Saturday, March 24, 2007

Artificial Gravity Via Space Elevator Stations

(Image Credit: David Mat, via LiftPort Gallery)

With humanity regaining their foothold among the stars, there seems to be much chatter regarding the possibility of orbital space stations circling our planet.

But in order for humanity to inhabit the heavens above us, we will need to find a way to create artificial gravity as the lack of it can have some nasty side affects upon the human body (thus banishing ourselves from large terrestrial worlds).

Constructing space elevator stations (provided that building space elevators is feasible) may not only be the answer towards us living among the stars, but also enable us to bring our animal friends with us as well.

One of the key elements keeping the space elevator "up" is centrifugal force. Often observed (or felt) when one rides in a car around a sharp turn, the centrifugal force at the top of a space elevator may provide enough "push" to simulate earthen gravity.

This would enable future space travelers to live within the space elevator station (which could also serve as a counterweight) for years without the fear of being stranded in space due to health reasons (via micro gravity).

Although some people have suggested building Goliath-sized rotating space stations, these space structures may end up transforming into an engineers nightmare as one would have to figure out how a shuttle could dock on the station without destroying it (let alone funding the project as space launches are not getting cheaper).

A space elevator station would probably provide a more reasonable approach as any space craft could dock onto the object without worrying about unnecessary twists and turns.

Despite the fact that current designs of the modern space elevator do not include a space elevator station as a counterweight, it would not be surprising to see one built on top of these future marvels. A space elevator station would definitely attract space tourists from around the globe as it would not only provide an impressive view of our own world, but also simulate earthen life within its environment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Collecting Lunar Soil By Lunar Vacuum

One of the biggest problems with lunar dust is the fact that these small particles can not only damage robots upon the surface, but human lungs as well.

Since future colonists are going to need to get "their hands dirty" in order to build a home on this world, several researchers have proposed sucking up the dirt instead of creating a dust cloud through a dig.

(New Scientist Space) Future astronauts living on the Moon will need lots of water, oxygen and other resources that can be extracted from the lunar soil, or regolith.

But collecting the large quantities needed with front-end loaders and dump trucks could throw up a lot of dust. That could cause a host of problems, since the tiny, jagged dust particles could clog machinery and even harm astronauts' health if inhaled[.] [...]

The idea is to build a flexible tube with magnetic coils spaced at regular intervals along its length. Because lunar soil particles contain a lot of iron, the magnetic field produced by the coils would suck the soil into the tube and whisk it along its length.

Extracting the soil this way may not only prove to be far more effective, but less time consuming as well. Although humanity will eventually have to dig below the surface do to meteorite strikes, this technology should allow scientists and miners to quickly gather a large amount of lunar soil for either further analysis or potentially turning part of the dirt into breathable oxygen.

China To Lunar Real Estate Agents, Get Lost

It looks like future real estate agencies will no longer be able to solicit Chinese citizens within the country for lunar property. With the red dragon barring recognition of their efforts, (and the US ignoring their claims) where will they go to find legitimacy?

(Moon Daily) A Chinese company has been banned from selling plots of land on the moon, state media reported on Saturday. The company, Lunar Embassy to China, had sold a total of 49 acres (20 hectares) to 34 customers before authorities acted, Xinhua news agency said. An appeal court on Friday upheld an earlier ruling against the Beijing-based firm which had been selling the lunar plots. [...]

On Friday, the Beijing intermediate court rejected its appeal, saying no individual or country could claim ownership of the moon.

With the human race bound to revisit the lunar surface in the upcoming half century, property rights is bound to become a serious issue as businesses and nations begin mining the surface.

Until then, anyone laying claim to the Moon (for any reason) will probably have to wait until the private sector has an active presence on the Moon, as it would be hard to mail out property without a FedEx truck nearby.

Space Insurance, Anyone?

With various companies coming up with various ways of accessing the final frontier (whether through space elevators, rockets or Maglev launches) it is good to see an insurance company willing to help reduce the risk of travel, at least financially.

( Bupa Travel has decided to get on the act - it is to add space travel to its insurance policy line-up.

"We are looking into space tourism as a real market for the next generation of travellers," said Nick Potter, Bupa Travel's general manager.

When you begin to see more insurance companies adding space travel to their policies, it is a definite sign that "space culture" is quickly becoming mainstream.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Melting Martian Ice Caps Could Flood The Planet

With all the talk about terraforming Mars in the next Millennium, very few have mentioned what would happen to the Martian polar regions if the temperature increased.

Recently scientists have discovered that the southern polar region of Mars, composed mostly of carbon and water ice has enough water frozen underneath to flood the entire planet.

(Mars Today) New measurements of Mars' south polar region indicate extensive frozen water. The polar region contains enough frozen water to cover the whole planet in a liquid layer approximately 36 feet deep. A joint NASA-Italian Space Agency instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft provided these data.

This new estimate comes from mapping the thickness of the ice. The Mars Express orbiter's radar instrument has made more than 300 virtual slices through layered deposits covering the pole to map the ice. The radar sees through icy layers to the lower boundary, which is as deep as 2.3 miles below the surface.

"The south polar layered deposits of Mars cover an area bigger than Texas. The amount of water they contain has been estimated before, but never with the level of confidence this radar makes possible," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena Calif.

Some scientists have even discovered what appears to be a "bright spot" underneath the ice which may be an indicator of water beneath the surface despite the freezing temperatures.

Mars it seems has more than its fair share of water frozen underneath, which may end up being its "golden resource" that future colonists can exchange for goods on other worlds (and asteroids). If humanity ever begins to colonize this world, they may need to watch how fast they raise the temperature on this planet as the last thing we need is another flooded world causing havoc for our species.

How To Lose Lunar Dust (In Three Ways)

Although not toxic, lunar dust can irritate an astronaut to death (or at least cause major harm), an unfortunate side effect that future colonists will have to deal with.

Some scientists have suggested melting the surface in order to keep the dust from causing potential harm, but others seems to have suggested more practical ways at keeping the dust out of future living spaces.

(New Scientist Space) So the agency plans to set up an airlock on the first lunar trips, which are expected to last just a week. That way, astronauts can take off their spacesuits and boots in a sort of 'mudroom' or entryway without tracking dust into their living quarters.

The airlocks on subsequent missions will become more advanced, with metal gratings outside them to collect lunar soil, or regolith. Inside, they may also be fitted with "air showers", wherein blasts of air from above whisk dust to a grated floor below – just like those used outside of cleanrooms on Earth.

These measures could help remove 90 to 95% of the dust coming into the spacecraft, Kennedy told New Scientist.

Despite being effective, NASA is interested in removing 99.99% of the dust (if not all of it) so other ingenious ideas have been suggested. One idea, is to take a magnetic wand and remove the finer grains of moon dust off of the astronauts suits. A more reasonable approach may also be using an air blower to force all of the dust off, which may be more effective than magnets and perhaps much cheaper as well.

A fourth suggestion was to simply coat the suit with liquid CO2, which is used to clean telescopes and photocopiers. Despite its proven success on Earth, NASA is loathed to care on any more weight than necessary towards the Moon (as liquids can be heavy), so that idea will probably get shot down early on in the drawing boards.

How Does One Charge A Magnetic Sail?

Magnetic Sails hold much promise into allowing humanity to travel our solar system at not only an increased amount of speed, but reduced costs as well.

Unfortunately scientists seem to be pondering on which method is best to actually charge these theoretical crafts, as the details of either choice tend to be a "bit messy."

(New Scientist Space) But the amount of charge held by a sphere at a given voltage, a quantity known as its capacitance, is not very large. Long, thin filaments, on the other hand, have a lot of charge-holding surface area, so one possible design involves many filaments attached to the spacecraft. The setup would have a rather comical look – because of the static charge, the filaments would stick out in all directions, like newly brushed dry hair. [...]

A cylindrical mesh of fibres - resembling a stocking – could also be attached to the spacecraft. To charge itself up, the stocking could be coated with a radioisotope, and one of the most powerful would be polonium-210, the isotope used to poison former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. But it should be safe to use on the stocking, says Peck, "as long as people working on the spacecraft don't lick it".

Although polonium-210 would provide an excellent alternative to the thin filaments, scientists seem to be struggling with ways on "turning it off," a very important feature if one wants to actually slow down.

Regardless of the method scientist propose, one thing they were clear about was that Earth's magnetic field, although powerful enough to keep our planet alive from radiation may be too weak to be truly effective for travel towards planets like Mars.

They are proposing instead that these spacecraft head out towards Jupiter, whose field may be strong enough to launch these ships quickly to other worlds.

Finding Martian Minerals In All The Right Places

Despite captivating our attention, wonder and awe of being Earth like, Mars still lacks a financial incentive for even visiting the red planet.

Although there are plenty of reasons not to go to visit this crimson world, all of these can be overcome technologically or medically if Mars displays a valuable resource for humanity to exploit.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter may change all of this as it circles the red globe analyzing the Martian surface.

(Astrobiology Magazine) "We're finding that Mars has even more compositional diversity and complicated geology than had been revealed by instruments on other Mars orbiters," says Dr. Scott Murchie, CRISM principal investigator from the Applied Physics Laboratory. "With CRISM's help, this mission is going to rewrite our understanding of the planet."

"CRISM's high spatial resolution provides the means to not only identify a greater range of minerals on Mars but also to associate them with small scale geologic features," says Dr. Sue Smrekar, deputy MRO project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The result is a tremendous leap forward in interpreting the geologic processes and volatile environments that created different rocks throughout the history of Mars."

While the satellite is providing valuable data regarding rock formation (as well as hints of ancient water ways) hopefully it can be used to find out whether there are precious metals (i.e. gold, silver or platinum), iron or titanium on the surface.

After all if we are going to eventually live on the red planet, then we are going to have to find a way to make a living while camping away from "Earthen influence." If not, then Mars may at best be a boring tourism planet, where only geologists and scientists find great joy in exploring its surface.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Colony Worlds Round Up

Note: I have not been as faithful as I desired to in posting here (as life has been fairly busy) but these are some of the stories that may catch your eye regarding our future among the stars.


Astroprof discusses the dangers of bone loss due to the lack of gravity in space.

Despite NASA's attempts at reducing the loss, the percentage rate exceeds that of a woman with osteoporosis, leading I. Tenor (a commenter) to conclude that exile from Earth may be the price we pay for colonizing the stars.


Jack Kennedy from Spaceports discusses Matsen Space System's attempts at winning the Lunar Landing Analog Challenge later on this year.

There main competitors are Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin, who may put up some fierce competition.


The Space Review has an article about finding life in the solar system. My views of this are fairly dim (as finding microbes does not help us reach the stars).

However, since scientists are looking for life near water ice, this research should prove quite useful in helping us locate future settlements as water is the main ingredient for life (at least carbon based life forms).


Centauri Dreams has an excellent article discussing how the sun's rays spin asteroids. Although this alone may not amaze anyone who is not a hard core space geek, this revelation does help put some weight behind the solar sail.


Ted Semon from the Space Elevator Blog informs everyone that Germany is forming their very own space elevator competition scheduled for February of 2008.

This competition is not as ambitious as the Spaceward's Space Elevator competition, however the fact that they are organizing it may help inspire other nations to follow suit.


Hopefully I will have some time tonight to discuss some other issues on the back burner, including NASA's paradox, Jupiter's Ganymede, and the missing ingredient to call the Moon, Mars and Europa home.

Stay tuned. ;-)

Update: Corrected spelling of Ted's last name (Semon it is! Curse the spell checkers!) Also, I should have some free time later on today (at last). :-)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Could Maglev Launches Enable Cheap Access To Space?

(Hat Tip: Lifeboat Foundation Blog)

With chemical rockets not exactly bringing down the price of space transport, one group of scientists from China have come up with a unique way of reducing the cost of space without losing the ships that bring us there.

( Most recently, researchers in a group including Wenjiang Yang and his colleagues from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have investigated the possibility of the "Maglifter," a maglev launch assist vehicle originally proposed in the 1980s. In this system, a spaceship would be magnetically levitated over a track and accelerated up an incline, lifting off when it reaches a velocity of 1,000 km/hr (620 miles/hr). The main cost-saving areas would come from reduced fuel consumption and the reduced mass of the spaceship.

"Magnetic levitation is a promising technology for future space transportation," Yang told "The most expensive part of space missions to low-Earth orbit is the first few seconds—getting off the ground."

This technology seems very familiar to the magnetic sled (designed by Launch Point), with the only major difference being that humans will be able to ride "this pony."

Although this is not a direct "ground to orbit" launch mechanism, it may drop prices for satellite launches and the space tourism industry, not to mention make constructing a space elevator all the more feasible.

Could Plaskett Crater Be Our First Lunar Home?

If humanity ever regains the confidence to revisit the moon, one major factor in deciding where to launch a lunar base can be boiled down to one word--energy.

Since establishing a nuclear power plant upon the moon may not be that popular, we may have to settle for solar energy via the Sun. With solar energy abundant in the polar regions (due to lunar orbit), we could be calling Plaskett crater "home sweet home."

(Universe Today) Crater Plaskett sits very close to the Moon's north pole. This means it's bathed in eternal sunlight. This would provide plenty of solar energy for future explorers, and creates a predictable temperature - it's only hot, not hot and cold. Nearby craters bathed in eternal darkness might contain large stores of water ice that could be used for air, fuel and drinking water.

Crater Plaskett might provide a good first step for exploration of the Solar System. It's close enough that astronauts would still be able to see the Earth. Help could arrive within days, if necessary, and communications would be almost instantaneous. But it's remote enough to help mission planners understand what would be involved for future, longer duration missions on the Moon, and eventually to Mars.

Although scientists have identified ideal spots for a base, they still have to validate whether or not the area is protected by a mini-magnetic field. Doing so will insure that future colonists can view the cosmos without worrying about their minds being melted by cosmic radiation.

Germany is preparing to send a probe in order to detail the lunar surface, which may reveal more favorable locations for moon bases on our distant neighbor.

Article: Why Humans Need To Revisit The Moon

(Hat Tip: Orlando Sentinel Blog)

Note: Charles Krauthammer has written an excellent article in the Washington Post detailing why we need to place humans back on the Moon. Although Martian fans will not like his analysis of traveling to the red planet (which he estimates is a century away at best), his rationale for visiting the moon can not be easily refuted.

Here is a snippet:

(Washington Post) Moreover, the moon base is not pointless. The shuttles were on an endless trip to the nowhere of low Earth orbit. The moon is a destination. The idea this time is not to go to plant a flag, take a golf shot and leave, but to stay and form a real self-sustaining, extraterrestrial human colony. [...]

A century ago there seemed to be nothing in Antarctica, either. We went there first for adventure, then for discovery. The concrete scientific advances Antarctica has yielded (regarding climate change and the ozone layer, for example) have been as important as they were unexpected. [...]

And then there's the glory. If you find any value, any lift of the spirit in a beautiful mathematical proof, in an elegant balletic turn, in any of the myriad human endeavors that have no utility but only breathtaking beauty, then you should feel something when our little species succeeds in establishing new life in a void that for all eternity had been the province of the gods. If you don't feel that, you are -- don't take this personally -- deaf to the music of our time.

You may want to consider reading the rest of the article, and any space bloggers worth their salt may want to consider reposting their thoughts on their digital cybernetic diaries.

A Giant Leap For Solar Panels

(Hat Tip: Centauri Dreams)

It looks like several scientists have developed a new film coating that produces almost no reflection of light! Although this material has obvious uses in telescopes, LED's and the study of dark matter, what makes this film material very valuable is its application towards solar panels.

(ScienceNow) Narcissus beware! Scientists have created the world's first film that casts practically no reflection. A vast improvement over current nonreflective materials, the new technology could revolutionize solar cells, intensify light-emitting diodes, and possibly help solve mysteries in quantum mechanics by mimicking a "black body," an object that absorbs all light.

For years, scientists have been seeking ways to make certain materials less reflective. Solar cells, for example, would be far more efficient if they reflected less light and absorbed more of it as energy. To achieve this goal, researchers have concentrated on reducing a material's refractive index--a measure of its ability of to reflect light. Ice has a refractive index of 1.31, for example; air has an index of 1. But making low-reflective materials, which are also thin enough to serve as coatings, has proven tricky.

The current material has a reflectivity of 1.05, which will definitely improve how much energy solar panels will be able to absorb. This technology could easily translate into more energetic solar panels for satellites and lunar colonies as well as more distant projects such as space elevator climbers and solar powered satellites (SPS).

Note: For a more indepth reading, please click here.

Germany To Provide Us With "Google Moon?"

Despite the fact that Germany has no serious plans on putting a man in space (let alone on the moon) they are seriously considering launching robots into the heavens by 2013 in an attempt to understand Earth's closest neighbor.

(Earth Times) "We aim to launch a national moon mission," DLR Director Walter Doellinger said, adding that there was no intention to launch a manned mission.

The aim is to put a probe into orbit around the moon for four years with the aim of charting the entire surface for the first time. The survey is to be three-dimensional and in colour.

"The probe will examine the moon's surface and provide indications of significant geological formations that could later be of interest for drilling," Doellinger said.

There is no word yet on whether or not Germany's lunar survey will be publicly available, or released commercially although they will hopefully consider the former.

Germany plans on using the probe to examine minerals upon the lunar surface, locate ice water (if any exists) and investigate the moons mysterious magnetic field which may enable us to actually build habitats above ground.