long, it is still too great a hurdle for cheap access and large scale development.
This is a side effect of expendable launchers, which make sense from an engineering standpoint (they have maximum fuel efficiency and the highest payloads) but in an economic sense...they make no sense.
The problem here is that with the most current launch vehicles we are doing the equivalent of flying to Japan in a 747 and then blowing up the plane......every time. If that were the process for a transpacific flight..I could not have afforded to go to Japan last month.....just about no one could have.
So how do we fix the problem? Well obviously we make the damned thing reusable so you can fly it more than once!
While it may seem at first blush to be a dispatch from the department of "Duh!", that task is not as easy as it sounds...nor as impossible as some suggest.
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