January 19, 2020

Meanwhile, Off the Coast of Florida Land

Two of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes discusses today's developments.

"It's got everything ;">Even things that don't normally go togetherRockets! ;">EXPLODING ROCKETSTotal overwhelming victory!"
Art by 夜羊 (Night Sheep?)

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November 04, 2019


Winchell Chung, who has one of the awesomest websites on the internet over at Atomic Rockets has just added to his Realistic Designs Catalog a study from 1983 that applied considerable efforts to finding out the answer to what one should do if one finds oneself in need of a manned space battlecruiser armed with high yield energy weapons.

"Ya know...as one does."

I find absolutely glorious that DARPA actually did this study and even better that they came up with something that would work. In 1983 they weren't sure which weapon would be better, so the design has a laser, a particle beam and a railgun each powered by its own nuclear reactor which doubles as an engine. The main focus of the exercise seems to have been figuring how to provide short but massive bursts of electricity for energy weapons from nuclear reactors that could be operated around people. However ,there was attention given to the ship as a whole, including, heat dissipation, radiation protection for the crew and the vessel has artificial gravity for extended operations. There is an extensive analysis at the above link, go read it in full.

Note that the fact that this version has now been declassified meaning that this is presumably the obsolete U.S. design for a space battle cruiser.
A PDF of a very crappy mimeographed copy of the report is here.

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October 21, 2019

Questions on Starship and Falcon Heavy

 An hour long talk and Q&A by the SpaceX Principal Mars Development Engineer Paul Wooster discusses the companies plans to put people on Mars in 6 years.

There are a lot of interesting and impressive items in this presentation, some of which impress on a more visceral level than a technical one.

"Principal Mars Development Engineer!" Is there a cooler real world job title!?

Interestingly, while it has previously been sort of hinted at, Wooster here specifically states that the first manned rockets will be one way affairs. 

Wooster also said the first spaceships will likely serve as homes for astronauts. This may not be the most comfortable setup, but it could reduce mission complexity and development by skipping the need to immediately build Mars habitats.

While the later vehicles are slated to make round trips and return, this confirmation presents in a fairly stark fashion that Musk and company are serious about a permanent human presence.

While that's fraught to be sure, few truly great things are done without risk.

The 21st century seems to finally be arriving.

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October 06, 2019

"Cadet Corbet, Report to the Launch Pad."

This is just the most AWESOME looking thing.

Resizing animated .gifs without breaking them and embedding .MP4s is currently beyond our ability so click here for the full thing.

Musk is saying that once this thing makes it to twenty kilometers up and safely back down, then the following launch will be to orbit.

Crewed flights will follow in short order.

Space-X has massively updated their Starship page. See here.

Musk's decision to use simpler field serviceable materials, mainly stainless steel in the construction of his new rockets means that the main  production bottleneck is the big Raptor engines. The production capacity of those engines and their practical number of resuses for each will determine the pace of the construction program. Naturally, increasing raptor production is getting a lot of attention.

While there are very complex pieces of kit going into these ships (like life support systems in the manned ones) they are, on balance not terribly complex compared than contemporary aircraft or ships.

This has some interesting implications for mass production given that Musk is doing this as a crash program.  because constructing a 300-400 ton  stainless steel spacecraft stack, is probably not much more of an investment in relative terms than a 1200 ton destroyer was in WW1, (273 ships in ~2 years). While those numbers are far beyond the ken of a single midsized company with two production facilities, they do indicate that if production methods are nailed down, in a few years a score or more of these things might be produced.

"But wait, there's more!"

The stainless steel construction is even more interesting in the context of in-situ repairs on Mars. Steel is easily workable and while stainless steel is less so its far more so than titanium or composites and can be repaired in the field.

Morever, while Space-X's plans to produce fuel on mars are well known it should be noted that Martian soil is mostly iron oxide and the martian atmosphere is 1/3 carbon, so steel is readily available given some modest infrastructure. While stainless steel and steel are hard to weld together, it is not impossible to do so, and it's conceivable that a damaged ship on Mars might be repaired sufficiently to get into Earth orbit.

In the much longer term with enhanced infrastructure, it gets better. You see, the materials for making stainless steels are varying proportions of iron ore, chromium, silicon, nickel, carbon, nitrogen, and manganese. If one takes a deep dive into the biologically obnoxious Martian Regolith, one finds the following proportions:

Note the presence, albeit sometimes in minute concentrations of everything except nitrogen which is mainly used as a substitute for nickel, which is found in minute quantities only at the pathfinder landing site. Fortunately, floating above the dirt is the martian atmosphere which is 2.7% Nitrogen. These are minute quantities to be sure and probably not practical for extraction at an early base, but this is only the surface dirt and their presence there indicates that there is more to be found.

If Space-X doesn't faceplant, which is not beyond the realm of posibility, then there is the very real potential for the next decade to see scores, if not hundreds of these ships built to carry people, quite possibly settlers, to Mars, the Moon and the asteroids.

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August 27, 2019

Starhopper Hopping

"Sandblasting a road to the future!"

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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.


"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


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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