Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Holidays (Plus A Mini Update)

As some of you may have noticed, I have been publishing very few articles across several of my blogs.

Due to the busy season I have been scaling back writing online, although I should be back to posting regularly after the holiday season comes to a close.

Until then, I would like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas, a Happy Channukah or a solemn Festivus (for you Seinfeld fans), and feel free to email/Tweet/scrap me--and above all stay safe!


-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One Solar Space Power To Rule Them All?

Note: Article inspired by NASA Watch, The Planetary Society and 21st Century Waves

Warning: This is an extremely long article, so you may want to grab a quick snack as you read through this post.

Anyone who has ever played board games such as Risk and Monopoly knows that the overall purpose of the game is for one player to dominant the board by either taking territory or securing financial resources ahead of their rivals.

The same rule also applies to the final frontier as evidenced by the space race emerging in Asia, as well as between the US and China.

While every nation probably has their own "road map" for conquering the final frontier, there are no less than five critical locations (ranging from asteroids to dwarf planets to even moons) that a space faring nation must secure if they desire to remain (or become) a solar space power in our star system.

First Stop: Luna

Orbiting a mere light second away from Earth, the Moon could easily be described as humanities second home due to its proximity towards our birth world.

Although the lunar surface may lack water (at least in abundance), its white regolith can be "easily" converted into breathable oxygen, allowing our species to survive beyond our earthen cradle without the need to constantly borrow air from our home world.

Often seen as free on planet Earth, oxygen in space will be literally worth its "weight" in gold, and any nation that can find a way to inexpensively produce lunar oxygen will have an advantage later on over its rivals (and may even be able to sell the precious gas for a profit).

While its oxygen rocks could enable humanity to live off world, its reduced gravity may make the tiny sphere appealing to asteroid miners seeking out near earth objects (aka NEO's).

Since micro-gravity has a way of eroding bones and muscles, destroying immune systems, weakening hearts and strengthening deadly bacteria, asteroid miners may prefer to live lunar side (with frequent trips to mine these NEO's), than to spend the majority of their time floating next to a space rock in micro-gravity.

Even though a space faring nation (both current and aspiring) could develop a sustainable presence around the Moon (and nearby space rocks) due to its resources and location, it may be wise to travel beyond Earth's orbit towards more promising worlds (in order maintain its status a future space power).

Next Stop: The dwarf planet Ceres

Although some would consider it "insane" to skip the red planet, heading to Ceres first will ensure that a future space power has the resources to fund its expansion (note: despite the fact that doing so means sacrificing the prestige of sending the first man or woman to Mars).

Ceres strategically orbits within the metal rich region of the asteroid belt, making this dwarf planet prime real estate (at least to asteroid mining corporations).

Any nation establishing a colony on Ceres would be able to send teams of astronauts to secure nearby metallic space rocks as their own, potentially selling them to future allies or harvesting the mineral resources for themselves.

While the dwarf planet lacks any resources of its own, Ceres is suspected of hosting more "fresh water" than Earth itself, which would enable future asteroid minors to potentially grow their own food off world without depending on frequent supplies from Earth.

It would also allow Ceres to act as a interplanetary rest stop between Mars and Jupiter, not to mention a safe haven as well (just in case the asteroid belt becomes infested with space pirates).

Since most of humanities attention will probably be focused on Mars after the Moon, there will probably be very little competition establishing a dominant presence on Ceres (if not conquer it entirely for themselves).

Third Stop: The Martian moon called Phobos

Despite its popularity in science fiction, Mars will probably attract very few visitors due to the extreme difficulty in landing large payloads on the surface of the red planet.

Coupled with the fact that Mars lacks major resources of any kind (note: at least that we know of), the crimson world may only be inhabited by scientists, various cults and individuals disillusioned by Earthen (and Lunar) governments.

Even though the red planet may not be of much economic worth (at least initially), one of its asteroid moons Phobos could be converted into an enormous space station in order to make it easier to process metals harvested from the asteroid belt.

Since the sunlight on Mars is much stronger than in the asteroid belt, a future mining corporation could use the Sun's rays to melt asteroid metals en mass before exporting them towards Earth (and Luna).

Although working on an asteroid moon may be profitable, living upon one may not due to the side effects of micro-gravity.

Even though a future miner could always counter the effects of micro-gravity with various drugs and electronic shocks, it may be wiser to settle upon the red deserts below as Mars's gravity is approximately 38% Earth norm.

In order to reduce the cost of transporting personal (and equipment) to and from the Martian surface, a future space power may need to construct an "orbital space elevator" on the near side of Phobos.

While constructing this would ultimately open up Mars to the rest of humanity (which a future space power could charge a fee for rivals to use), it would also allow them to import water from the Martian surface (instead of depending upon either Earth or Ceres for supplies).

Fourth Stop: The Jovian moon Callisto

Often regarded as a dead world, the Jovian moon Callisto may be of high worth to any space faring nation, due to the fact that it is one of the few radiation safe worlds in our star system.

Even though Mars and the Moon may have "celebrity status" throughout our solar system, neither of the worlds has a global magnetic field to protect their spheres from the wrath of the Sun.

Callisto on the other hand is not only protected by Jupiter's magnetic field, but it orbits just beyond the gas giant's radiation belt, enabling future colonists to raise families (and pets) upon this world without fear of growing a third eye ball.

While Callisto may not have any immediate value outside of being a midway point between the inner solar system and Saturn, establishing an outpost here would enable a future space power to "easily explore" its brother Ganymede.

Although Ganymede's orbit takes it into the heart of Jupiter's radiation belts, a properly shielded colony could use Ganymede's global magnetic field to raise an abundance of crops with the help of bees (instead of relying upon ants who may not need a magnetic field to pollinate our green friends).

While it would probably be impossible for one space faring nation to conquer both of these worlds for themselves, conquering these moons early on (especially Callisto) could give a rising space power significant influence over the future of the Jupiteran system (not to mention the next gas giant as well).

Last Stop: The methane moon called Titan

Even if humanity finds a way to harvest the helium-3 locked away within Luna's crust (not to mention the atmosphere of Uranus), the cost of mining it may put it out of reach for most interplanetary commercial spacecraft.

Since supplies of Uranium and Plutonium could easily become unavailable for space travel (as many nations on Earth may need them for energy or defense), finding an inexpensive alternative could determine whether or not a space faring nation thrives or merely survives in the depths of our star system.

One way to guarantee that a future space power has the neccessary fuel to maintain its fleet (at least inexpensively) is to establish outposts near Titan's methane lakes (which may contain an abundance of methane/ethane within them).

While it would not be surprising to see Titan heavily colonized in the fairly distant future (by various countries), securing this world early on would enable a space faring country to establish tremendous influence throughout the solar system (or at least within the ringed system of Saturn).

What about the other worlds?

Although their are plenty of other interesting worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury to the frozen wasteland of Neptune's moon Triton, these worlds may not attract that much interest in the future (at least as far as we can tell right now).

Even though everyone probably hopes that humanity would put aside their differences and explore the final frontier in peace, six thousand years of recorded history seems to hold a dim view regarding this viewpoint (as one can glimpse the wars that have raged upon our planet).

Whether or not humanity decides to conquer every sphere and space rock within our solar system only time will tell.

But either way, these four worlds (plus one asteroid moon) may be the key that determines which space faring nation not only dominates our solar system, but perhaps guides us unto the next one as well.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is Obama Having Second Thoughts On NASA's Ares I Rocket?

After defeating John McCain in the bid for the White House, President Elect Barack Obama is determined to bring about the necessary change in government in order to keep the US economy from going off of a cliff.

While Obama is already asking for "meaningful cuts and sacrifices" in order to keep our economy afloat, it looks like his team may be hinting that future budget cuts could potentially affect NASA's Ares I rocket as well.

( U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's NASA transition team is asking U.S. space agency officials to quantify how much money could be saved by canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle next year. [...]

The questionnaire, "NASA Presidential Transition Team Requests for Information," asks agency officials to provide the latest information on Ares 1, Orion and the planned Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launcher, and to calculate the near-term close-out costs and longer-term savings associated with canceling those programs. The questionnaire also contemplates a scenario where Ares 1 would be canceled but development of the Ares 5 would continue.

While the questionnaire, a copy of which was obtained by Space News, also asks NASA to provide a cost estimate for accelerating the first operational flight of Ares 1 and Orion from the current target date of March 2015 to as soon as 2013, NASA was not asked to study the cost implications of canceling any of its other programs, including the significantly overbudget 2009 Mars Science Laboratory or the James Webb Space Telescope.

According to the article, Obama seems to be committed towards keeping COTS alive (which is great news for companies like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace).

While Ares I and Ares V do have have their fair share of critics, canceling either may end up hurting America's chances of beating China back to the Moon--unless a viable alternative can be found.

Note: If President Elect Obama decides to cancel the Ares rockets, NASA may want to consider teaming up with India and Japan, in order to make up for the short fall in funding (as well as support).

India: We Want A Man On The Moon

After successfully deploying a satellite around the Moon, it looks as if the worlds largest democracy is preparing to place one of its own citizens upon Earth's nearest neighbor.

(Moon Daily) "Sending man to moon is a very complicated mission. So, as a first step, we plan to develop an Indian spacecraft that will take astronauts across the earth and bring them back," ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair said delivering a lecture on 'India's Recent Space Achievements' here on Sunday. [...]

ISRO was also in the process of developing technologies for a manned moon mission and it would take more than six to seven years to develop those technologies, he said adding our effort is to achieve the milestone by the time the proposed next manned moon mission of USA and China materialise in 2020".
Even though India has yet to put a man into space (note: they are planning to send their first citizen around 2015), their belated entrance could help motivate Asia as a whole, especially if they team up with the Japanese.

Currently China is the leading space power in the region, as they have already conducted a space walk, with future plans on landing a lunar rover to explore the Moon's surface.

Only time will tell whether or not India realizes its dream among the stars--but if the nation of a billion people is successful, we may see future astronauts speaking an additional 20 plus languages (instead of just English and Chinese).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Turkey Surprise Plus Extra Helpings)

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday, as well as avoided the lines for Black Friday (note: do not forget to check out Cyber Monday while you are at it!).

Despite the busy holiday season, the 81st Carnival of Space was still able to be published thanks to Tracy Turner over at Tiny Mantras.

But since I forgot to mention the 80th Carnival of Space two weeks ago (which was hosted by Ethan Siegel over at Starts With A Bang), I will do a brief recap before diving into the latest space carnival.


Over on Starts With A Bang, there were a few interesting posts ranging from whether ancient Mars had oceans or not, birthday wishes to the International Space Station and past dreams of terraforming Mars (which data later on proved to be extremely difficult).

Interesting posts readers might enjoy include:

Be sure to visit the other posts over at Starts With A Bang! And now onto the 81st Carnival of Space!


Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted over at Tiny Mantras, which included some interesting articles ranging from micro-gravity coffee drinking, what could happen if you traveled at the speed of light, and a rebuke against NASA (for overspending).

Articles readers might enjoy include:

  • Paul Anderson of The Meridiani Journal reports on buried Martian glaciers near the equator (which might be useful to future colonists who prefer not to live near the poles due to lack of water).
  • Dr. Bruce Cordell (of 21st Century Waves) highlights the "Moon and/or Mars" debate, and supports a greater emphasis towards the red planet (note: I disagree--a follow up post will explain why).
  • Ian O'Neill (via AstroEngine) questions whether we are emphasizing too much time searching for extraterrestrial life instead of building settlements on other worlds (like Mars).

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the entries over at Tiny Mantras! If anyone desires to join the next round, be sure to visit Universe Today on details on how to enter.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Uranus: One Planetary System To Fuel Them All?

Orbiting almost 3 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Uranus is an ice giant that gathers little attention from the creatures that currently rule Earth.

Except for being used as the butt of astronomy jokes, the lopsided wonder gathers little press (if any at all), often being overlooked by both Saturn and Neptune.

Although the blueish-green giant may lack large lunar children like Titan and Triton (not to mention a set of dazzling rings), Uranus may be the key that enables humanity to not only conquer the outer limits of our own solar system, but perhaps enable us to reach the next one as well.

Even though Uranus contains a considerable amount of methane (located in the stratosphere), many scientists suspect that the cold ice giant may contain up to 16 trillion tons within its atmosphere, which may make it a prime target energy corporations (not to mention space faring nations of the future).

Often seen as the future of fusion power, Helium-3 could be the fuel that allows interstellar ships to trek through the dark void in between the star systems.

While scientists suspect an abundance of Helium-3 on the Moon, sifting through millions of tons of lunar regolith may not appeal to many people--especially as one would have to compete with other lunar businesses (like tourism) who may have other uses for the white "soil" beneath their feet.

Since claiming land (or atmosphere) on Uranus would be nearly impossible (unless one is able to set foot on the Uranian core), an orbiting space station would be free to collect the precious element, without the need to haggle neighbors with lawyers (or petition the government to take away property via eminent domain).

Despite its massive size when compared to Earth, Uranus's gravity is only 89% Earth norm (at least at the top of the atmosphere) which means that humans may be able to create floating space stations within the atmosphere of Uranus, without the fear of being crushed by its gravitational forces.

Although other gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn also have an abundance of helium-3, respectively, their deep gravity wells and strong winds would make mining the resource from the atmospheres incredibly dangerous (if not suicidal).

While Uranus's heftier brother, Neptune would also be a potential source for helium-3, its violent winds may also dissuade would be helium minors from sending robotic probes beneath its icy blue clouds.

Uranus's wind speeds on the other hand are a lot more tolerable, which may enable robotic probes (as well as future explorers) to travel beneath its clouds without the fear of being torn apart by Earth sized hurricanes.

Although it may be a century (or two) before we see humanity develop the technology (as well as the political will) to eventually reach this distant ice giant, it may not be surprising to see Uranus become the OPEC of the solar system, providing enough energy to not only keep lights on, but also to propel our species towards the next star system.

Japanese, Indian Space Alliance Is Making China Nervous?

Despite the fact that neither of these countries have launched a human into orbit, both Japan and India have successfully launched satellites around the Moon, respectively.

While China has also launched a lunar satellite (not to mention conducted a space walk), they seem to fear an alliance between the two rival nations, one that seems to benefit the US and put the Asian giant at a disadvantage.

(Asia Times) India and Japan's agreement in October to expand cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in the field of disaster management, has the raised the ire of a China fearful that the US is masterminding a powerful space alliance between its allies in the region.

All of Asia wants to see improved regional disaster management capabilities, but the growing ties between ISRO and JAXA come just as India and Japan are devising an action plan to advance security cooperation.

"China is concerned about the general effort of the US during the Bush Administration to form a Japanese-Indian alliance to contain China," said Dr Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

One may wonder why this alliance would make China nervous since they have already created a similar alliance with Russia, as well as offered to train astronauts from other countries.

Even though China probably fears a military alliance between India and Japan, they may also be worried that an alliance between the two Asian giants could knock China from its current status the space super power in the region.

Such an alliance could also convince other space faring democracies (such as the US and most of Europe) to work together, leaving Aristocracies like Russia and China to fend for themselves in the vacuum of space.

Whether or not the US will actively partner with Japan and India has yet to be seen, but either way it looks as if America may have found a way to counter the rising space power by reaching out to China's rivals.

Drinking Coffee In Micro Gravity (Minus The Bag)

(Hat Tip: Lunar News Network)

Perhaps one of the greatest pleasures in space is micro-gravity. While the lack of terrestrial pull can make your heart sing, the environment is not exactly great for your immune system, bones or muscles (and yes, that includes your heart as well).

While scientists may have devised ways to counter the effects of micro-gravity on the body via drugs and electrodes, no one seems to have thought about the creature comforts of drinking coffee without the aid of space bag--until now.

While the fact that one can enjoy a hot cup of coffee (or tea) without a straw will appeal to millions of Starbucks fans, this technology could easily be adapted for medical doctors who may need to hook up a patient with an IV bag.

Unless future space stations find a way to develop artificial gravity, future colonists may end up using these micro-gravity cups throughout our solar system.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (One Astronomers Noise)

Last week's Carnival of Space was hosted by Nicole over at One Astronomer's Noise.

Interesting posts ranged from "haunted noises" from Saturn to exo-solar planets (note: video included) to even reasons why Obama (and the space community) should delay "big space projects" for a season.

A few articles readers might enjoy include:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to read the rest of the articles from the Carnival of Space, and if you are considering on submitting a post for this weeks upcoming Carnival be sure to visit Universe Today for detaiils on how to enter.

Video: Off Road "Tweeling?" (For The Moon And Mars)

(Hat Tip: Potentia Tenebras Repellendi)

The one thing that may separate a thriving lunar outpost (or on any world) from a dying one is transportation. While scientists and engineers may be able to figure out how to create lunar roads using the Moon's soil, they will  need to reinvent the wheel (note: pun intended) when it comes to tires.

Fortunately it looks as if Michelin has already designed a tweel (which is a cross between a tire and a spoke wheel) for lunar rovers, which will enable rovers to travel the lunar terrain at fairly high speeds.

(Moon Today) Based on the award-winning MICHELIN TWEEL assembly, the MICHELIN Lunar Wheel maintains flexibility and constant ground contact pressure that enables moon rovers to traverse loose soil and lunar craters. The MICHELIN Lunar Wheel has a low mass yet maintains a high load capacity that is 3.3 times more efficient than the original Apollo Lunar Rover wheels.

The wheel structure, developed by Michelin, employs Michelin-patented composite materials. Its textile tread, developed in conjunction with Clemson University and Milliken and Company, enables moon rovers to maintain traction at very low temperatures.

"This new technology not only applies to lunar missions, but may also be directly leveraged into other mobility applications requiring light-weight and low rolling resistance," said Stafford. "It's an exciting advance for mobility in space and here on Earth."

Although Michelin's goal is to aid lunar rovers, this technology would also appeal towards future Martian rovers (and settlers) as it would reduce the need for extra spares (in case one of their tires is damaged beyond repair).

Unless future settlers of other airless worlds (such as Callisto, Ganymede and Triton) develop hovercrafts, Michelin's invention could easily become the standard space wheel for our solar system.

NASA: Oxygen Drilling Rovers, Please!

Even though the Moon may lack an abundance of water on (or even under) its surface, Earth's little sibling does have one element critical to our survival off world--oxygen.

Since most of this oxygen is locked away in lunar rock, NASA is planning on using moon rovers to not only drill into the moon rock, but to produce oxygen from its surface as well.

(NASA) NASA's lunar exploration plan currently projects that on-site lunar resources could generate one to two metric tons of oxygen annually. This is roughly the amount of oxygen that four to six people living at a lunar outpost might breathe in a year. The field demonstrations in Hawaii showed how lunar materials might be extracted. It also showcased the hydrogen reduction system used to manufacture oxygen from those materials and how the oxygen would be stored. These experiments help engineers and scientists spot complications that might not be obvious in laboratories.

A prototype system combines a polar prospecting rover and a drill specifically designed to penetrate the harsh lunar soil. The rover's system demonstrates small-scale oxygen production from regolith. A similar rover could search for water ice and volatile gases such as hydrogen, helium, and nitrogen, in the permanently shadowed craters of the moon's poles. Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh built the rover, which carries equipment known as the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction.
While developing rovers to convert oxygen from moon rock (even in small amounts) is great, NASA may want to rethink the whole drilling approach, as it may be cheaper to use a lunar vacuum (as replacing bits may become expensive after awhile).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Solar Shades For Mercury Outposts?

(Image: The James Webb Space Telescope's sunshield outstretched. Credit: NASA / Northrop Grumman)

Of all the worlds humanity world humanity has yet to conquer, Mercury will probably be one of the toughest to conquer.

With surface temperatures reaching as high as 427 degrees Celsius (or about 800 degrees Fahrenheit), the future of any Mercury outpost looks to be either underground and/or nocturnal (which would probably make this planet an attractive place for penal colonies).

Since living underground (or even inside an outpost) may not attract the masses towards the planet, scientists may need to "revamp" solar shades from space telescopes in order to allow residents to explore the world during the Mercurian day (which is about 29 Earth days long).

(ESA Space Science) Imagine sunglasses that can withstand the severe cold and heat of space, a barrage of radiation and high-speed impacts from small space debris. They don't exist, but the sunshield for the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST, has been designed for just that. [...]

Any satellite that flies in the depths of space has to be able to withstand the rigors of space, from the icy cold to the intense heat and radiation of a solar flare. Temperatures in space can range from a hot 400 K (127°C) to a frigid 30 K (-243°C). In addition, the telescope's sunshield will be bombarded with tiny meteorites (sand-like grains) and radiation in space, so it has to be tough. It has to stand up against those things, as well as tension and aging under the extreme space environments.
Hopefully scientists can find a way to adapt this technology for "space windows" and helmet visors, as it will will enable colonists to view and roam the surface of Mercury without being blinded by the suns rays.

Even though Mercury may not be as colorful or attractive as some of the other worlds in our star system, the first rock from the sun may could easily replace Mars as humanities "next step" (after the Moon) due to the amount of potential resources that may be located there.

Mars: Locating Ice Water In All The Right Places (Technology)

(Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Russian Federal Space Agency)
When it comes to water, Mars probably holds more than any other terrestrial body (at least as far as safely retrieving goes).

While the red planet does hold an abundance of water beneath its surface (not to mention the north and south poles), locating the ice rich regions may determine how successful a future outpost will be on the crimson world.

Fortunately it looks as if scientists may have found a way to locate areas wealthy in ice water simply by "bouncing" neutrons off of the Martian soil.

(Astrobiology Magazine) Detecting water underground does not require a magical stick. Neutrons reflecting out of the soil can indicate the presence of water or ice. A novel instrument that can detect those neutrons is planned for NASA's next rover mission to Mars. [...]

"It is like striking a billiard ball with the cue ball," Boynton said. "If you hit it directly on center, all of the energy of the cue ball (the neutron in this case) will be transferred to the billiard ball (the hydrogen atom)."

The net result is that a neutron is stopped or slowed when colliding with hydrogen. Presumably, most of the hydrogen atoms on a planet surface will be part of a water molecule.

"Water will both thermalize (slow down) and absorb neutrons, so the reflected neutron signal will be higher in thermal (low-energy) neutrons and lower in epithermal (high-energy) neutrons," Boynton explained.

Dry soil, by contrast, will reflect more high-energy neutrons. This is because it will contain predominantly heavier atoms, which act like bowling balls that barely budge when a cue ball hits them. Neutrons striking iron or silicon atoms, rather than hydrogen atoms, will ricochet with practically the same energy that they started with.
Even though we can use satellites to locate ice water from space, their results are not as accurate (as according to the article their signal can only penetrate one meter below the surface).

If promising regions can be located, NASA (and others) could then send robotic landers to drill through the surface, which will make it easier for future colonists to simply collect and filter the Martian water once they arrive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Simostronomy)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Mike Simonsen over at Simostronomy.

Posts ranged from mourning over Phoenix's demise to the upcoming Space boom (note: I am looking forward towards that!) to even how to prepare for a "zero-G" flight.

A few articles of interest that readers might want to check out are:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the articles from the Carnival of Space! If anyone has any questions or comments about joining the next round, be sure to visit Universe Today for more details on how to enter.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturn's Titan: Where Rovers Fail, Hot Air Balloons May Prevail

(Hat Tip: Centauri Dreams, Image Credit: NASA)

To say one could easily explore the surface of Titan without descending below the clouds would be as silly as trying to fathom Earth's oceanic depths without using machines to probe the deep.

If Titan is destined to be a future home for humanity, then we are going to have to find a way to accurately explore its surface.

Since exploring its surface via satellite may be useless due to the methane moon's "jelly insides," we may have to explore it via hot air balloon in order to map out this orange hazy moon.

(Titan and Saturn Future Exploration) We are now in the phase of describing our study of the past year for a return to Titan and the Saturnian System in extensive reports that will allow the science committees appointed by the agencies to evaluate the interest and feasibility of the mission. The JSDT, and the NASA, JPL and ESA engineers have been working hard on putting together these reports and on defining the science, as well as the measurement requirements related to our ambitious mission, which comprises a dedicated Titan orbiter, and two in situ elements : a hot-air (Montgolfière) balloon and a lander. The balloon is to fly over Titan’s mid latitudes at 10 km altitude for about 6 months, while a short-lived probe will land in a north-polar lake. The CNES French Agency has committed to supplying a large part of the balloon, and is actively studying the Montgolfière. For the lander, the flourishing heritage from Huygens is putting us in a strong, comfortable position.

Although some may suggest that we simply deploy another rover (as that will give us a ground view of things), and future machine with wheels my find itself getting stuck due to the chemical nature of Titan's sand grains.

A hot air balloon would probably be a better alternative, as it would not only give us a birds eye view of the region, but enable us to measure what Titan weather is like in the sky (as future colonists will probably construct "nitrogen planes" in order to transport goods across the surface).

Update: Corrected random link color error in blockquote.

Finally! Magnetic Shields For Space Ships (And Colonies Too)

(Hat Tip: Potentia Tenebras Repellendi, Image Credit: Edited by, Original art work by Winchell Chung)

People often say that space is the final frontier. While our future may lie among the stars that shine from above, humanity will forever will be pondering the distant celestial lights if our species can not find a way to deal with the deadly radiation that drifts throughout our star system.

Fortunately it looks as if scientists from the United Kingdom may be on the edge of creating artificial magnetic bubbles after announcing their plans of developing this technology last year.

(Telegraph) The idea of a "mini-magnetosphere" has been around since the 1960s but it was thought impractical because it was believed that only a very large - more than 100km wide - magnetic bubble could possibly work. This would involve enormous amounts of energy and massive machinery.

But the British team, which published its results in the journal Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, has come up with a system that would be about the size of a playground roundabout and use the same energy as a kettle.

They envisage two "mini-magnetospheres" being housed in two outrider satellites in front of the space craft that when a storm approaches would switch on the shield and deflect the deadly rays.
While this would tremendously benefit future astronauts traveling throughout our star system, it would also enable us to safely establish large outposts on the Moon, Mars and Ganymede (as Callisto, Titan, Earth and a few Saturan moons are the only radiation safe worlds within our star system).

It may also enable us to bring along all of our animal and insect friends (like bees), instead of having to rely upon creatures who may not need Earth's magnetic influence in order to carry out critical functions (one example being ants).

Note: Since creating these mini magnetic fields will probably require a lot of energy, we will probably  have to use a miniature nuclear reactor to provide enough power to keep the radiation out (and the life support on).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Plus Death Of A Space Dream?)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Tim Neale of Tomorrow Is Here which not only featured some interesting posts, but also killed this authors dream regarding a certain space technology (note: more of that below).

Articles readers should consider browsing include thoughts regarding the red planet's "semi-magnetic field," NASA partnering with Kentucky Space, interstellar beacons from E.T., and five items to pack on your way to Mars (note: check out reason number four).

The article that caused the most heart-ache was from the Space Cynics, who for an hour on The Space Show pretty much dissected the practicality of space solar power and (unfortunately) found it to be lacking economically.

(Space Cynics) Space Cynics Shubber Ali, Tom Olson (Tom's Rants), Dr. John Jurist (Old Space Cadet) and Dr. David Livingston (Professor L) engaged in a roundtable conference call Saturday morning, Oct. 25, 2008 to discuss space solar power. In keeping with true Space Cynics fashion, this was a hard-hitting discussion addressing some of the fundamental challenges facing SSP and why the Cynics do not share the joy of seeing a future SSP world as do those promoting it. As we started the discussion, Shubber outlined three basic areas that we addressed: technical challenges, economic and political (policy) challenges, and those challenges represented by substitute technology. All of us were in agreement that the technical challenges can be met over time and with sufficient funding and R&D. All the Cynics believe that substitute technologies here on Earth will typically give the economic and policy advantage to terrestrial power over SSP. Furthermore, the economic, political, and policy challenges ahead for SSP are formidable and likely to be much harder, complex, and costly to resolve than many of those promoting SSP believe will be the case.

Even though other countries like Japan might pursue creating space solar power satellites, other upcoming technologies (like geothermal power or even a Hyperion power nuclear reactor) may make space solar power irrelevant in the future (as far as the economics go).

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the entries over at the Carnival of Space. For those of you seeking to submit your articles to the next round, be sure to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Melting Asteroid Metals With Martian Sunlight

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo and Dark Roasted Blend)

Whether or not we head to the asteroid belt before Mars, one thing is clear--while we may have the means to land upon and (hopefully) sift the metal from "the rubble" (or useless rocky material), we probably will be unable to inexpensively melt the metals on site.

Even though lasers are always an option, future colonists may not be too thrilled with using extra power to melt down the space metals, as that would only add to the overall cost of shipping the material elsewhere.

While some may be content to pass the cost onto the customer, it may be cheaper (and wiser) to ship the metals to the red planet in order to have the metals melted down via Martian sunlight.

Since Martian sunlight operates at half the strength of Earth's, the solar furnace would probably have to be slightly altered to achieve the same strength as its bluer big brother.

Although some may suggest that the future asteroid mining industry could simply ship the metals to Earth, it may be wiser to divert the route towards Mars, as the red planet orbits about 100 million kilometers closer (at Aphelion) than Earth.

Martian colonists would also have the advantage of utilizing the crimson worlds two orbiting moons, allowing mining fleets to melt their metals upon either Phobos or Deimos without having to land on the Martian surface (which has a fairly steep gravity well).

Either way, Mars may play a critical role in our quest to colonize the solar system (which may make it a prime spot for future real estate).

NASA To Earth: Lets Keep Our Lunar Skies Clean

Aside from radiation, perhaps nothing is more dangerous in space than space junk. While our home world is protected by a thick atmosphere that tends to burn up small objects, Earth's little sister is left defenseless against the potential threat of space debris.

In order to prevent future colonists from having to live underground do to the threat of an incoming loose bolt, NASA instead will take steps ensure we do not "junk up" the lunar heavens for future generations.

( "NASA's new robotic lunar exploration program and the eventual return of astronauts to the moon dictated that we address potential debris in lunar orbit," explained Nicholas Johnson, Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris at the NASA Johnson Space Center. "The new NASA procedural requirements for orbital debris mitigation identifies the issue of the disposal of objects in lunar orbit and assigns responsibilities for ensuring that end-of-mission actions do not pose a threat to future lunar missions or to operations on the lunar surface."

This threat arises from the fact that any object dropping out of lunar orbit would impact the surface at a near horizontal 5,000 miles per hour. Very unhealthy for any astronaut in the line of fire and a potential danger to historic Apollo landing sites.

Keeping the Moons skies junk free will probably require an international effort, as most worlds in our solar system lack an atmosphere to provide a "buffer" against these tiny (yet potentially fatal) threats.

Astronauts already have to worry about incoming space rocks, and the last item they (and future space settlers) need to focus on is junk from previous missions endangering their lives.

NASA's New Rovers: The Future In Off World Safari's?

After previously teasing the space community with concepts of their future lunar rover, NASA has finally revealed a prototype to the public.

What sets this rover apart from its giant robotic cousins is the fact that this rover will enable future colonists to explore the lunar surface for weeks at a time.

(New Scientist Space) The new prototype has a pressurised cab and is fitted out with leather seats and bunks. It would allow a crew of two astronauts to take extended exploration trips for up to two weeks at a time, covering distances of up to 1000 km, Craig said. [...]

The crew would not wear spacesuits while in the vehicle, which is fitted with large windows offering extensive views of the terrain. But to step outside, they would slip into spacesuits mounted on the outside of the vehicle through special hatches in the rover, officials said.

"You are only in a spacesuit when you need to be on the surface picking up rocks," said astronaut Mike Gernhardt, a veteran of four space shuttle missions and a pioneering spacewalk, as he took reporters for a spin in the rover.
While it would be wise for NASA to consider taking along a few new spacesuits, these mobile rovers may become the standard for off world traveling as it would enable future settlements to send scouting parties in order to locate valuable resources.

It would also reduce the risk of astronauts inhaling moon dust, allowing them to remain in their "cozy" lunar trailer.

Even thought NASA has a long ways to go before they begin establishing the first lunar base on the Moon, its good to see the agency develop innovative ways at roaming the lunar surface (instead of repeating what they did during the glory days of Apollo).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Video: Next Decade Could See SpaceX On The Moon

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News)

After successfully launching their Falcon 1 rocket, SpaceX is aiming at not only sending cargo and crew to the International Space Station, but also potentially landing people on the Moon by the next decade.

Click on the image below to watch.

Note: Did any of you catch the reference to Mars? :-)

Water, Water Everywhere (But None On Luna To Drink)

After previously hoping to find ice water within the shadowy craters of Luna, it looks as if the Moon harbor less water than most terrestrial deserts.

(New Scientist Space) The Shackleton Crater on the south pole had been a prominent candidate for a future base station, since it contains a ledge on its rim that would have been an ideal landing spot. [...]

A team led by Junichi Haruyama of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in Kanagawa analysed images of the crater taken on these brighter days. The images were snapped by the spacecraft's Terrain Camera, which can resolve objects as small as 10 metres across. [...]

But according to Pieters, the most striking feature was what was missing. "If there had been nice, clean ice, we'd have seen brighter reflections from its surface – but none were visible," she told New Scientist. Instead, the images just revealed dull lunar soil.

Despite this setback, the Moon is still a valuable asset to the Earth/Space economy, as its helium-3 could help power our world (for thousands of years to come), while extracting oxygen from lunar rock may provide explorers with enough air and fuel to conquer the asteroid belt.

While Plaskett crater may hold more hope for us in the future, we should seriously consider the idea of exporting water (en mass) to future lunar colonies, or even importing it from water rich dwarf worlds such as Ceres.

Planning For Martian Success: Its The Crew Structure Stupid!

The biggest factor determining the success of a future Mars mission may not reside in how well we deal with radiation, gravity or even energy.

Since the first Martian crews will probably be unable to bring either their families, pets or farm animals along, the key to success may reside in the crew structure itself.

(Astrobiology Magazine) Despite the legacy of the Russian experiment, the Mars Society, a non-profit educational and scientific organization headed by Robert Zubrin, conducted its own test to see how people behave during a simulated space mission. From April to August 2007, a science crew of seven camped out at the "Flashline" Mars Arctic Research Station (F-MARS) on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic.

The total time spent in Mars simulation was 101 days. All went extremely well, according to Kim Binsted, Melissa Battler, and Kathryn Bywaters, three of the participants. In addition to living in close confinement, they conducted research in the field, donning space suits for each expedition outdoors, just as a real Mars crew would.

Battler, now a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario, was the group commander. She says the team – which was composed of four men and three women -- consulted with each other in a cooperative style, rather than following a strict military-style hierarchy of command.

This cooperative approach may be a wiser alternative than the command style, as team members may feel that they each have equal input into the success of the mission, instead of feeling like an worker drone, whose only purpose is to carry out the commands of the leadership.

Note: Either way, it may be wise to consider bringing Fido along, in order to help keep the future Martians from getting home sick.

Belated: Solar Rods For Mars?

(Hat Tip: Engadget and Make)

(Image Credit: Solyndra)

Whether or not you believe the future of humanity lies upon the red planet one thing is clear--traditional solar panels are not a practical option for energy.

Since Mars receives approximately half of the solar energy that Earth does, future outposts will probably require a lot more panels than a regular outpost on the Moon. Worse, Martian winds could easily rip solar panels off of future outposts, a common problem on Earth.

Instead of relying upon expensive, silicon solar panels that may become easily damaged, future colonists may opt for something a little bit rounder (and less expensive).

(Solyndra) Solyndra's panels employ cylindrical modules which capture sunlight across a 360-degree photovoltaic surface capable of converting direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight into electricity. Solyndra's panels perform optimally when mounted horizontally and packed closely together, thereby covering significantly more of the typically available roof area and producing more electricity per rooftop on an annual basis than a conventional panel installation. The result is significantly more solar electricity per rooftop per year.

The Solyndra system is lightweight and the panels allow wind to blow through them. These factors enable the installation of PV on a broader range of rooftops without anchoring or ballast, which are inherently problematic. The horizontal mounting and unique "air-flow" properties of Solyndra's solar panel design substantially simplify the installation process for Solyndra's PV systems. The ease of installation and simpler mounting hardware of the Solyndra system enables its customers to realize significant savings on installation costs.

While larger colonies will probably eventually rely upon solar thermal plants for energy (as the output is probably greater), smaller outposts may choose to rely upon these less expensive solar rods instead (as it will help drop the price tag of sending the first man and woman to the red planet).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Big Tent Edition)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Chuck over at Lounge of the Lab Lemming which featured posts ranging from Kentucky fried rockets to black holes living within moons to even musing about Ceres's little brother, Pallas.

One article that really caught my eye was a post by Ray Villard of Cosmic Ray with an interesting way to explore the surfaces of both Mars and Saturn's moon Titan.

(Cosmic Ray) The dragonfly-on-steroids is called ExoFly, a nimble flapping aerobot being prototyped at the Technical University Delft, Wageningen University in the Netherlands. [...]

In the past few years engineers have gotten a better understanding of the complexities of insect flight and have been able to mechanically duplicate them. Having a small flexible machine capable of flying, hovering, landing and taking off like an insect would open up a new exploration niches that it not easily reachable by rovers or airborne vehicles on far flung worlds.

These small flying robots are ideal for Mars, as well as for Titan exploration. Their tiny onboard cameras would give a unique view of geological terrain that is quantitative different from a rover's view or high-resolution orbital reconnaissance.

The prototype ExoFly weighs less than an ounce, has a wingspan of only a foot, and can fly for 12 minutes on batteries.
These mechanical creatures would be an added bonus for future colonists as well, as they could scan the tops of cliffs (on either Mars or Titan) to help determine whether its safe to stand upon (or even locate nearby resources).

While these engineers will probably have to adapt their robotic dragonflies to handle both Martian and Titan weather (as they are very different from each other).

Be sure to check out the rest of the entries from the Carnival, and if you desire to submit your post to the next Carnival of Space, feel free to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter.

Note: I should be able to resume posting by tomorrow, although I did enjoy reading many of the blogs from my iPhone. :-)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jim Benson, Rest In Peace

I was saddened to hear about Jim Benson's passing away recently, who founded SpaceDev (and later on Benson Space which dissolved due to his health situation).

While Jim Benson will be missed by all (mostly his close friends and family), I think its best to remember the man for who he was--a passionate advocate for expanding our species to other worlds.

Click the image below to watch (hat tip: Space Transport News).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Kentucky In Orbit)

This weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Wayne Hall of the Kentucky Space blog (a site that promotes Kentucky Space, which is a non-profit that helps Universities, businesses and public organizations pool their talent to help launch stuff beyond the sky).

Interesting articles ranged from lunar lessons to laser solar sails to reasons why humanity is on the brink of a golden age (at least as far as space geeks are concerned).

The best post of this carnival however belongs to Brian Wang of Next Big Future who posted about Hyperion nuclear reactors:

(Next Big Future) The Hyperion Power Generation uranium hydride reactor will weigh fifteen to 20 tons, depending on whether you're measuring just the reactor itself or the cask—the container that we ship it in—as well. It was specifically designed to fit on the back of a flatbed truck because most of our customers are not going to have rail. It's about a meter-and-a-half across and about 2 meters tall. It will generate 27-30 Megawatts of electrical power from 70 MW of thermal power. This means 0.5 to 0.75 tons per MWe for the nuclear reactor.

While this small size would benefit many third world countries (especially in Africa), it would also make it a lot easier to establish off world colonies on Mars and beyond (as solar power becomes useless the further out one heads into space).

This technology is being developed by the Hyperion Power Generation company, who is hoping to have this technology ready in 2013 (a little over four years from now as 2008 is coming to a close).

Be sure to visit the rest of the sites mentioned over at the Carnival of Space, and if you would like to see your article mentioned in this weeks carnival, be sure to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter.

Update (10/22): Adjusted text color in blockquote.