Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Space Elevator Day!

Today is happy Space Elevator day. Why is that? That is because LiftPort, a space elevator company plans on launching the first "lifter shuttle" in orbit on October of this day in 2031.

LiftPort is one of the few (and possibly only) company out there striving to make space available to all (and not just the wealthy and healthy) and if you would like to help make this dream a reality, you can support them by either purchasing their book, enlisting as a LiftPort Ambassador or simply Google-bombing the word "space elevator" with LiftPort's homepage as you can see from the example below:

Although only one score and four years away, wouldn't it be nice to ride in a space elevator? (if not you, at least your kids could go up).

Note: Did we mention listening to music on the way up? (Hat Tip: Space Elevator Blog)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Travel To Mars Via Asteroid?

Since traveling to Mars can be dangerous to your health (thanks to cosmic radiation) some researchers are proposing that future astronauts travel to the red planet via asteroids that orbit between Earth and Mars.

(New Scientist Space) In one version of the idea, the astronauts would actually dig a hole in the asteroid, put the spacecraft inside and cover it over with material from the asteroid. Within this protective burrow, the spacecraft would be shielded from cosmic rays during the six- to 10- month journey to Mars.

In a second version, the spacecraft would not contact the space rock. Instead, it would hover nearby, and astronauts or robots would visit it on spacewalks. "You'd have the astronaut actually go to the asteroid and begin to extract material," Della-Giustina told New Scientist.

Hitch hiking via asteroids is pretty ingenious, although it may not work in the long term. If a martian colony is established and an emergency arises, we can not simply depend upon asteroids to bring us to safety across space.

What NASA needs to seriously consider is either investing in creating a radiation shield for the astronauts, or finding out faster ways to travel between worlds (via nuclear or momentum from a space elevator). Although radiation shielding is expensive, it would enable us to travel without fear of having our minds reduced to nothing upon arrival on Mars.

Hubble Trouble, Will Saving It Cost Double?

(Hat Tip: The Astronomy Blog)

Hubble has provided a unique perspective about the universe that no other space program has matched. Its beautiful pictures have probably kept the space program in public view, and helped launch the imaginations of thousands of others.

But keeping Hubble alive is costing NASA (or rather the American tax payer) $230-250 million a year, money that could be spent elsewhere (as in getting humans back on the moon). Despite the cost, NASA seems to have some emotional attachment to Hubble, although it may require two shuttles in order to secure approval for repairing our galactic eye in the sky.

(MSNBC) The remaining 14 shuttle flights are dedicated to completing the space station by the time the fleet is grounded in 2010. If a Hubble servicing mission is approved, it would have to be squeezed into the space station construction schedule sometime in early 2008.

NASA also would have another shuttle on the launch pad, ready to make an emergency rescue trip if there were a catastrophic problem.

The repair trip would only extend Hubble's life by about five years, which would mean that unless another shuttle or rocket was designed to replace it, there would be no easy way to repair Hubble unless the Russians were solicited.

Hubble has made the universe a lot more beautiful by revealing the hidden mysteries that surround us, but if it does not further humanity off world, what is the point in funding future repair missions?

Life On Mars, Is It Possible?

Scientists seem to be excited about discovering bacteria living two miles beneath the Earth's crust, able to adapt to not only extreme cold but also an oxygen-less environment.

(Mars Today) "The low temperature limit for life is particularly important since, in both the solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy, cold environments are much more common than hot environments," said Neill Reid, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and leader of the research team. "Our results show that the lowest temperatures at which these organisms can thrive fall within the temperature range experienced on present-day Mars, and could permit survival and growth, particularly beneath Mars's surface. This could expand the realm of the habitable zone, the area in which life could exist, to colder Mars-like planets."

Although it would be interesting to find life on Mars, the planet is not known to be friendly to life as its surface may be toxic, not to mention the lack of a magnetic field.

These organisms may provide another use however, as scientists may be able to insert their DNA into grains and plants, allowing colonists to grow food on the red planet. Of all the worlds that orbit the solar system, Mars provides the greatest opportunity for terraforming. Perhaps these microbes could provide a little assistance along the way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Space Elevator Games (Enlightening) Revelations

Ted Semon on the Space Elevator Blog and Dr. Edwards over on the Space Elevator Reference have done such a great round up about the X-Prize Cup that there is little need for any extra analysis.

However, after viewing video and reading opinions of bloggers at the event one thing became clear--space may be for the upcoming generation.

Although NASA will undoubtedly build bigger and better (yet more expensive) rockets, the final frontier will still be limited towards the healthy and wealthy, or federal space employees.

It may be a good thirty to forty years until humans begin to travel up a space elevator (an optimistic view, at least from one LiftPort staff member) but perhaps space is not for our generation.

Our fathers may have not prepared us for the final frontier (as their fathers did not do as great a job in this regard) but perhaps the current generation can prepare the future one for the opportunity.

After all, the human race still has plenty of problems to work out on planet Earth (like loving thy neighbor) and perhaps this will give our species time to find a solution for some of these problems before we head off towards the stars.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Titan Has Active Volcano's?

It looks like Titan may be able to join the "active terrestrial club" as their are some interesting clues revealing that its surface may harbor some volcanic action.

(New Scientist Space) The brightest spot on Saturn's moon Titan has been seen brightening and growing, suggesting it might be an active volcano, a controversial analysis of images from the Cassini spacecraft suggests. If so, it would be the first indication of current volcanic activity on the giant moon.

Scientists are interested in whether Titan is volcanically active because volcanoes could help supply the large amount of methane seen in its atmosphere. The methane is quickly broken down by sunlight, so it must be getting replenished in some way.

Although not 100% sure, scientist do think that this bright spot may be a volcanic eruption, although instead of magma or water ice (like Enceladus) it may be more of an ethane-methane mixture.

If so, this is good news as Titan lacks the oceans of methane that were once presumed to cover its surface.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is Asteroid Farming On Ceres Neccessary?

One can not discuss colonizing the solar system without mentioning asteroid mining. Harvesting the asteroid belt for minerals and metals will be critical towards the future space economy as some worlds (such as Mars and Jupiter's Galilean moons) lack the resources necessary to attract businesses and ultimately future colonists.

But in order to establish mining operations millions of miles away from habitable worlds, we need to find a way to feed those who will be doing the "dirty work" of mining these rocks that dance around our sun.

Although shipping food from Earth and Mars may be tolerable, it may impractical (not to mention expensive). Instead of shipping food, water and other items towards the asteroid belt, why not establish farming communities on Ceres instead?

Despite lacking known metallic resources that would make it attractive towards future space corporations, Ceres does have one element that would make this asteroid worth its weight in gold--water. Scientists believe that Ceres could contain up to 200 million cubic kilometers of fresh water--about five times as much as planet Earth.

By having access to a vast amount of liquid wealth, Ceres could easily grow the necessary food for future mining colonies, saving them both time and money as opposed to receiving rations from Earth.

Supplying future asteroid colonies with the necessary food will be difficult, if not nearly impossible as there are thousands (if not millions) of asteroids, each with its own chaotic orbit around the Sun. Without an orbital "ran de vue" point, permanent mining colonies may become "over looked," resulting in outposts being abandoned simply because a space settlement ran out of food.

With the heart of the asteroid belt located around 2.7 AU (astronomical unit), Ceres lies in perfect position to supply future colonists with the necessary food supplies, as its orbit ranges between 2.55 and 2.98 AU. As the asteroid king makes its journey around the sun, mining colonies could be easily resupplied with food grown on the rocky world, enabling permanent outposts to focus on extracting minerals and precious metals.

Containing roughly 25% of the asteroid belts mass, Ceres may have the necessary gravity to allow for more plant life than would be possible in a micro gravity environment.

Although hovering around 3% (when compared to Earths), the gravity on Ceres may be tolerable to plant life, although humans may have to adjust to the low gravity by either finding chemicals to counter act atrophy or simply constructing artificial gravity space stations nearby.

Despite being recognized as a dwarf planet, Ceres will play a major role in mining operations within the asteroid belt, if not the solar system as a whole.

By simply acting as an agricultural world (or rather dwarf planet) it will save future Earth and (hopefully) Martian governments millions (if not billions) in transport costs, and may enable humanity to reap the rewards of harvesting the asteroid belt to the benefit of the human race.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Could Ballutes Replace Heat Shields?

A new type of technology may allow for future space craft to pack more equipment into space by replacing the heavy heat shields with a "ballute"--a cross between a parachute and a balloon.

(New Scientist Space) [I]n the last few decades, engineers have toyed with the idea of flexible, lightweight heat shields. Because they would weigh less than conventional solid shields, the weight they save could be used to carry more science instruments or other gear.

Ballutes, which use pressurised gas to inflate cushions on the bottom of their payloads before entering the atmosphere, could also slow the payloads down for a soft landing. Robotic missions to Mars have dipped into the upper reaches of the planet's atmosphere to slow down and circularise their orbits. A ballute would provide even greater surface area, increasing the atmospheric drag and maximising this "aerobraking" effect.

Although engineers have to work out a few kinks in the system (as to insuring that the ballute inflates) this technology may be quite useful and help decrease the overall expense of rockets (at least by a little).

Note: LiftPort may also want to consider this as part of their space elevator design, as insurance just in case a climber (full of people or cargo) breaks off from the tether.

China Becoming "Space Hungry"

Of all the nations with better excuses for not visiting the stars, China seems to be very serious about conquering the final frontier--whether it is expensive or not.

(C|Net News) Sun Laiyan, head of the China National Space Administration, also defended the cost of the space program, saying Beijing spends far less than the United States, has benefits for ordinary people and is a matter of national pride. [...]

"The success of our manned space missions, becoming only the third country in the world to put a man into space on our own, is a source of pride for the Chinese nation," Sun said during a press conference outlining the next five years of the space program.

Next year, China plans on sending a probe to orbit the moon and is even considering space tourism as an avenue to help fund its space program. China has previously used space to help out farmers by exposing grain to radiation (increasing crop yields).

China seems geared for the next generation of space travel. Unfortunately the same thing can not be said of America.

Space Elevator Community Coming Together

It looks as if the Space Elevator community is coming back together again after a brief tit for tat arguments over the precise launch of the first space elevator.

Bryan Laubscher seems to be calling the SE community to work together as a whole, probably a wise thing as "a space elevator divided, shall not be built" (to paraphrase a wise man).

(Space Elevator Reference) As a community we need to work more closely together to encourage and support good work while discouraging shoddy work. And we need to do this out of the public eye. All of us need to be willing to have our work reviewed. Indeed, my most talented scientific colleagues insist on having their work reviewed by peers because they know the importance of their work and they honor their reputations! This level of activity is for adults with serious intentions. It is not for the insincere or insecure. Through this process we will all be called to a higher standard of work.

Bryan is asking for a SE workshop to be carried out at the 2nd Biennial Space Elevator Workshop in March next year (more details over here). This forum may be worth attending, and hopefully everyone can lay aside the personal attacks.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Space Elevator Confusion, Is It In You?

There seems to be a bit of a time frame gap as to exactly when the Space Elevator will be built by two competing authorities.

According to LiftPort, the Space Elevator will be built around 2031 (at its earliest) because of various factors, mainly due to creating a carbon nanotube that is strong enough as well as various testing of the ribbon.

But according to Dr. Bradley Edwards of Carbon Designs, Inc., the LiftPort Roadmap is flawed as he goes on to explain:

The major pitfalls of this roadmap include but are not limited to:

At the end of August an announcement came out from Los Alamos National Laboratory stating they had produced material 100 times stronger than steel (pound for pound). This is about 50GPa or about 15 times Kevlar, Vectran or Spectran. Efforts to produce large commercial quantities of material with these characteristics are underway. Liftport has this material strength milestone at the year 2020 and this drives much of their roadmap.

The laser tracking test in the roadmap listed for completion the end of 2009 were completed about ten years ago out of the Starfire Range in New Mexico and laser tracking and ranging have been done since the early 1970's. These results have been referenced in several prominent space elevator documents. [...]

The orbital environment test proposed was done on NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility spacecraft many years ago for most materials and testing of the carbon nanotubes would be best done at the numerous plasma labs around the country set up for this purpose. Due to the orbital velocity a satellite can not realistically test atomic oxygen degradation. Radiation tests would also be best done in a lab for a small fraction of the cost and for the better results that can be obtained on orbit. Other environmental tests have been done on other materials and doing them with carbon nanotubes will not provide additional information.

He later dismisses LiftPort's roadmap plan, claiming they are not looking at the efforts of others around the world that have shortened most of the research neccessary for building the space elevator.

Ted Simon and I were pretty much dissappointed about the delay, although this new information is starting to make me wonder which authority does one trust regarding the Space Elevator.

I will sleep on the new info tonight, although I think I probably should begin to Google info regarding the SE project world wide. Hopefully, both LiftPort and Dr. Edwards will be able to explain (in layman's terms) the exact date for an SE. But then again, that's probably why he (along with Philip) wrote this book.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

LiftPort Sets Clock Back For Space Elevator

LiftPort, one of the leading space pioneers (with a real vision for inexpensive transportation into space) has set back the clock for constructing a Space Elevator by 13 years (as this screen shot shows).

Their text still marks April 12th as the launch date, which was chosen in honor of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who was the first human to be launched into space aboard the Vostok 1.

LiftPort goes on to explain the reasons for the delay over on their Roadmap Plan:

Although LiftPort is involved in the production of carbon nanotubes, we will likely rely on the global development of high strength CNT materials. While we assume the material will be available around the year 2020, earlier availability will not particularly speed up development of the space elevator. [...]

The longest tether ever deployed in space was roughly 20km long. Given the history of problems in tether experiments, it would be imprudent and impractical (at best) to go immediately to a 100,000km system. In addition, much can be learned by smaller scale tether design experiments before the final carbon nanotube-based ribbon material is available.

Although this will give young bucks like this author plenty of time to build up a nest egg to establish a lunar house, one wonders if LiftPort's founders will still be "at their prime" by the time the space elevator becomes profitable.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

If We Build It, Will They Come?

In 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin (who later on changed his legal name to Buzz) descended upon the lunar surface marking the first time humans have ever visited another terrestrial object. After several trots upon the surface, both men returned towards their space craft, blasting off back home and for a hero's welcome.

Three years later, the Apollo programs ended, with Americans refocusing their attention on a pop culture as well as politics and slowly became disinterested in space.

In 2001, Space Adventures rekindled the hope of exploration by launching the first space tourist into orbit. Realizing the final frontier was no longer only within reach by governmental hands, space companies materialized around the world, offering pricey tickets towards the stars above.

The public was again amazed, but with space being a place for only the wealthy and the healthy, the world began refocusing on a pop culture, politics and the daily affairs of life.

Despite recent increases in funding for space programs, the public seems disinterested in space travel and sees little benefit towards the day-to-day activities of life. After all, if one is unable to take out a mortgage to the stars, why should they be interested in their children possibly living on the Moon or Mars?

If the government, scientists, and fans of cosmos want to convince all of the need to go to space, then they need to make space affordable to all, and available to all. And with prices ranging between $3,000-$7,000 per pound, humanity will not travel to the stars via rockets any time soon.

That is unless of course you can shatter the economic barrier--the glass ceiling holding back the masses--by providing a less expensive alternative. And that is something that an elevator to the stars might be able to do.

The space elevator is one of the few technologies available at reducing the cost of space from the current rock bottom price of $3,000 per pound to around $400 per pound (with some even suggesting that the price could be further reduced to a mere $23 per pound).

Reducing the cost of travel will for the first time allow millions of individuals to explore the final frontier and settle on other worlds, reclaiming space as their inheritance not only for their children but for future generations as well.

No one ever said building a structure stretching 62,000 miles from the ocean floor to outer space would be easy. Constructing such a feat will require patience, focus, invention of new technologies, and determination that will not waver in spite of what the opposition has to say.

There may be failures, but there will also be successes, and the end goal is to grant access to the stars for the not-so-poor, the physically unfit, and for businesses desiring to enhance life for everyone down on planet.

Skeptics may dismiss an elevator to the stars as way of opening up space to everyone, but then again, when was the last time anybody else provided another working solution to bring the masses into space?

"The practical dreamers have always been, and always will be the pattern-makers of civilization." ~Napoleon Hill, Think And Grow Rich

"Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." ~King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 7:8

Update: Corrected publishing date (this one was sitting in Draft mode for a while).

Four Million Dollars For SE Olympics

(Hat Tip: Cosmic Log)

NASA is committing $4 million dollars in prize money for the X-Prize Cup games in which participants compete by showing off their latest technology for a space elevator.

(Elevator 2010) Our goal is to infect the engineering and science community with our passion for building the Space Elevator, thus making them ambassadors to our cause. As the fruits of their efforts take to the sky every year, we will have demonstrated the feasibility and sheer simplicity of the Space Elevator concept, and will have brought it closer to reality.

Our prize money is provided by NASA's Centennial Challenges program - a total of $4,000,000 over the next 5 years! To mazimize our return and reduce our risk, we distribute the money in slowly increasing increments, as we ratchet up the difficulty level of the challenges.

Although some may scoff at the idea of a space elevator, NASA's $4 million offer on the table may be a strong hint at the direction the space program wants to take. NASA's goal is to make space a highlight in American life again, and the only way to do that is by finding some way of making it affordable to most American businesses.

After all, why should I care about space if I (or any future descendants) are unable to go?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Space Elevator In Google Earth

On April 18th, 2018 LiftPort will build a space elevator that will (hopefully) allow humanity to return to the stars.

But while the real space elevator is 12 years away, I was wondering if it were possible to build one inside Google Earth. Fortunately, someone already did.

(Google Earth Blog) Back in January I created a simplistic 3D model of a space elevator for a 3D model demonstration. Two days ago, someone at the Google Earth Community named 'Gerardo64' posted a well-written summary of what the space elevator concept is all about, and a much more sophisticated 3D model of a space elevator. You can download the 3D space elevator model for Google Earth here. This model is created with a base of the elevator on a floating platform in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Here are some screen shots via Google Earth below:

The basic layout of a future space station hovering around the space elevator. Goods can be launched up to the station and metals/minerals from asteroids can be brought down (you can see a glimpse of this station from the previous post).

Image of a lifter traveling up the tether via a powerful laser beam. For an entertaining explanation (video wise, not musically wise) see this previous post.

The port in the middle of the ocean where goods will be sent in order to be launched towards the stars.


Liftport seems to be already aware of this within Google Earth (as Brian has commented on the post) although I think it would be cool if someone in their IT department was able to go back give it and put a little LiftPort symbol on there). ;-)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Video: Space Elevator As Greatest Future Achievement

Although many people hear about what a space elevator is, how it will be built, etc., very few of them understand why one should be built (as many assume NASA will revamp their rocket system to get us to the stars).

This video on YouTube offers a brief explanation as to how a space elevator would benefit humanity and why one needs to be built in the first place.

What makes this video great is it highlights some of the benefits of creating a space elevator (such as space stations, revisiting the Moon and Mars, solar satellites beaming down energy, etc.). On a sad note, there was no mention of LiftPort as a contributer towards creating a space elevator (perhaps the video was made before they existed).

Note: I may be busy in the next couple of days, but in order to pass the time I'll be featuring various essays and video's regarding the space elevator. Stay tuned.