Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Russia: Still Number One In Space Launches

Despite losing out to the US in the original space race, Russia is still the dominant force when it comes to sending up rockets into space.

(Red Orbit) Anatoly Perminov, head of the agency, said the country launched 24 spacecraft this year and plans a final space shot Wednesday, RIA Novosti reported Tuesday.

Russia's current share in the spacecraft launch market is about 40 percent, and counting joint Russian-Ukrainian launches from the Sea Launch platform it totals about 45 percent of all launches conducted in the world, Perminov said.

Although they lack the financial muscle to aggressively compete in today's world, Russia is nonetheless more willing to take risks in space--even more than China and the US.

With NASA retiring the shuttle in 2010, Russia will probably dominate the rocket industry as even the US is slowly becoming dependent upon them for our space travel needs. (at least we will in the future)

Perhaps Russia's ticket to the final frontier will be through servicing rocket launches to wealthier nations, which is actually not a bad position to be in.

Seeing Mars With X-Ray Vision

Thanks to the Mars Express spacecraft, we are getting a whole different view of Mars which is revealing ancient secrets hidden beneath the red surface.

(Mars Daily) Scientists are finding an older, craggier face of Mars buried beneath the surface, thanks to pioneering sounding radar co-sponsored by NASA aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft. [...]

The technique uses echoes of waves that have penetrated below the surface.

"It's almost like having X-ray vision," said Dr. Thomas R. Watters of the National Air and Space Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Washington. "Besides finding previously unknown impact basins, we've also confirmed that some of the subtle topographic depressions mapped previously in the lowlands are related to impact features."

Although geologists will be excited about using the satellite to discover old Mars, hopefully scientists will use it to discover whether or not underground water tunnels exist on the red planet.

It could also prove quite useful in locating any valuable resources that may stimulate businesses to invest in a future quest towards Mars (after the moon of course).

South Korea Heading Into Space

It looks like another Asian nation will soon take its place among the stars. Although they will be using Russian power in order to get to the stars, it will be good to see some more diversity among the heavens.

(Space Travel) After weighing the merits of some 36,000 applicants, South Korea has selected two finalists -- a male researcher and a female postgraduate student -- in its search for the country's first astronaut. Researcher Ko San, 30, and Ph.D student Yi So-Yeon, 28, were chosen late Monday after a live TV appearance along with four other potential finalists. [...]

South Korea will be the 36th country since Russia's Yuri Gagarin in 1961 to put a man -- or woman - into space. It will cost some 26 billion won (28 million dollars). "I am so grateful for those who have supported female candidates. I want to boost the self-confidence of women," Yi was quoted by Tuesday's Korea Times as saying.

South Korea also plans on sending up some kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage) for their astronaut to enjoy (although I wonder which company is going to pay the big bucks to have the astronaut eat their brand?).

With South Korea now entering the human space field, one wonders if Japan may consider partnering with the Russians as well.

Note: Is it me, or does it seem that Russia is cornering the market for space travel?

First Commercial Launch Towards The Moon

(Hat Tip: Space Ports)

It looks like TransOrbital, Inc. may be the first commercial company sending cargo towards the lunar world. They plan on launching a rocket to the moon and after observing the surface for scientific data, they intend to crash the rocket on the surface below, burying the crafts contents underground.

Image Credit: TransOrbital, Inc.

(TransOrbital TrailBlazer Mission) TrailBlazerTM is the first commercial lunar mission. It is designed to be an inexpensive precursor probe for a variety of commercial lunar missions, both those accomplished by TransOrbital, and those of other companies and space agencies. It is essentially a flying camera platform, carrying high-resolution video cameras, with the goal of returning scientific and artistic video throughout the mission. [...]

The TrailBlazer will not have enough fuel to raise its orbit again, so we will end the mission by commanding it to impact the surface at a pre-selected location. We will choose this site to be far away from any site of historical interest (e.g. Tranquility Base). During the final descent, we will beam back "barnstorming" video of the approaching lunar surface.

This should prove to be interesting, although not quite as useful as getting us on lunar soil. Ironically, I can see people desiring the ashes of their loved ones (along with family heirlooms or historical items) paying to have their contents embedded deep inside moon dirt.

I wonder if NASA would consider a similar craft containing all of Earth's history and burying it underneath the lunar surface?

Can NASA Save Us From Asteroid Armageddon ?

Probably not, but that does not seem to be stopping the world's largest space agency from planning a mission on these space rocks.

( Progress is being made on defining a human mission to an asteroid. Experts at several NASA centers are sketching out a prospective piloted stopover at an asteroid-a trek that could return samples from a targeted space rock as well as honing astronaut proficiency and test needed equipment for other space destinations. [...]

Meanwhile, NASA is wrapping up a report required by the U.S. Congress on how best to search for, catalog and even deal with the hazard of Earth-bruising rocks from space. That space agency report is to be turned over to Congress by year's end.

Although we will not be landing on the asteroid, NASA hopes to gain more knowledge about these space rocks in order to perfect future space missions (which will be quite helpful around those Martian moons).

Currently humanity has no way to deflect asteroids heading straight towards Earth (so in that regards we are screwed) but we may be able to alter their orbits via a space tractor.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Was Jesus Born In August, July Or December?

With the holidays around the corner (or just ending if you are Jewish) there seems to be a reflection of when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Despite tradition placing his birth in late December, some astronomers think Christ may have been born in the summer time--based on the star hailing his entrance into the world.

(MSNBC) The show started on the morning of June 12 in 3 B.C., when Venus could be sighted very close to Saturn in the eastern sky. Then there was a spectacular pairing of Venus and Jupiter on Aug. 12 in the constellation Leo, which ancient astrologers associated with the destiny of the Jews.

The crowning touch came on June 17, when Jupiter seemed to approach so close to Venus that, without binoculars, they would have looked like a single star.

Their is a brief mention of a star in the scriptures, which many see as a prophetic hint towards the coming Messiah.

Although his birth and life are often the cause of debate on our planet (as one can notice by glimpsing over at Cosmic Log's comment section) no one can deny that this man has probably influenced the world more than any other person (as our economy can at least tell you that).

Whether you are a theist, atheist, IDist or agnostic, I wish you all a Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah, Festivus, etc.).

Note: It's not a space elevator, but it may be the worlds tallest Christmas tree (see this image for a reference).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

LockHeed Martin Building A Space Elevator?

(Hat Tip: Robot Guy and Space Elevator Reference)

With LockHeed Martin drafting plans to construct its own space elevator, it looks like LiftPort may have some serious competition on its hands.

(Google Patents) A Space Elevator for transporting a payload from one point to another in outer space, includes a first structure, located at a first relatively fixed, non-zero orbital distance from the surface of the earth, for receiving payloads, a second structure, located at a second relatively fixed orbital distance from the surface of the earth, for receiving payloads, where the second distance is greater than the first distance, a third structure located near the center of gravity of the combined apparatus providing a platform for storing and/or processing payloads, and a payload transporting apparatus disposed between and interconnecting the first and third and second and third structural means.

Although this differs from LiftPort's version of a space elevator, (which should probably be called a Sky Hook) LockHeed's version would preserve the current rocket industry in its current status.

LiftPort's version, although probably not in the best short term interests of any rocket company, would enable larger cargo to be hauled into space, not to mention giving most countries access to the final frontier.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Loose Regulations For Private Space Industry

It looks as if the the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has decided to regulate the upcoming space industry with minimal restrictions. This is a good thing as bureaucracy is the last thing the private sector needs.

(Zee News) Thrill-seekers looking to blast into space would need to be informed in writing of serious risks -- including death -- and promise not to sue the government under the first-ever rules for commercial space travel. [...]

The rules apply to American companies launching from anywhere in the world, and to foreign companies launching from US soil.

Virgin Galactic, run by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, is aiming to offer out-of-this-world vacations in 2008 for travelers willing to pay USD 200,000 apiece. Space Adventures Ltd of Vienna, Virginia, is making similar plans, as are other outfits.

The good thing about these rules is it allows the private sector to determine who is fit for space, as NASA's requirement's might exclude those who are disabled, or not "strong enough" to survive the trip up.

Of course the FAA is requiring that the pilots be fit and go through some training, although they are hinting that they will become heavily involved if fatalities start to "pile up" (although most of these companies would have financial reasons for avoiding these, as having passengers die is not good for business).

Monday, December 18, 2006

India Considers Sending Men In Space

After years of highlighting the benefits of machine over men, India is finally considering launching full blooded humans into space.

(The Space Review) India has long shunned manned spaceflight, given its expense and limited practical applications, the only exception being the flight of Rakesh Sharma on a Soviet-era Soyuz mission in 1984. However, in November a panel of Indian scientists and other officials (among them Sharma), endorsed a proposal to develop a manned spacecraft that could be launched by an upgraded version of India’s existing Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The program, according to an ISRO statement, would cost 100 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) over eight years: a not-insignificant sum for an agency whose current budget is around a half-billion dollars a year.

India probably realizes that unless they seriously consider sending their own citizens into space, there will be no emotional attachment to the stars, at least enough to justify the program.

With other nations drawing up plans to colonize the final frontier, it would be silly for India to simply focus on "robotizing" the cosmos that surrounds us.

Google Mars And Google Moon Coming Soon?

It seems with NASA and Google teaming up for space, there is serious discussing between the two about developing a real Google Mars and Google Moon, similar to the search engine giant's version of Google Earth.

(NASA) As the first in a series of joint collaborations, Google and Ames will focus on making the most useful of NASA's information available on the Internet. Real-time weather visualization and forecasting, high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon and Mars, real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle will be explored in the future.

"This agreement between NASA and Google will soon allow every American to experience a virtual flight over the surface of the moon or through the canyons of Mars," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin at Headquarters in Washington. "This innovative combination of information technology and space science will make NASA's space exploration work accessible to everyone," added Griffin.

This should make it much easier for people to explore our nearest neighbors without breaking the bank account (as $21 million for space trips can be quite expensive). Hopefully users will be able to construct models on both the red planet and our lunar friend above via Google Sketchup, which may aid scientists (not to mention space geeks) in building real life models of future space colonies.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Saturn's Enceladus Spewing Water Or Clathrate?

One of the geysers of the ice moon Enceladus (nick named "cold faithful") may not be spewing out water as previously thought. Scientists have discovered new chemicals within the spray, leading to researchers to think that Enceladus may have more under the surface than H20.

( "A problem with this model is that 10 percent of the plume consists of the gases carbon dioxide, nitrogen and methane," said lead study author, Susan Kieffer, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "You might get a carbon dioxide-driven liquid geyser there, but you can't put this much nitrogen and methane into liquid water at the low pressures found inside Enceladus."

Nitrogen and methane, almost insoluble in water, are highly soluble in clathrate. When exposed to vacuum, the gas molecules burst out, ripping the ice lattice to shreds and carrying the fragments away.

Although probably a century away from human exploration, Enceladus is proving to be an interesting moon to explore. If the methane concentration is high enough, it may not be surprising in the future to find its surface dotted with "ice rigs" pumping fuel towards the surface (although you get some protests from space environmentalists).

NASA And Google Partner For Space?

The search engine king and NASA are geared to broadcast a major announcement regarding their partnership tomorrow morning.

(Commercial Space Watch) From what I have learned, this announcement will unveil a NASA/Google collaboration that is rather unique - indeed exciting. This agreement represents a significant advance for how the agency might collaborate with the private sector in the future - specificially as to how the agency takes its vast collection of data and imagery and makes it more easily available to the world. Among the details of this new cooperative project, Google will be contributing funding to support NASA employees - and not just at ARC - but at other NASA centers as well.

What makes this more exciting is the very fact that NASA's partnership with Google may mean future developments in the work. Something I would love to see would be a Google Mars program to rival that of Google Earth (and perhaps a Google Moon too).

Either way, this shows that if NASA can partner with Google, they may just be open to partner with some of the smaller space companies out there.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Raining Asteroids Could Threaten Martian Colonists

Although not as dangerous as the Moon, (as Mars is much larger) future colonists on Mars may need to construct underground bunkers just in case a space rock is headed in their direction.

( "If you were to live on Mars for about 20 years, you would live close enough to one of these events to hear it," said researchers Michael Malin, [chief scientist at San Diego, California's Malin Space Science Systems] who led the study. "So there’d be a big boom and you’d know there was an impact crater." [...]

Malin said that it was by chance [Kenneth Edgett, a Malin Space Science Systems researcher] spotted an image with a new crater and recalled a similar view taken years earlier by the MGS orbiter. Their subsequent survey found the new craters, which range in diameter from seven feet (two meters) to 486 feet (148 meters), and an average impact rate of about 12 per year.

Since Mars is the closest world to the asteroid belt, this should not come to a surprise. Future colonists may want to consider taking shelter near a Mons volcano, as they may provide some cover (especially if there is a cave nearby).

However, unless scientists can find a way to thwart these future space rocks, Mars may become known as the "bloody planet".

Smarter, Harder, Space Robots

Perhaps next time NASA (or any other space agency) decides to launch a rover to another world, they may want to contact Hod Lipson, (assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering for the Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab) for programming tips.

(Space Daily) Nothing can possibly go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ...The truth behind the old joke is that most robots are programmed with a fairly rigid "model" of what they and the world around them are like. If a robot is damaged or its environment changes unexpectedly, it can't adapt. [...]

"Most robots have a fixed model laboriously designed by human engineers," Lipson explained. "We showed, for the first time, how the model can emerge within the robot. It makes robots adaptive at a new level, because they can be given a task without requiring a model. It opens the door to a new level of machine cognition and sheds light on the age-old question of machine consciousness, which is all about internal models."

What was interesting was how that after the robots learned how to walk, researchers were able to take away a leg which forced the robot to relearn the process all over again. Robots like these will prove to be quite useful not only on Mars and outer space, but also on other hostile worlds such as Saturn's Titan.

Note: If they become too smart, I may have to order a special bracelet supporting "the robot movement."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mars Society's Bob Zubrin Jealous Over Lunar Plans?

(Hat Tip: NASA Watch)

Bob Zubrin, President of the Mars Society seems to have shown a little bit of resentment (and perhaps jealousy) over NASA's plans to return humanity to the Moon.

( I'm very much a believer that NASA needs to have a central driving mission. Basically the manned space program has accomplished nothing since 1973 except for the Hubble Telescope. They're just doing things to do them. But this can hardly be regarded as bold, a plan to do 14 years from now what they did 50 years before. They're also doing it in twice the time it took to do the first time. We could be on Mars in 10 years without a doubt. The idea that your strategic goal is the moon as opposed to Mars I think is wrong. I think it's too timid. I think it's, well, un-American. [emphasis mine]

For many years, Zubrin has pushed for a Martian colony within his lifetime, even creating a DVD in order to promote his cause. However, he has not laid out a public road map to explain how we could get to Mars within ten years, something even Buzz Aldrin has done (although it's about 15 years longer than Zubrin's proposal).

Buy why should we skip the moon for Mars? Zubrin explains:

( Mars compares to the moon in the coming age of exploration as North America compares to Greenland in the previous age of exploration. It might take a little more to travel to North America than to Greenland, but it is easier to sustain a colony there. Mars has resources that can be used to support the base. You can make fuel there. You can get water. On Mars you have the elements of life and you have the elements of industry. On the moon, you don't really have either. [emphasis mine]

Despite this analogy being "cozy," it does not work very well regarding our current neighbor and our distant red friend. While Greenland has no resources, the moon does, something of which we might not be able to say regarding Mars.

And scientists do not know whether or not Martian soil is toxic to life (which would hinder us greatly if we ever settle on Mars).

A better analogy of the two worlds is this: The Moon is like Iceland. Its fairly distant, has some resources and despite the dangers is habitable.

Mars is like Antarctica. It is very far away and brutal, and despite holding some resources, it may not be in our financial best interests exporting them.

Is Russia Becoming Too Old For Space?

It looks as if the future of humanity may lie in the hands of America and China. Not only does it seem that Russia is unable to afford a lunar trip, but now they may not have the resources to greatly assist NASA.

(RIA Novosti) This country plans to continue to upgrade its aging launch vehicles, service the International Space Station (ISS) and develop new spacecraft, including satellites that can operate for a decade rather than just 12 months. This is why Russia needs a powerful, multi-purpose and cost-effective spacecraft industry, something that seems to be lacking today. [...]

The Russian space industry will eventually be reorganized along civilian lines, but who is going to work there? The problem is that its 250,000 employees have an average age of 46. In effect, Russian space companies are getting older and more obsolete in every respect, including their human resources.

Although the American space industry is facing a similar problem regarding rocket scientists, it seems as if Russia currently has little to offer NASA as far as support goes.

It makes one wonder if all those press releases were merely wishful thinking on their part.

Everyday Space Technology That You Don't Think About

Many critics of the space program whine that sending men and women to the moon (and Mars) is a waste of time, money and media coverage when such efforts could be better focused on humanitarian issues or improving the economy.

But before one can write off the entire space sector, they should consider all of the benefits it has provided us.

(ABC News) Since the 1950s, space technology has been applied to more than 30,000 commercial products. Sunglasses, quartz watches, and cordless tools are all products with roots in outer space.

Add to that list global communications systems, personal computers and satellite technology, and it's fair to say that most Americans don't make it through a day without using a space spin-off.

Ironically, even the coffee you drink everyday (made from the coffee pot)is a direct spin-off from space technology. Without, half of the US probably wouldn't be able to function (or at least on time with little sleep).

But what is the main reason for exploring the cosmos?

(ABC News) "These things are nice and important...but not worth risking lives for," [Dan Barry, retired astronaut] said. "So why do we risk astronaut's lives? If we don't go out into space and continue to expand and explore, then as a species, we're going to eventually stagnate. And species that don't adapt and expand become extinct."

Any more excuses?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Will Rocket Scientists Become Extinct?

Probably not, but their numbers sure are diminishing throughout the industry, causing concern among experts. This may be because the space industry is not focusing on reaching one arena critical to our future--our youth.

( Throughout the meeting, many speakers talked about the need to educate the future workforce for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The President's vision of going back to the Moon and on to Mars requires that an ever-increasing number of Americans choose STEM careers, and do the hard work to achieve college degrees in STEM subjects. Likewise, the 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future" and resulting American Competitiveness Initiative both call for action aimed at producing better educated, technologically savvy workforce in order to assure US economic leadership and security. Yet, several speakers noted that the number of American students completing STEM majors in college is decreasing.

If we are going to ever colonize our neighboring moon and planets, then we have to transfer that desire to the upcoming generation. Today's children will probably be tomorrow's colonists, and if we are unable to move the culture focus from MySpace to outer space, then NASA's bold objectives (along with the private sector) will all be in vain.

Space Culture Catching On In Vietnam

We definitely need to see more of this on planet Earth.

(VietnamNet Bridge) VietNamNet Bridge – The Prime Minister has just approved the establishment of the Institute of Space Science under the Vietnam Institute of Science and Technology (VIOST), said Mr Nguyen Khoa Son, Vice Director of VIOST.

Research and application of satellite engineering will top the list of priority tasks in the first operational steps of the institute.

Although making its first baby steps into space culture, it's at least taking a step. Many nations will not even do that.

FlyWheel As Space Batteries

(Hat Tip: Hobby Space)

This technology shows promise, however it is still more expensive than regular chemical batteries. If perfected though, these may prove to be more useful than their chemical cousins.

(American Scientist Online) One place that flywheels might eventually find a niche is space. NASA has contemplated using flywheel energy storage for the International Space Station and has funded considerable research in this area (although so far this technology has not been adopted). The impetus was to find a way to hold the electrical energy generated by the station's solar panels, in darkness a good fraction of each orbit, without having to suffer the vagaries of chemical batteries, which tend to wear out after many charge-discharge cycles. In space, flywheels could serve double duty, replacing both the batteries that would otherwise have to be carried and the "reaction wheels" that are often used to adjust attitude by taking up or giving back angular momentum. For such control, one would install several flywheels at different orientations and then move energy among them to obtain the desired angular momentum for the set.

Although the concept is fairly new to me, it seems that FlyWheel batteries may be an alternative battery system for future lunar colonists. FlyWheels may be able to store energy during the "day time" via solar panels, and serve to power up the colonies "at night" when facing away from the sun.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grassroots For Space Geeks Goes Live

(Hat Tip: Space Politics)

With criticism over NASA's lunar plans growing, the Coalition for Space Exploration has taken the initiative in their own hands and has decided to launch a grass roots effort to keep our space program (as well as the vision) alive.

( is an advocacy website sponsored and maintained by the Coalition for Space Exploration. The mission of this website is to advocate the Vision for Space Exploration across our country and to legislators on Capitol Hill and within our states.

Our goal is to recruit space advocates who share our passion for space exploration and support this mission.

The site looks as if its taking its baby steps, although the Space Advocate site might consider several more options in order to make itself truly effective.

  • Create a blog (with comments enabled and rss feeds)

  • Create a forum or "social network" within the site

  • Have an unofficial blog roll and list member bloggers who in turn link back via text or image.

I'm looking forward to the future development of this site. Hopefully we can send a message to Congress that Americans do care about their space program over their pet pork projects.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Russia To America: Give Us A Lunar Lift

Although Russia is already pursuing many adventures towards the moon, (including partnering with China) they seem to be unable to send their own people to visit that lunar world.

With NASA revisiting the moon via astronauts, Russia is looking to hitch a ride and offer their expertise.

(RIA Novosti) "If the U.S. offers the necessary financing for Russia to participate in its national lunar program, Russia is likely to accept the proposal," said Igor Panarin, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency.

Panarin said separate funds have not been earmarked for Moon exploration projects under Russia's federal space program for 2006-2015.

"The program includes a number of projects to study but not explore the Moon, as exploration requires separate and substantial funding," the spokesman said.

The article does not go on to say whether Russia desires humans or robots to hitch a ride, but it would not be surprising if they were requesting Russian blood to represent them on the moon.

NASA's first trip (if not the first several) will probably be American's, and although the cost of reaching the moon will be high, the rewards of going there will hopefully be worth it.

More Evidence Of Martian Water Arises

(Hat Tip: Mars News)

NASA has released news of water existing on the red planet, perhaps in liquid form underground. If so, future colonists may be able to tap into the "water line," although doing so may cause a flash flood.

(NASA) MALIN: We think that the water is coming from deep in the ground. It's warmed as it gets closer to the center of Mars. The outer parts of Mars are really, really quite cold, but the inner part is probably still warm, just as the Earth's interior is warm. As the water came up, it reached the surface and initially froze at the surface. But as more and more water came up, it would build pressure behind the frozen water in front of it and eventually it would break out of behind that barrier and flow down the surface. So we think there's an ice dam that is holding back water for some period of time, and then that dam breaks, and water comes out, and as it comes out, and as the dam breaks, it consists of rock debris from the rock around that water, it includes ice fragments from the dam and it includes liquid water.

How thick that "ice dam" is would be something future Martians would have to find out. Of course any water found on Mars would have to be filtered out for contamination (as Martian soil can be toxic and that may include some of the sub layers as well).

NASA Regains Its Manhood (Destination: Moon)

(Hat Tip: Space Scan)

After decades of spending billions on projects helping us orbit our own planet, NASA has decided to change course and retake lost ground on our lunar neighbor.

(MSNBC) NASA announced Monday its strategy and rationale for robotic and human exploration of the moon, determining that a lunar outpost is the best approach to achieve a sustained, human presence there. [...]

"What we're looking at are polar locations...both the north pole and south pole," said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale. Picking between the two poles will be done once NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter begins surveying the moon after its launch in October 2008.

One particular area that's already receiving high marks by NASA's lunar architecture team is at the South Pole-a spot on the rim of Shackleton Crater that's almost permanently sunlit.

This announcement is long overdue, and despite the complaints of costs by some, NASA should be able to fund this project as well as the various science programs. Although cutting back on these programs is not fun (as that means somebody is out of a job), it would probably be better for this to happen in the short term than having us forever observing the stars.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Artificial Gravity And Orbital Space Stations?

One of the biggest challenges towards colonizing the solar system (and beyond) is gravity--or rather the lack thereof. Gravity plays an important role in the health of the human body, and the lack of it for long periods of time can be dangerous for future space colonists.

Although it is currently unknown at what percentage of Earth gravity is necessary for human survival, we may have to build enormous space stations that can simulate gravity via centripetal force.

(AstroProf's Page) In science fiction, this is an easy problem to solve - you use artificial gravity generators. Actually, I rather think that this is an invention of producers who wanted to keep special effects budgets down rather than any attempt to overcome physiological problems! [...]

For large space colonies, with a very big radius, the colony could be rotated at a comfortably gently rate, people living in the ring at the outer edge of the colony would feel just like they were on Earth (if f = 1). So, this is how we'd more likely generate artificial gravity, rather than with the graviton generators used in science fiction.

Since most of the solar worlds lack the necessary gravity to enable human colonies upon their soils, we may be stuck living in orbital stations except for brief visits to the surface.

Although this may produce an acute form of cabin fever (if the stations are small that is) it is better to ere on the side of caution in this regard than to suffer the side effects of micro-gravity.

Update: Adjusted image for size and credit. Also added extra category for post.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Helicopter Hover For Future Mars Lander?

It looks like the terrestrial helicopter has inspired one company to design a lander that may aid in future missions to the red planet.

(MSNBC) If NASA's 2009 Mars Science Laboratory reaches the red planet's surface in one piece, the agency will owe a debt of gratitude to the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter.

Like its namesake, NASA's Sky Crane carrier platform will hover above its drop site - albeit with retrorockets rather than rotor blades - and lower its payload, the compact car-sized MSL rover, to the surface using a winch and tether. As soon as the rover is ready to roll, the tether connection will be severed and the Sky Crane will fly off and crash land a short distance away.

NASA seems to be favoring this method as the current "balloon bounce" on the Martian world does not give the space agency many options to land (as the landing site has to be free from sharp rocks).

Using the Sky Crane will enable NASA to land the rover or craft virtually anywhere on the Martian surface, allowing them to explore key areas on Mars and hopefully discover some resources to make the trip worth it.

Hopefully sometime in the current century humanity will be able to actually visit the Martian landscape, although we may have to wait sometime after the first space elevator is built in order to make the journey cheap enough.

Russia Considers Lunar, Martian Space Elevators

(Hat Tip: Space Elevator Blog, One and Two)

Not desiring to deal with the hassles of launching and landing a payload from Earth to the Moon and Mars, Russia is considering building a space elevator in order to help cut down on transport expenses.

(RIA Novosti) Scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences have developed a unique space elevator for lunar and Martian missions. Although a bit slower, the new system will cut back on interplanetary delivery expenses. [...]

In 1965, the Central Machine-Building Design Bureau, headed by leading rocket scientist Sergei Korolev, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, started preparing for the first space-tether experiment. The Bureau, which later changed its name to Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, planned to link a Soyuz spacecraft to the last stage of the launch vehicle using a steel cable. Unfortunately, this project was mothballed after Korolev's death and resumed by Energia only 20 years later.

The fact that they started this project is a testimony to the Russian spirit to push the boundries of space technology as we know it. Although there is no mention of a space elevator on Energia's website, it is good to see another company (aside from LiftPort) taking the concept seriously, if not on Earth then elsewhere.

The Russian Space Research Institute, another organization considering the possibilities of a space elevator, has already outlined a fancy way of building one on the Moon.

(RIA Novosti) Theoretical studies and experiments showed that the cluster should comprise two cableway systems, one in a low circular and the other in a low elliptical Earth orbit, and one cableway in a circular equatorial lunar orbit. The dimensions of all three cableways should create different gravitational potentials at each end. By adjusting tether length, it will be possible to change each orbital system's angular speed of rotation.

The space-elevator cluster will exchange payloads between orbital cableways. In essence, two-way freight traffic would turn such cableways into a transportation artery.

A lunar space elevator would definitely go a long ways towards colonizing the lunar surface. There are some who even think one may be built before one is constructed on Earth.

But unlike the moon, a lunar space elevator would have to be constructed out of cheap materials due to the fact that space rocks raining down from above can easily damage the lunar lift, temporarily crippling transport to the moon.

A Martian space elevator may not fare any better, as the red planet is known to harbor violent storms that cover the entire surface.

Russia may be able to overcome both of these problems (at least in the lunar scenario) as one should not wager against technological breakthroughs in the space arena. But even if space elevators are only feasible on planet Earth, just being able to construct one within the solar system is enough to change the history of our planet as we know it.

Space Rocks Could Endanger Future Moon Colonists

As humanity heads back towards the moon, we may have more than just radiation from the sun (or dust from the soil) to deal with. Colonists may also have find a way to cope with space rocks raining down from on high.

( Potentially dangerous small space rocks are smashing into the Moon a lot more often than was expected, according to an ongoing NASA study.

"We've now seen 11 and possibly 12 lunar impacts since we started monitoring the Moon one year ago," said Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "That's about four times more hits than our computer models predicted." [...]

"The flashes we saw were caused by Leonid meteoroids 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) in diameter," Cooke said today in a NASA statement. They hit with energies equal to 150 to 300 pounds of TNT.

Although it may be impossible to shoot down and track such objects entering lunar territory, it may not be improbable to create a strong enough barriers (or force fields) that can sustain damages from such impacts.

If so, then colonizing the Moon would quickly become a reality, allowing us to build communities and use our lunar neighbor as a springboard for Mars.

With Congress Lacking Vision, NASA Keeps The Faith

With Congress more focused on social programs, tax cuts and votes towards the future, NASA is not dismayed by Washington's lack of support for the Centennial Challenge.

(Aviation Week) NASA says it will continue to support its Centennial Challenges prize program, despite the fact that Congress may be on the brink of denying funding to the effort for the second year in a row.

Senate appropriators have voted to deny the program's $10 million fiscal 2007 budget request, although the Senate and House have yet to agree on a final FY '07 NASA budget (DAILY, Nov. 29).

Centennial Challenges is still planning to offer purses for seven prizes totaling $10.9 million, using funds originally appropriated for FY '05, according to NASA spokesman Dave Steitz. "We have spread out the money into the 'out years' to allow for multiple challenges and purses," he told The DAILY.

Although this is a classic example as to why the public can not rely upon government initiatives to bring us to the stars, (as politics can be short sighted at times) this move by NASA to continue financial support shows that their is some hope for the space agency.

If NASA began to actually apply more of this "solar backbone" when it comes to politicians and bureaucrats, the US could seriously implement Buzz Aldrin's road map to Mars within our lifetime.

NASA And UK To Conquer The Lunar Frontier

(Hat Tip: Space Scan)

It looks like the English worlds (both old and new) will be forming an alliance to pioneer the surface of the Moon--and reclaim humanities place among the stars.

(BBC) Britain could become involved in Nasa plans to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2020, science minister Malcolm Wicks has said.

He met Nasa chief Dr Michael Griffin at the Cabinet War Rooms to discuss the plans for future Moon landings. [...]

"We will be considering whether there is an opportunity to build a partnership with the US."

With NASA and England partnering up with each other, it looks as if a new space race is quickly emerging as both China and Russia are already considering partnering up for a lunar trip themselves.

This "East vs. West" space race could prove quite useful, as it would be better for the world to compete for lunar first place than for diplomatic or military supremacy on planet Earth.