Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Solar Energy Plus Heat Accumulator Equals 24 Hr Green Power?

(Image: Heat Accumulator, Credit: DLR/Markus Steur)

It looks as if the German Aerospace Center has made a breakthrough that may give solar energy an edge over its greener rivals.

(German Aerospace Center) So-called heat accumulators are needed so that power generation can be extended to the night hours or times when there is heavy cloud cover. Thanks to scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), it has now been possible for the first time for just such an accumulator to go into operation successfully. [...]

The steam accumulator is the result of the EU DISTOR (Energy Storage for Direct Steam) project started in February 2004. Solar Power Stations under the overall control of the DLR Institute for Technical Thermodynamics, a total of 13 partners from industry and research from five countries are working on the development of innovative storage systems for solar-powered steam generators. These storage systems will be designed to take the 200-300 degree Celsius steam generated by solar power, store it and release it again as required with a minimum of loss. So-called latent storage materials are used for this application. They are characterised by the fact that energy can be transported at an almost constant temperature from a solid to a liquid state and vice versa - a principle that has long been used in the low-temperature area with pocket hand-warmers, for example.

While the benefits of this device are fairly obvious on Earth, heat accumulators could enable future lunar colonists to settle anywhere on the Moon without limiting themselves to craters basking in eternal sunlight.

It would also help future Martian settlements maintain power within their colony outposts, which may reduce the need of humans relying upon a mini nuclear reactor in order to survive the frigid Martian nights.

If Germany is able to perfect this technology, they may end up securing their place among the heavens by allowing colonists to live off world--at least within the inner solar system.

Blue Mars: Coming To A Video Game Near You?

(Image Credit: Avatar Reality, Hat Tip: Mars News)

While NASA and the private space industry struggle to make the final frontier more relevant to the masses, it looks as if a video game by Avatar Reality may help stimulate the population by providing a "Second Life-like" environment.

(Star Bulletin) Make the planet Mars, populate it with ultra-modern cities, flying cars and millions of gamers, and that's what they call a whole lot of fun. [...]

Blue Mars is set 170 years in the future, when advancements in technology have allowed humans to terraform Mars into a habitable planet. The world is the creation of former Square developer Henk Rogers , who founded Avatar Reality Inc. in mid-2006. Rogers is also the chairman of another Honolulu company, Blue Planet Software Inc., which licenses the Tetris computer game.

While video games may seem silly to some people, ideas like these may help encourage the upcoming generation about the importance of Mars without boring them to death with a list of reasons why humanity should settle the planet.

Video games are becoming more and more popular with people of all ages (including Grandparents), and what better way to reach out to those who will (hopefully) inherit the red planet by presenting it in a format that they will enjoy?

Will The Next US President Be Pro Space?

(Image Credit: New Hampshire Primary)

With Senator Obama recently announcing a plan to delay the Constellation program by five years, many space enthusiasts have been wondering whether or not the Vision for Space Exploration will survive beyond President Bush.

While Obama has opted to slash NASA's budget to help fund the education bureaucracy, Senator Hillary Clinton, former Governor Mitt Romney and former Senator John Edwards are all promising to help maintain America's edge in the global space race.

(Washington Post) Asked for a response, Clinton spokesman Isaac Baker said, "Senator Clinton does not support delaying the Constellation program and intends to maintain American leadership in space exploration." [...]

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's campaign responded by providing an article from the Florida Today newspaper that said: "During the first campaign visit to the Space Coast by a 2008 presidential candidate, Republican Mitt Romney said he supports Bush's vision for space exploration and has no reason yet to propose a new direction." [...]

Former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who is vying with Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination, said in a statement: "We need a balanced space and aeronautics program. We need to support solar system exploration as an important goal for our human and robotic programs, but only as one goal among several."

While space enthusiasts probably have little influence compared to Christians, gun rights advocates and environmentalists, they can help influence the election by encouraging their friends to support pro-space candidates.

If America is to actually lead the world in pioneering the final frontier, then it will definitely require a partnership between NASA and NewSpace (aka the private space industry). Regardless of who gets in office, the next decade could easily determine which nation impacts our star system for the next millennium.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Carnival Of The Space Geeks(29 And 30)

(Image Credit: JAXA)

(Note: Since I forgot to mention the Carnival of Space last week, I'll mention it here, along with last weeks roundup).

Two weeks ago, Riding with Robots hosted the Carnival of Space, some of which helped bring back "the awe" of why living off world may be less boring than previously thought.

Louise of A Babe in the Universe highlights the not-so-recent lunar Earth Rise, with Phil at Bad Astronomy highlights why some of those craters pictured may be prime spots for future colonies (note: think energy).

Meanwhile Ed over at Robot Guy posts a video of Burt Rutan ripping into NASA (note: where's the love?).

Dave of Tales of the Heliosphere has an interesting take about the lunar real estate scam going on in Arkansas, while Paul of Centauri Dreams talks about finding similar solar systems throughout our (currently) quiet galaxy.


That was the previous Carnival of Space two weeks ago, and here are some interesting articles that stood out from last weeks Carnival of Space, hosted by Phil of Bad Astronomy.

Brian Wang of Advanced NanoTechnology discusses how a new type of nuclear fusion rockets could make space a 100 times cheaper than the best chemical rockets while Stuart of The Verse has an interesting space poem simply entitled "Fly Past."

Pamela of Star Stryder highlights a planet orbiting a star that may be dangerously close to its binary soul mate while NASA has an awesome astronomy picture of the day.

The most interesting post out of both Carnivals came from Clark of HobbySpace who has some thoughts regarding Obama's decision to financially gut NASA in order to fund our education system.


Thanks for reading, and if anyone is interested in joining the growing band of space bloggers (with dreams of tasting the final frontier), then they can visit Universe Today for more details.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Should Solar Powered Satellites Be Built Over Land Or Over Water?

When one looks at the heavens above us, at its utter vastness, you can not help but be humbled by its glorious potential. Whether its exploiting asteroids or water ice, one can only imagine the untapped resources just waiting at humanities finger tips.

One resource that seems to be on every ones mind is energy. With the cost of fuel accelerating faster than the rate of inflation, individuals, companies and governments are turning to fresh alternatives to power our rowdy planet.

Recently the US government has taken a fresh look at the possibility of constructing solar powered satellites (or SPS), which would be able to collect energy from the sun and beam it down back to Earth. If doable, these power stations would be able to deliver unlimited energy in a clean, efficient manner (provided the sun does not explode of course).

While launching and building one of these satellites in space may have its own engineering and problems above, constructing the receiving rectenna on land may provide even more nightmares below. In order to avoid these concerns, scientists may want to consider building a solar satellite rectenna over the ocean instead of on top of land.

In order to receive energy from our celestial star, solar powered satellites have to be able to safely convert the energy they collect from the sun and transmit it into microwave radiation. But in order for the entire system to be profitable, the rectennas have to be huge, (about 14 kilometers) in order to be competitive against the fossil fuels that we heavily depend upon.

In order to avoid ugly fights over property rights, some have suggested that these rectennas be built over remote farmlands, with the intention of avoiding major population centers. While this idea may sound wise, farmers will probably not be thrilled with some government object hindering their view of the sky, and express their disappointment by filling the bottom of the structure with holes.

By constructing it over the ocean scientists would be able to avoid worrying about their pet project being attacked by rural neighbors, terrorists or kids pulling a cool Halloween prank. A remote location on the sea would make it harder for outsiders to tamper with the rectenna, which would lower the cost of insurance for the SPS.

Another reason why choosing water over dirt may be more logical can be summed up in one word--lawyers. In order for the government to actually build a rectenna over sovereign soil, they are going to need an army of lawyers, backed up by a literal army enforcing the law.

Despite the fact that the American government (like all governments) has the right to take away property from their own citizens, it does not mean that separating these citizens from their lands will be easy.

In order to avoid everlasting lawsuits, as well as rioting citizens, the government may want to choose building a rectenna on top of the ocean, as constructing in international waters may be easier than on national soil.

Last but not least, if the government (or any company with their blessing) is able to avoid the two former pitfalls, then they may find themselves suffering from the wrath of nature itself. Hail, tornado's and violent thunder storms can easily damage an enormous rectenna at "the best" and partially reduce it into expensive rubble at the worst.

By comparison constructing a rectenna over a calm ocean (i.e. the Pacific) may avoid most of the weather fallout that asualts us land dwellers.

Even though solar powered satellites may be unable to satisfy the growing hunger of developed nations, they may be able to inspire our world population to go solar themselves. Combined with our friends in space, SPS's and quality solar power on Earth could enable our species to live on this planet independent of the black gold that plagues our "tiny" world.

Note: Due to lack of time, images will be added later.

Update: Images (with credit) added to the post.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Russia Partners With India For Lunar Research

It looks as if the worlds first space power has decided to team up with India in order to jointly research Earth's nearest neighbor.

(Earth Times) Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) and India's Department of Space have signed a joint lunar research and exploration agreement, the Russian agency said Monday. [...]

Georgy Polishchuk, general director of Russia's Lavochkin Design Bureau, said Russia would launch an unmanned mission to the Moon, Luna-Glob, in 2010. The second mission, which will include putting a new-generation 400-kg Lunokhod unmanned rover on the Moon, will start in 2011.

'The first mission will be solely Russian, but the second will be carried out in conjunction with India,' Polishchuk said.

While the partnership between the two may look odd to some, a partnership between the two powers would greatly benefit both nations.

Russia has the experience and passion for the moon, but may be lacking cash to actually get there. India has the passion and money to orbit lunar side, but may prefer receiving some "loose mentorship" before heading off on their own.

Russia has already initiated partnerships with Europe, as well as China in its quest to regain its former glory as a space power.

Note: Isn't it ironic how Russia is spurring international space cooperation while NASA is fostering a "go it alone" approach?

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (28th Edition)

It's that time again! The 28th Carnival of Space was hosted by Emily over at the Planetary Weblog with posts ranging from Japan's view of the moon in high definition to an exo-planet that may have habitable moons.

The most interesting post was by Paul of Centauri Dreams with some interesting info on how Jupiter could help us exit our solar system.

The Carnival of Space is held weekly, and if anyone is interested in submitting posts they can contact Fraiser at info at universetoday dot com for more information.

Is Florida Corning The American Space Market?

(Image: Ground breaking ceremonies for SpaceX's new Falcon 9 rocket launch facilities at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX)

Ironically while the space tourism industry seems to be centered around the upcoming green spaceport in New Mexico, Florida is aligning itself with the major movers and shakers in the space industry.

After previously forming a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace, Florida has secured a future relationship with SpaceX (aka Space Exploration Technologies).

(Space Fellowship) Cape Canaveral FL – Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) held official ground breaking ceremonies today at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, opening a new era in commercial space operations. SLC-40 will be the primary launch site for SpaceX's new Falcon 9 launch vehicle, with operations beginning in late 2008. [...]

"Initiating activities at the Cape in Florida is a major milestone in our mission to decrease the cost of reliable access to space," said Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, at the ceremony.

"This is truly the beginning of a new era in commercial space in Florida and we are thrilled to help bring SpaceX to Florida" commented Space Florida CEO Steve Kohler, who also participated in the ceremony.

Florida is already home to the Kennedy Space Center, which has been responsible for most (if not all) of America's human space launches (at least in the public sector).

With SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace looking towards the sun shine state as a launching pad, Florida may gain a strategic advantage (long term wise) over its other 49 brethren.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ice Miners: The Most Profitable Job In The Solar System?

If you could travel to the future and live during the interplanetary space age, what occupation would you choose? Would you risk your life in asteroid mining, or would you consider making your fortune selling pigs?

Could you imagine yourself designing rockets, or would being a space pirate suit your fancy?

While choosing prestigious job may be more fulfilling, if you wanted to make "your zillions," you may want to place your investments (and skills) towards mining space water.

Our solar system is fortunate enough to be blessed by this precious liquid throughout its "borders." Water, in the form of ice, can be found from the polar ice caps of Mars to unvisited surface of Pluto's moon, Charon.

Having water available in virtually every planetary (and dwarf planetary) system (Mercury and Venus excluded) means that humanity will have a much easier time settling the solar system without the need of hauling millions of tons of water with them.

Yet despite the fact that water is abundant throughout our star system, most of this water would probably not be too healthy in a glass, at least for most animals, plants and humans.

Unlike most of the fresh streams that inhabit our globe, space water is often contaminated either by minerals, rocks or even salt. Simply melting these dirty ice cubes down will not guarantee that this water would be safe to drink, at least for complex organisms.

In order to make this water useful for future life, humanity will have to figure out an inexpensive way to filter out the contaminants. Any company (or person) who could find a way to meet this need would probably end up making a fortune selling this to the masses.

Another use of solar water would be that of fuel. Even though it is evident that this vital molecule is composed of two Hydrogen molecules and one Oxygen, it may not be very evident to the general population that hydrogen and oxygen are the basic components for rocket fuel.

While using chemical rockets may not be as appealing towards those living upon deep gravity wells (such as Earth, Mercury and Mars), other colonists living upon the Moon, Ganymede or Callisto may find them to be a cheaper alternative as compared to nuclear rockets.

As humanity begins to expand throughout our solar system, one will probably begin to see off world space hotels begin to take off. While the first hotels on the Moon (and in orbit) may be small and cramped, future hotels on worlds like Mars, Ceres, etc. will probably be wise to imitate Earth's native climate.

This will ultimately include having not only drinkable water in abundance, but also pools, hot showers and (if they are large enough) mini sized lakes for people to row across. Until terraforming is perfected, such attractions at hotels will potentially draw large groups, who will (ironically) probably be able to afford a trip back to the home planet.

Any ice miner (or company) able to meet the growing demand of water for this industry will probably find themselves with little financial worries in life.

While investing in computer software or asteroid mining industries could also help a future colonists achieve financial success, placing ones money within an ice miner (or ice mining corporation) could enable a fortunate individual to retire young and perhaps invest their money into moving humanity towards conquering the next star system.

Note: Due to lack of time, images will be inserted later on.

Update: Images added.

China No Longer Interested In Building Space Stations?

Previously China announced their intentions to start building a space station in 2008.

Now it seems as if the Asian space power is not only backing away from the idea, but dropping it altogether.

(USA Today) "According to China's mid- and long-term guidelines for science and technology and space industry development, we are going to continue the exploration of the moon, as well as a man-space flight in the future," Li Guoping, spokesman of the China National Space Administration, said at a news conference.

"So far, according to the plans already published, there are no plans for a space station," he said.

China probably backed down from the idea, realizing that the price tag of constructing these orbital homes would be in the billions (dollar wise).

According to the article, China instead is pursuing the opportunity of joining the International Space Station, although they are getting stiff resistance from the US.

While joining the International Space Station (or ISS) may be more prestigeous than creating one's own, the ISS may become extinct in the future if Bigelow is able to launch its first human habitable space station.

Germany Wants A Piece Of The Moon

Despite its late cosmic entry, Germany is planning on launching an unmanned probe towards the Moon in order to help humanity gain more understanding about Earth's nearest neighbor.

(Reuters) Germany hopes to put an unmanned space craft into the moon's orbit in the early part of the next decade, a senior German official said on Wednesday.

The lunar orbit mission will be useful for scientific research, Deputy Economy Minister Peter Hintze, the government's aerospace coordinator, told reporters. "It is also a chance for Germany to prove its competence in this area."

Germany previously mentioned that they intended upon using the probe to provide a detailed map of the Moon's surface.

Hopefully Germany has plans on launching more than probes as the "Moon map market" is becoming increasingly crowded thanks to Japan and China.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Space Angels To Invest In Our Solar Future

(Image Credit: Toon Tracker, via Reason Magazine)

In an era where the only way for a space firm to make a small fortune, is to start out with a large one, many companies have struggled to take their ideas beyond the power point presentations and into the "metal shop."

Now it appears as if some angel investors have formed the Space Angels Network in order financially seed promising space companies, enabling them see if any of their ideas will blossom.

(Hobby Space) Space Angels Network, LLC, (www.spaceangelsnetwork.com) a virtual network of angel investors focused on seed- and early-stage investments for space-related ventures, announced today the launch of its operations in the U.S. and Canada. The company's online platform and strategic relationships with venture finance and technology innovation organizations allow individual accredited investors to connect with space entrepreneurs for financing their innovative ventures.

"There is no question that a gap currently exists in the financing spectrum available to seed- and early-stage space-related ventures, and there are many angel investors around the U.S. and Canada eager to help fill that gap," stated Burton Lee, CEO of Space Angels Investments, which operates Space Angels Network. "We aim to provide that platform-along with exceptional service, value, and key strategic relationships-to our members."

While the group is probably geared towards the aerospace industry in general, hopefully they will consider more long range plans such as mining helium-3 on the Moon, harvesting metallic asteroids and even reducing the cost of transport (via Maglifts or Space Elevators).

Hopefully more groups like these will spring up, as investing in our solar future has the potential to helpfully impact our species for the next thousand years.

Should We Grow Lichen On Mars?

(Image Credit: L. Sancho, via New Scientist Space)

Lichen, known for growing upon rocks, trees and run down buildings seems to be able to thrive in an hostile environment that would kill most (if not all) complex life forms.

(New Scientist Space) Once in Earth orbit, the lid of the container opened and the samples were exposed to the space environment for nearly 15 days before the lid resealed and the capsule returned to Earth.

The lichens were subjected to the vacuum of space and to temperatures ranging from -20°C on the night side of the Earth, to 20°C on the sunlit side. They were also exposed to glaring ultraviolet radiation of the Sun.

"To our big surprise, everything went fine after the flight," says Rene Demets, ESA's project scientist for the Foton project. "The lichens were in exactly the same shape as before flight."

In order to survive the hostilities of space, the lichens reverted to a dormant state until they were able to encounter more favorable conditions again. Ironically (according to the article), if it were not for the low levels of oxygen on Mars, lichen would probably be able to thrive on the red planet.

Although often referred to as a single creature, lichen is in reality two separate organisms (algae and fungi) that help each other survive in what many would consider to be hostile, bitter environments.

If scientists can figure out how to enhance the lichen genes and adapt them to Martian soil, we may be able to eventually grow crops on that red desert world.

Bigelow Aerospace, Space Florida To Create Another "COTS?"

(Hat Tip: Hobby Space)

Bigelow Aerospace, known for launching prototype space stations into orbit is partnering with Space Florida in order to fund their own version of COTS for the sun shine state.

(SpaceRef) "Our interest in this relationship is driven by Space Florida's exclusive qualifications," said Robert Bigelow President of Bigelow Aerospace. "With a distinctive aerospace manufacturing and launch infrastructure, and a vibrant workforce with deep expertise in systems development, Florida is uniquely positioned to facilitate the development of commercial space transportation systems." "Diversification of the Florida aerospace industry - a critical path for bringing in new business and job opportunities - is one of three key areas of Space Florida's focus during the last 12 months," Kohler added. "This agreement creates a relationship between Florida and one of the leading entrepreneurial space firms, Bigelow Aerospace, and, if successful, will allow the State to become the future hub for commercial orbital transportation development projects, ultimately attracting a wide variety of small and large business entrants in various locations across Florida."

Bigelow is committing up to $100 million in order to help "jump start" companies desiring to create a craft able to house humans.

Bigelow seems to be getting nervous about whether or not the private sector can deliver a crew ferrying rocket, as they have previously offered a $760 million contract towards whoever could create a spaceship by 2010.

While Florida's space force has the skills (and speed) to actually pull this off, one wonders whether or not they will be able to beat SpaceX and Space Adventures, both who will probably contend for Bigelow's space station business.

Delicious: Martian Menu May Include Bugs

Often seen as a nuisance in the west, bugs may be a future staple of Martians everywhere--at least according to Japan.

(Discover Magazine) Now insects may become the next food frontier for space cuisine. The Space Agriculture Task Force, affiliated with the Japanese space agency, is looking for ways to feed astronauts on extended missions, like on a stint to Mars. A long stay on the Red Planet would require travelers to grow their own food, but a vegetable- and grain-based diet doesn't efficiently supply fats and amino acids.

While they lack the appeal of a ripe banana or a juicy steak, Martians may end dining on these "cute" creatures out of necessity, rather than as a delicacy. Bugs would be easy to raise and grow, and could be easily fed on leftovers from colonists veggie dishes.

However, if humanity ever desires to support large populations on Mars, pigs may provide a much better option.

China Building Greener, Heavier Rockets

With all of the talk regarding global warming (whether you believe its real or not), one thing is for certain--people are paying a lot more attention on how we treat our environment.

In order to keep up with the times, the red dragon from the east has not only decided to create larger rockets, but make them environmentally friendly as well.

(Space Daily) China is building a new range of carrier rockets designed to send heavyweight satellites into space, boosting the current carrying capacity by nearly three times, a space expert has said. The Long March 5 rockets will be able to carry payloads of up to 25 tons for low earth orbit satellites, up from the current limit of 9.2 tons, said Wu Yansheng, president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), which is developing the new series of launch vehicles. [...]

In addition to bigger capacity, the Long March 5 rockets will be designed using pollution-free technologies, Wu said.

While building "greener" rockets may mean little to future lunar (and Martian) colonists, it literally means the world to citizens of Earth. There is no point in humanity going to the stars if it translates into trashing our home planet.

Update: Edited title for clarity.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks: Episode 27

(Image Credit: E.T: The Extra Terrestrial)

Fraiser Cain of Universe Today hosted the Carnival of Space this week with highlights from some interesting posts ranging from alternative theories regarding dark matter to how our galaxy resembles a pizza pie.

Fraiser also announced that he will be taking over the reigns of the event from the founder Henry Cate, who kicked off the very first carnival a long, long time ago in a place not so far away (at least online).

For those wishing to join the digital fray, you can email Frasier for more details at info [at] universetoday [dot] com (die, spam bots die!) for more details.

Note: Hopefully I'll be able to submit an article next week, as it has been neglected in my draft files for way too long.

Update: Inserted image credit.

Rocketplane Global Designs A Larger Spaceship

(Image Credit: Rocketplane Global, Inc.)

While there are many space firms are attempting to bring the universe to the masses (at least the moderately wealthy ones), very few of these companies have "the right stuff" to survive this increasingly crowded market.

With the competition heating up in the space tourism arena, Rocketplane Global has recently redesigned their spaceship in order to increase the number of passengers flying on board.

(MSNBC) The redesigned XP space plane could start flying in 2010, depending on the results of a final round of fundraising, said David Faulkner, program manager for the suborbital project. [...]

The main difference is that engineers dropped the idea of retrofitting a commercial Learjet with a rocket. Instead, they redid the design from scratch to make the fuselage 10 percent wider, Faulkner said. That provided enough extra room to add two more seats to the craft's original four-seat configuration — boosting the potential revenue from each flight by more than 60 percent.

"The market's really matured, and we took a hard look at the business plan," Faulkner said. "It made more sense to go with five passengers, and the Lear just wouldn't support that."

Rocketplane Global (which is a separate entity from its dying sister, Rocketplane Kistler) is aiming to secure its share of the upcoming space tourism market. But with a quarter of a million price tag, they may have a harder time securing clients.

Funding pending, the company may be able to give Virgin Galactic a run for its money, having already secured a spaceport in Oklahoma.