Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Poem: In Memory Of Those At Scaled Composities

Note: This poem is dedicated to Charles Glen May, Eric Blackwell, and Todd Ivens who lost their lives while attempting to help humanity fall in love with space again.

They will be sorely missed upon this planet.


To Touch The Heavens

From dust to dust
From ash to ash
They say our species
Is bound to clash

Over ideas and thoughts
And political views
But then there are
A certain few

Who strive to think
Of new ways to fly
Above the air
And beyond the sky

To touch the heavens
To taste the moon
To laugh on Mars
And on Titan's lagoons

To see the Sun
In unfiltered glory
To tell the universe
Our own space story

We shall not forget
The three who perished
To enhance a world
We all cherish

So rest in peace
Glen, Eric and Todd
As you walk in the heavens
With Almighty God

~Darnell Clayton, 2007


Centauri Dreams has information on ways people can help out the families while Space Pragmatism has a tribute to one of the men who lost their lives in this tragedy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Could An Orbital Space Elevator On Phobos Open Up Mars?

Like many of the worlds that orbit the Sol star, Mars has the potential to play a significant role in our future solar economy. The red planet could easily serve as a stepping stone towards humanity colonizing other worlds such as Ceres, Ganymede, and beyond.

But before we can dream about conquering this red gem, humanity may need to figure out how to land humans safely upon Mars, as the crimson planet's atmosphere may pose problems for future explorers.

If humanity is ever going to conquer Earth's favorite neighbor, then scientists are going to have to figure out a way to transport large payloads to the crimson world below.

Although a space elevator would compliment Martian colonies by providing a low cost method of delivering goods to the surface, such a structure would easily be destroyed by the red planet's global storms that dust the surface every three Martian years.

But despite the fact that constructing a space elevator upon Martian soil may be not be feasible, constructing an orbital one (that does not touch the ground) from the base of its nearest moon may not.

The moon Phobos orbits its guardian planet at less than 6,000 km, a distance that should be within easy range of any powerful rocket. With the red planet's atmosphere extending only to about 11 kilometers, a strong space tether could be constructed just above the clouds, allowing easy access for smaller space craft seeking easy access to the stars.

Another advantage an orbital "Phobian space elevator" would have is the availability of the space port towards the Martian masses. Phobos orbits its parent world in under eight hours, seeing up to three sunrises in an average Martian day.

Constructing an orbital space elevator from underneath this asteroid moon belly would enable colonists to have frequent access towards needed supplies off world, as well as a dependable quick exit if terraforming Mars takes a turn for the worse.

An orbital space elevator underneath Phobos could ultimately open up the crimson world towards human habitation, and allow us to not only land colonists upon this rusty world, but quickly transform Mars into a second home.

Note: Due to time constraints, images will be inserted later on in this post.

Update: Images added.

LiftPort Arising From The Ashes?

(Hat Tip: Space Elevator Blog)

(Image Credit: LiftPort)

LiftPort, a company dedicated to building the worlds first space elevator may be having a recent change of fortune. Having previously encountered what some would regard as a "mortal wound," it looks as if the company may be making a comeback after launching their sister company, Tethered Towers.

(Cosmic Log) "I've got four people I'm talking to right now as potential customers," he said. "Any one of them will be good. Two or three of them will put us in great shape. And I think that's just the beginning. I think we're going to be OK."

Laine declined to go into the detailed applications envisioned by his potential customers - or, more accurately, his potential strategic partners. But he said the business model called for balloon-borne platforms capable of staying up for three to 10 days. Such platforms could be used for aerial wireless communications during an emergency, or for aerial monitoring of a particular area.

"For example, if you want to monitor bison migration in Wyoming, you put a balloon up there and you can watch what's going on," he said. "We've talked about border security, things like that. ... We can't tackle all of [the potential applications], so what we're trying to do is find partners. Each of them have their own markets, they're not overlapping."

LiftPort is one of several companies striving to build a space elevator on (or orbiting) planet Earth. Although there are many other groups desiring to construct a "railroad to the stars," LiftPort is probably one of the few out there who seek to do this entirely in the private sector (as opposed to relying on NASA who does not seem too fond of the concept).

Hopefully LiftPort can arise from its financial ashes like a Phoenix, as its demise would be a devastating blow to the space elevator community.

Video: Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Galactic Edition)

(Original Image from NASA)

Editor's note: Last weeks Carnival of [the] Space [Geeks] (hosted by Music of the Spheres) covered various topics ranging from the Galaxy Zoo to general astronomy.

Several notable highlights of this carnival focused upon human exploration in or beyond our solar system with posts from:

  • Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams discusses the possibility of using multi-generational worldships to conquer other star systems.

  • James of Surfin' English discusses space pirates, as well as outlining some strategies to fight them in the future.

  • Louise RioFrio of A Babe in the Universe gives thoughts on Charon's new geysers, and how tiny black holes could be heating up the moon.

  • Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society's Weblog writes about how the upcoming Phoenix mission could contaminate the soil its suppose to analyze.

  • The Anonymous author of Space Files has some interesting images regarding NASA's space simulator which helps us test whether or not our solar toys are ready for cosmic prime time.

But the most interesting post by far was from Brian Wang of Advanced Nanotechnology, who wrote about how nuclear rockets would be a better alternative to traveling off world than their chemical cousins.

(Advanced Nanotechnology) Nuclear rockets can have 2 to 200 times the performance of chemical rockets. They are a technology that we only need the will to develop. The science is solid and straight forward. We just have to have the courage to become a truly interplanetary civilization. This article will review the various pulsed plasma (using nuclear bombs for propulsion) proposals and have a bit of review of the nuclear thermal rockets at the end. Modern materials will allow smaller nuclear rockets to be produced which could be deployed in space by chemical launch systems. Also, there is uranium and thorium on the moon, so lunar materials could be mined and processed and these nuclear rockets could be made almost entirely from lunar material.

For those nervous about having nuclear rockets launching everywhere from space hungry nations, there have already been several proposals for having these vehicles initially launch via chemical rockets first, before switching over to nuclear thrust.

Here is a video below demonstrating how a "nuclear rocket" could enable humanity to not only escape Earth's gravity, but also reach Mars.

(Video: Animation depicting a 4000 ton 'Orion' type nuclear pulse rocket on a manned mission to Mars. Credit: Nuclear Space)

NASA: We Lack The Technology To Land On Mars?

Despite lacking major resources, Mars may hold the key towards humanity conquering the asteroid belt, positioning itself as another prosperous world alongside of Earth and Ganymede.

But before humanity can decide whether or not we can turn the crimson dessert world into an oasis, we have to first discover a way to land humans on the red planet.

(Universe Today) The real problem is the combination of Mars' atmosphere and the size of spacecraft needed for human missions. So far, our robotic spacecraft have been small enough to enable at least some success in reaching the surface safely. But while the Apollo lunar lander weighed approximately 10 metric tons, a human mission to Mars will require three to six times that mass, given the restraints of staying on the planet for a year. Landing a payload that heavy on Mars is currently impossible, using our existing capabilities. "There's too much atmosphere on Mars to land heavy vehicles like we do on the moon, using propulsive technology completely," said Manning, "and there's too little atmosphere to land like we do on Earth. So, it's in this ugly, grey zone."

But what about airbags, parachutes, or thrusters that have been used on the previous successful robotic Mars missions, or a lifting body vehicle similar to the space shuttle?

None of those will work, either on their own or in combination, to land payloads of one metric ton and beyond on Mars.

If humanity is ever going to colonize Mars, then scientists will need to figure out a way to bring the populace (en mass) to the surface (preferable alive).

A combination between gigantic rockets and enormous Ballutes may be the preferable method to landing on this dusty world, as the Martian weather may be too violent for a space elevator to ever be constructed (at least in the traditional sense).

Landing humans on Mars may be one of the most difficult task our species has faced since the Apollo era. But if our species can find a way to safely land people on the surface of the red planet, then Earth citizens will be able to conquer any terrestrial world orbiting our star system.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Space Adventures Courting Bigelow Aerospace

(Hat Tip: Space Pragmatism)

It looks as if two of the worlds most successful space firms (at least profit wise) may be partnering with each other in the not-so-distant future.

(Space.com) Space Adventures is having "serious talks" with Bigelow Aerospace, Anderson said, about using that entrepreneurial space firm's orbital habitats in the future. Two Genesis-class modules are now in Earth orbit with the company planning to evolve in coming years to larger expandable modules that can be occupied.

"It's possible we could buy an extra Soyuz and fly it to a Bigelow station. We're certainly interested in what they are doing," Anderson said.

A partnership between Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures would probably be a match "made for heaven."

With the International Space Station destined to lose favor among NASA eyes, Space Adventures will probably need a new destination to fly its tourists towards.

Both Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures are planning future trips towards the moon, respectively, so a partnership between these two companies may ultimately lead towards our species becoming a space faring civilization.

Japan Catching Space Elevator Fever

Despite their recent setbacks in the public sector, it looks as if some Japanese citizens are taking it upon themselves to enable the masses to access the heavens.

(Space Elevator Blog) Today I heard back from Mr. Shiuchi Ohno, one of the founders of the newly formed Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA). I had emailed them a few questions - here are his responses;

Q) How long has JSEA been in existence?
A) JSEA is an association just born in this month. We will have first meeting this weekend in Tokyo. Last year, my friend and I went to Seattle to meet Mr.Michael and Mr. Tomas of Liftport company. We proposed them to start Japanese branch. But they couldn't decide until now. Then we decided to start actual activity in Japan for the real SE.

Japan's entrance into the space elevator field should help spark some "friendly competition" between the samurai nation and the US, at least in the private sector.

Despite the fact that this organization is still in its infancy, the Japan Space Elevator Association should help broaden the international appeal of the concept, as well as encourage other countries to form clubs of their own.

Ted Semon has more over on his weblog regarding this organization, which will hopefully impact Japan as much as LiftPort has impacted the US.

Update: Related-Russia Today Examines Space Elevators (Video)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Print Solar Panels From Your Personal Computer?

(Hat Tip: The Speculist)

A new breakthrough in solar technology may enable homeowners and astronauts alike to print (or paint) solar panels from their home or office, and apply them upon whatever surface they deem fit for use.

(Vnunet.com) Lead researcher Somenath Mitra, professor and acting chairman at NJIT's Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, described the process as "simple". [...]

"Developing organic solar cells from polymers, however, is a cheap and potentially simpler alternative," said Mitra.

"We foresee a great deal of interest in our work because solar cells can be inexpensively printed or simply painted on exterior building walls and/or roof tops.

"Imagine driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless."

Aside from helping people on Earth, this technology could drastically help reduce the cost of colonizing future worlds. Astronauts could simply construct solar panels out of light weight material instead of hauling tons of wire, steel, etc. in order to power a tiny base off world.

Panels like these would also be expendable, allowing colonists to simply discard (or preferably recycle) dying panels and create new ones in their place.

Note: What makes this technology really interesting is the fact that they are using carbon nanotubes as an electrical conductor, which may help out various companies in the space elevator industry.

Video: Mars Is An Angry Planet (Global Dust Storms)

Despite its romantic appeal, Mars is a very hostile planet--at least "weather wise." Although known for harboring dust storms upon its surface, the red planet seems to throw up a tantrum every three Martian years by coating the entire planet with "crimson soil."

(Space.com) The surface of Mars is now obscured by a globe-engulfing veil of dust, posing a potentially longer-lasting threat to NASA's twin surface rovers.

Massive regional storms have been whipping up dust on the red planet since late June. Now, they've combined to create a "planet-encircling veil of dust," according to a statement from Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), which operates a camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA.

"The dust raised by these individual storms has obscured most of the planet over the past few weeks," the release stated.

Of all the space trials our species will face in the future, weather by far will be the most difficult. Humans (at best) can adapt to the climate of hostile regions, but have thus far been unable to manipulate it to our desires.

Just like our ancestors before us on Earth, future colonists will be at the mercy of the red planet's emotional weather patterns, and may have to settle for constructing cities below the surface, as well as above.

(Video: Dust storms from the view of the Opportunity Rover on Mars. Credit: NASA)

Japan Saves Its Lunar Mission For Another Day

(Image: Artist drawing of SELENE satellites, Credit: JAXA, via MSNBC)

With news of the Japanese delaying their satellite mission to the moon, some may wonder if Japan has what it takes to not only pull ahead of China, but establish itself as a space power.

While some may write off the Japanese space program as "third rate," upon closer examination it looks as if the Japanese are making sure their satellites voyage off world is a successful one.

(MSNBC) The Selenological and Engineering Explorer — or SELENE — probe was to have been launched aboard one of the space program's mainstay H-2A rockets on Aug. 17, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said in a statement issued Friday.

However, during an inspection it was discovered that some components were improperly installed on the two smaller satellites that accompany the main orbiter, JAXA said. The components will be replaced, and a new launch date will be announced once it has been determined, it said.

Japan's SELENE mission will give the Japanese space program an edge over its rivals by providing crucial data on the lunar terrain and perhaps help Japan locate valuable resources on the Moon's far side. Two of the smaller satellites will observe their respective poles, while the third larger satellite will hover about 100 kilometers above the surface.

Although news of the delay is disappointing and a setback for the Asian nation, it is better to enter the space arena "slow and steady," than to burn out like a shooting star.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mars: Future Slum World Or An Industrial Paradise?

Of all the worlds that gracefully orbit Sol, none has the potential for chaos or success like the red planet. Known mostly for its rusty appearance, Mars is a world often both romanticized and criticized as humanities second home.

But unlike many of the other worlds that dance around the Sun, colonizing Mars may end up being a financial nightmare for the (future) solar economy, providing little promise of bearing any fruit, at least in the near future.

If Mars is ultimately determined to be utterly worthless, then it may make more sense to skip this crimson planet for Jupiter's Ganymede, or even Callisto. After all, why spend the resources creating a future welfare planet when Earth could use those resources elsewhere?

The Martian planet's greatest strength is the fact that water seems to be abundant underneath the surface. But even though water is common on Earth, Mars may become valuable real estate because of its location near the asteroid belt.

Lying between the orbits of the red desert planet and the Jovian king Jupiter, the asteroid belt comprises of many different types of asteroids. Some of these floating space rocks have value, while others may only find appeal from future space fugitives.

The asteroids that seem to posses the most value are M-type (or Metallic) asteroids which orbit within the middle region of the asteroid belt. Fortunately for Mars, the crimson world lies "slightly closer" to these metallic wonders than Jupiter, where a large number of these seem to cluster around 2.7 AU (or 403,914,600 km).

The red planet's prime location gives it an advantage at mining many of these asteroids first (or at least at a cheaper cost). By exchanging the processed metals for fuel, food, etc., the barren world would be able to support a thriving economy, or at the very minimum survive financially.

If settlers from other worlds happen to establish outposts within the rocky belt, Mars could easily trade buried ice water with future asteroid colonies for metals, or convince a few brave souls to mine the belt for Martian glory.

In the distant future, other icy worlds such as Ceres, Ganymede and Callisto may rival the Martian economy by competing for Earth's favor. But if Martian citizens play their cards right, they could not only secure their position as a major trading power, but perhaps as an industrial paradise as well.

Belated: Carnival Of The Space Geeks (11th Session)

Editor's note: Last week's carnival of space was hosted by Brian Dunbar on Space For Commerce.

Some interesting posts include:

  • Brian Wang of Advanced Nanotechnology gives his opinion about the sobering cost (and progress) of getting into space.

  • Amanda Bauer of Astropixie discusses about placing a liquid lunar telescope on the moon.

  • Ed Minchau of Robot Guy provides a humbling video on just how big our universe really is.

But the most interesting post at the Carnival of the Space Geeks goes to the mysterious author of Space Files who writes about Mars Society of Germany thinking about sending a "hot air gas balloon" to observe the red planet from above.

(Space Files) A camera, provided by DLR (the German space agency), which will be based on the ROLIS camera on the lander of the Rosetta space probe. It will be able to achieve a resolution of up to 20 cm per pixel at a 7 km distance from the surface. While this resolution in is not really stunning - HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter almost reaches this at its highest resolution -, it will be able to take images from an oblique, 45 degree perspective.

A magnetometer, provided by the Technical University of Braunschweig. Measurements of Mars residual crustal magnetic field were last made by the Mars Global Surveyor space craft during the aerobreaking phase of the mission, in an altitude range between 100 km and 200 km. Archimedes would be able to make more local measurements. The combination of a high resolution camera and a magnetometer makes it possible to correlate magnetism and geological features. It would also be the first magnetic measurement below the ionosphere. It could also be compared to magnetic field measurements at the same time on board the orbiter.

Despite the fact that Mars lacks a global magnetic field, it does posses pockets of protection throughout its surface.

Accurately mapping this field could help future colonists establish "safety zones" in which they can build colonies upon, as well as retreat towards in order to escape the Sun's wrath.

Note: Tomorrow's Carnival of the Space Geeks will be hosted by Music of the Spheres. Users interested in submitting articles towards the carnival can see this post for details.

Update (7/25): Adjusted phrase from "hot air" to "gas" as it was more precise (thanks Space Files!).

Are Skin Tight Space Suits Becoming Fashionable?

(Image: Dava Newman modeling in new suit, Credit: Donna Coveney, via New Scientist Space)

If humans are defined by the clothes they wear, then our species may be in trouble when it comes to our spacesuits.

Despite the fact that our current spacesuits have enabled us to walk on the moon (and survive in micro gravity), they are probably not the best option when it comes to strolling upon other worlds.

Now it seems that a group of engineers has decided to make life easier for future colonists by designing a "soft suit," that may not only be easier on the human body, but aesthetically pleasing to the eyes as well.

(New Scientists Space) For the last seven years, Newman and colleagues have been working on a different kind of suit (see First people on Mars will be shrink-wrapped). Their "BioSuit" provides pressure by wrapping tight layers of spandex and nylon around the body – an idea first proposed by Paul Webb in the 1960s [...]

The team has recently made models of the suit that provide up to 30 kilopascals of pressure – the amount required to be used in space. But they say it will take another 10 years or so of fine-tuning to develop a suit that could be used on space missions.

Previously Louise Riofrio rolled out her team's version of a soft suit, which (thus far) seems to be more advanced than the rest of the competition.

Either way, it is good to seem more companies entering this field, as a comfortable spacesuit is something that NASA needs if it decides to revisit the Moon (and eventually Mars).

The United Kingdom May Lack Space Vision

It looks as if the British government may not have a "clear cut strategy" when it comes to the cosmos. Often known for promoting robots over humans, England seems to be slipping in the overall space race, something many observers are beginning to notice.

(BBC News) Observers say that despite having many leading space scientists and some of the best industry expertise, the UK remains a bit-part player on the international stage.

Britain's lack of influence means that it misses out on lucrative contracts to build science instruments and spacecraft, they argue. [...]

Phil Willis MP, the committee's chairman commented: "There is no doubt that UK space is a big success story, but there is no doubt either that we are living on past investments."

He added: "In order to stay in the game and ahead of the game we now have to take some very hard decisions, both in research terms and in commercial terms. First of all, we need focus.

Although the United Kingdom will probably blame government funding, lack of leadership, teamwork, etc. the real problem may have to do with the absence of people in their space program.

Without the human element, exploring the heavens around us will gain little sympathy in the public arena, which can easily translate into budget cuts as the program loses importance.

If England does not seriously consider adding humans to the overall space program, they may find themselves having to depend upon foreign goodwill in order to reach the stars beyond the sky.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Scientists To See If Martian Trees Are Possible

Researchers are trying to determine whether or not trees would be able to grow and survive within a future (partially terraformed) Martian atmosphere. Trees play an important role in keeping humanity alive (via oxygen) and scientists are hoping to be able to transfer their significance off world.

(MSNBC) Scientists are using the pine-forested slopes of a Mexican volcano as a test bed to see if trees could grow on a heated-up Mars, part of a vision of making the chilly and barren red planet habitable for humans one day.

Planetary scientists at NASA and Mexican universities believe if they can warm Mars using heat-trapping gases, raise the air pressure and start photosynthesis, they could create an atmosphere that would support oxygen-breathing life forms.

Scientists are currently looking at trees living upon Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's tallest mountain (and notably an extinct volcano). These trees seem to display a unique ability to survive in the thinner air, which make make them preferable to algae and moss in the long run.

Note: Scientists still have not determined whether or not Martian soil is fertile, although humans may have to "create their own" fertilizer in order to make this dream a reality (at least in biospheres).

Update: Corrected title link.

Can Carbon Nanotubes Solve Our Micro Gravity Woes?

One of the largest obstacles towards humanity claiming ownership of the red planet (and the final frontier itself) is micro gravity. Without a solution a trip towards Mars could end up being fatal towards future travelers.

But it looks as if NASA is attempting to find a way around the gravity dilemma by inserting neural implants made out of carbon nanotubes inside the brain.

(EETimes.com) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently reported progress toward a neural implant technology using carbon nanotubes that could enable space flights of indefinite periods.

By stimulating the neural pathways responsible for muscle atrophy, NASA hopes to fool the brain into thinking that gravity is still present even in free fall. "We hope to let the brain feel the weight of gravity, even if it's not there," said NASA scientist Jun Li. "For a trip to Mars, we could monitor astronauts' brains, then artificially stimulate its neurons with nanofiber electrodes to fool it into thinking gravity is still working."

Unlike other types of implants, the ones made out of carbon nanotubes seem to have a higher acceptance rate within brain tissue, which seems to find ways of shutting down these artificial intruders by building scar tissue around them.

This research is still in the "beta stages" although if perfected (a few decades from now), it could enable humanity to live among the stars without the fear of suffering from atrophy due to micro gravity.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Asteroid Mining: The Most Dangerous Job In The Solar System

When a person thinks of the future of space, one often imagines rockets buzzing across our star system at incredible speeds, space stations thriving in the vacuum of space or solar cities gracing the surfaces of foreign moons and planets.

But while all of these things may come to pass (perhaps even a space elevator or two) the future reality is that there are some solar occupations that may entail individuals to risk their lives in order to keep our interplanetary economy going.

One of these jobs just might be an asteroid miner.

Unlike some of the other potential occupations throughout our star system, asteroid miners will face dangers unlike any other explorer. Often located in sparse regions throughout our star system, metallic asteroids will probably not become major spots for tourism, making them lonely companions for asteroid mining outposts.

With most of these invaluable asteroids tens of millions of miles away from the nearest colony world, asteroid miners will find themselves heavily dependent upon supplies for food and water. Their isolation will also make them prime candidates for space pirates, not to mention feuding powers from Earth, Mars and the Jovian systems.

Unless these outposts are protected by a space fleet, they may soon find their boring schedule filled with being invaded by unwelcome guests.

Another danger of asteroid miners will be radiation. Since most (if not all) asteroids lack a magnetic field, asteroid outposts will be at the mercy of the Sun's wrath, not to mention cosmic rays from abroad. Although outposts will probably have magnetic shields surrounding their bases, this does not guarantee that the rocks that they mine upon are free from being radioactive.

Despite the fact that future asteroid miners will probably have machines deal directly with the floating space rocks, their may be a possibility of these miners contracting cancer (later on in life), which could threaten future retirement plans (as treating cancer can be quite expensive).

If radiation and security were not enough to worry about, asteroid miners also face the dangers of micrometeorites piercing holes through their suits and stations, or (even worse) encountering a meteor shower from an incoming comet.

Future outposts will probably have to rely upon the eyes (and scientific "ears") of astronomers to warn them of the dangers of nearby comets, although they may have to "take a gamble" when dealing with incoming space pebbles as armor may prove useless against these solar bullets.

But despite the fact that these dangers surround future asteroid miners, there presence in our star system will be desperately needed. Asteroids have the potential of supplying invaluable resources, and the purity of metals could be worth up to $500,000 a ton.

Although this future job may be classified as one of the most dangerous occupations humanity has ever known (within our star system), space colonists may be willing to take on the risk in order to bring back the fruit of their labor towards major population centers living upon terrestrial worlds.

Due to lack of time, images will be added later on to this post.

Update: Images added.

Update (7/12): Corrected grammatical errors (replaced minors with miners).

Martian Colonies Powered By Solar Balloons?

(Image: Drawing of solar balloons collecting energy from the Sun. Credit: Geotechtra)

(Hat Tip: IsraGood)

When it comes to energy resources, the crimson world offers very few options towards future colonists. Although scientists are researching ways to create methane on Mars, solar balloons on the red planet may provide a better choice for future inhabitants.

(Israel 21st Century) The Israeli scientist, who is shortly to complete his PhD at the Department of Aeronautical Engineering, Architecture and City Construction, at Haifa's Technion Israel Institute of Technology, has developed a new way to produce electricity using helium balloons made from fabric coated with photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. These balloons are much cheaper to build and install than existing solar panels, and also take up far less room, which is significant in an urban environment.

The balloons, which are a little like mini-Zeppelins, are connected to the ground via two cables: one to refill helium, and the other to pass the electricity to a control panel.

Although these balloons are adapted for life on Earth, future models could be shipped towards Mars as they would be much lighter (and cheaper) than regular solar panels on the ground.

Solar balloons may also be less likely to "collect" dust than their land locked cousins, mainly because stronger (and higher) Martian winds should be able to keep the objects clean.

Note: Since Martian gravity is weaker, these balloons would need a device that would be able to not only deploy the balloons, but take down defective ones. Perhaps LiftPort's Tethered Towers could easily provide this role.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Video: Phoenix To See If Martian Soil Is Fertile

(Video: NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander will visit the north polar region of Mars in search of "habitable soil." Credit: NASA)

Of all the rovers that have or will grace the surface of Mars, Phoenix may prove to be the most important.

While the purpose of the other three rovers is to satisfy geologists by observing Martian rocks, the Phoenix rover's main duty is to find out whether Martian soil is fertile for life--and perhaps agriculture itself.

(NASA) "Our 'follow the water' strategy for exploring Mars has yielded a string of dramatic discoveries in recent years about the history of water on a planet where similarities with Earth were much greater in the past than they are today," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Phoenix will complement our strategic exploration of Mars by being our first attempt to actually touch and analyze Martian water -- water in the form of buried ice." [...]

"In addition, our instruments can assess whether this polar environment is a habitable zone for primitive microbes. To complete the scientific characterization of the site, Phoenix will monitor polar weather and the interaction of the atmosphere with the surface."

While the overall purpose of Phoenix is to see if any life can survive in the barren soil, the space craft could ultimately inform us whether or not Martian soil is toxic towards life.

If proven to be safe for humans as well as plants, NASA could begin to draw out plans of harvesting crop on the red planet for future generations. Although humans may have to (create their own fertilizer (as importing it would be very expensive), growing our own food on the crimson planet could enable us to establish Mars as a second home for humanity.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Video: Bigelow Aerospace May Replace ISS

(Hat Tip: HobbySpace.com)

With the successful launch of Genesis II, Bigelow Aerospace presence in the heavens seems to be expanding (no pun intended) as they gear up to launch their next inflatable space station, Galaxy.

But while the NewSpace industry ponders the future aboard a commercial space station, NASA seems to be pondering a future without the International Space Station.

(Flight Global) NASA is discussing the commercial purchase of the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to de-orbit the International Space Station (ISS) at the end of its life.

The original plan was to de-orbit the ISS into the Pacific using the Space Shuttle at the end of the station's life in 2016. But the Shuttle is to be retired in 2010 and the ATV, designed to resupply the ISS and boost its altitude, is the only vehicle known to be able to de-orbit the station.

Although their may be some public outcry at sending the International Space Station (or ISS) to meet its fiery fate below, NASA probably realizes that keeping the ISS alive is futile at best.

With Bigelow Aerospace quickly establishing themselves in the heavens, support for the ISS will probably erode in Congress as our representatives will find it easier to give tax breaks to a company impacting their region of the country than a "global project" such as the ISS.

Video: Genesis I flying over Northern Russia.

Can Humans Tame Martian Weather?

(Image: Martian storm approaching explorer. Credit: Artist at NovaSpace.com)

Of all the worlds that dance around our Sol star, Mars may prove to be one of the most difficult to colonize. Despite having bearable radiation levels and potentially toxic soil, the biggest threat from settling the red planet may be from the weather itself.

(Space.com) "Although the storm threatens the rovers, it's giving us a great opportunity to track another powerful dust storm from start to finish," Wilson said. "We get to see where a storm starts and how it grows, then enter that information into a model to help us predict Martian weather in the future."

Callas noted that global dust storms spawn about every three Martian years (about six Earth years), and the last to occur was about two Martian years ago-so the current storm's potential to become a global event is on cue. If it does, Callas and his team will only be able to cross their fingers.

Although weather control has mainly existed in the realms of science fiction, humans have yet to devise a way to guide the weather patterns on our own planet, let alone the ones on Mars.

If we are unable to discover ways to tame Martian weather, future colonists may have to abandon the crimson world as either a scientific tourist stop or accept their fate of living below the surface.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (To The Tenth Power)

Editor's note: The tenth Carnival of Space is up over at Why Homeschool and has thus far been the best roundup of what is happening in the space arena (at least as far as blogs are concerned).

Some interesting posts include:

  • Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams discusses a new theoretical propulsion system that may enable humanity to travel to the gas giants fairly quickly (and beyond).

  • Brian Wang of Advanced Nanotechnology breaks down space solar power to the megawatt level, as well as discusses why finding ways to increase "light power" would benefit Bigelow and NASA space stations.

  • James of Surfin' English elaborates on all the fun forms of radiation that can kill us, not to mention why computers enjoy it less than we do.

  • Stuart Atkinson who posts at The Verse poetically portrays the thoughts of a Martian rover forced to commit suicide by exploring a deep crater.

  • Bigelow Aerospace has some interesting images from their successfully launched Genesis II space station (which I have yet to write a future post on).

But the best post in this carnival goes to Louise Riofrio of A Babe In The Universe whose recent spacesuit design may enable humans to gracefully walk upon Martian and lunar soils.

(A Babe In The Universe) The skintight inner garment is a sandwich of stretchable materiels that zip on like a flightsuit. It is suitable for suborbital and Low Earth Orbit Access, like the "pumpkin suits" used today. Upon exposure to vacuum, the proprietary materiel automatically tightens to compensate. Unlike present-day soft suits, there is no loss of flexibility. The prototype is covered in silver rubber for visibility. [...]

For EVA and planetary exploration, the suit can be armoured. The outer pieces on the chest and arms are made of composite materiels that are stronger than steel. The manufacturer guarantees the materiel to 250 degrees fahrenheit, or the highest likely to be encountered in Space. As on present spacecraft, multiple aluminised layers insulate the wearer from extreme cold. The outer armour can be quickly changed to adapt for different environments. When lunar explorers are ready to return home, the outer layers and all that yucky lunar regolith can be left behind on the Moon.

The most interesting thing about this prototype is the fact that the suit can be customized to fit different needs. For example, a colonist on Mars may require a suit that deals with the potentially toxic soil via winds while on the Moon one may need to design a static free dust to keep lunar soil at bay.

Brian Dunbar over at Space For Commerce is hosting next week's Space Carnival, and for those of you desiring to enter the carnival see this post for details.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Are Nuclear Rockets The Way To Go?

(Image: NASA's Ares V rocket, Credit: NASA via New Space Scientist)

With the cost of space skyrocketing (no pun intended), one scientist has proposed using nuclear rockets in order to cut the expense of space flight.

(New Scientist Space) Carried out by university students funded by CSNR, the study examined the potential savings from incorporating nuclear power into NASA's Ares V, the launch vehicle being developed to haul heavy cargo, including parts for a lunar base, to the Moon.

Under this scenario, the Ares V would use ordinary chemical rockets to launch into Earth orbit, where it would dock with the Orion crew vehicle that would have launched on a separate Ares I rocket. In NASA's current plans, a second stage on the Ares V would then ignite to send the crew and cargo out of Earth orbit and towards the Moon. But in Howe's scenario, this Earth-departure stage would be nuclear-powered instead.

By having the first stage of launch via chemical rockets, scientists could avoid not only mass protests from the anti-nuke crowd, but also ease fears from neighboring nations that a country was launching a nuclear missile at their front door.

Whether people like it or not, nuclear powered rockets may become the future of space travel as solar power and chemical rockets may be limited in power and expense, respectively.

Unless a scientist can find a better way of traveling throughout the cosmos, we may end up having our future descendants laugh at us over our timid behavior about splitting the atom above home world's atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic May Dominate Space Tourism Industry

Image: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo drawing and drop-ship in flight, Credit: Virgin Galactic, via Space.com)

It isn't the fact that Virgin Galactic has a better marketing team, or that it is backed by a billionaire that may ensure its dominance of the space tourism industry. It also has nothing to do with how many future spaceports they will establish, as EADS Astrum may outnumber Virgin in the next decade.

It also has nothing to do with the fact that Virgin spacecraft may be safer than their various rivals (although that in it self is definitely icing on the cake!). The main reason Virgin Galactic may dominate the industry may be the fact that they may be giving passengers 30 minuets of weightlessness in space--five to ten times more than the competition.

(Space.com) What you get for your $200,000 includes three days of pre-flight preparation, bonding and training onsite at the spaceport.

The big day arrives with departure of the White Knight Two that cradles SpaceShipTwo, hauling the vehicle and passengers to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in altitude for release.

Space travelers will then be rocketed to around 360,000 feet (109,728 meters) in altitude, some 68 miles (109 kilometers) high. The pilots will glide the spaceship at just over stall speed to allow maximum time, around 30 minutes, for passengers to press their faces against large windows that offer a view of more than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) in any direction. The suborbital journey ends with SpaceShipTwo gliding to a runway landing.

Note: Emphasis is of the editor, and not Space.com.

Virgin Galactic seems to have already secured well over 200 clients from 30 nations ranging from the US, Russia, Japan and even New Zealand!

By giving people the opportunity to experience 30 minuets of spacial bliss, Virgin may force the competition to either "keep up or keep out" of the market, improving the overall experience of space flight for everyone.

Europe Constructs A Space Dump Truck

(Image: 20 Ton ATV developed by Europe, Credit: ESA via BBC)

With America and Asia taking most of the space glory, Europe has decided to make its mark in the industry by constructing a large "space truck."

Although designed for transporting food, water, oxygen and technology to the International Space Station (aka ISS), this space craft can will also give the ISS a rocket boost--not to mention serve as a solar dump truck.

(BBC News) New oxygen supplies brought up by the ATV are simply vented into the station; water is carried out in bags; fuel is piped across to Zvezda.

The ATV will stay at the station for six months. At intervals of 10 to 45 days, the vehicle's thrusters will be used to boost the platform's altitude.

Over time, the ISS crew will use the vehicle as a refuse skip, filling the cargo section with all their waste. After undocking, the ATV will destroy all this material - and itself - in a controlled re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

Although we often dream of space stations "reusing, reducing and recycling" 100 percent of everything they bring on board, the reality is that astronauts are going to need the option of throwing some items away.

Since transporting garbage back to Earth is expensive (and releasing it into space can cause future problems), storing space junk inside this ATV may help decrease the future supply of orbital garbage that dangerously circles our planet.