Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Filtering Space Water (On The Cheap)

(Hat Tip: IsraGood, Image Credit: Europa.eu)

Whenever we hear about water being cited on Mars or any other planet-moon body, one often imagines future colonists drinking clear crystal fresh water as if it came straight from the tap.

Unfortunately the chances are that water mined from any foreign world will probably be contaminated with dust particles, making it fairly unhealthy to drink. Filtering this space water will become top priority if we are build cities upon other worlds, let alone conduct research on them.

Fortunately it looks as if one companies invention on Earth could enable us to drink water inexpensively off world.

(Israel 21st Century) "Desalination is cheaper than melting ice," said Mino Negrin, managing director and founder of Nirosoft, which simulated the environment at the Davis Station in its R&D labs.

The company's self-contained desalination unit provides up to 100,000 liters a day of purified, desalinated water. Its Lego-like portability makes it easy to ship by air. "We can produce drinking water from almost any source - sea water, rivers and lakes, brackish groundwater, estuaries and lagoons," said Negrin, who hopes to visit the Antarctic Station sometime this year. [...]

Two of the main advantages of the system are that use of chemicals is minimal, and operating costs are low. No wonder Negrin was sought out by Chinese television. China, with a thirsty population of over 1.3 billion, is facing a water crisis. The rollicking economy is a mixed blessing. Water pollution is rampant. Demand keeps rising as cities, agriculture, and industry compete for diminishing supplies. "We are already selling our products in China," said Negrin, who sees a big market for Nirosoft in China. "Our products are needed to help solve China's severe water problems."

While any ice found would obviously have to be melted, this filtration system could help keep costs down for future solar residents.

If Nirosoft's technology can help provide clean drinking water to a nation of over a billion people, how much more could it benefit a future space colony populating in the hundreds?

SpaceX Engine Firings Give New Hope

(Hat Tip: Commercial Space Watch, Video Below)

While most NewSpace companies either dreaming of reaching the stars (or seeking government backing before they can visit the stars), SpaceX is slowly, but surely laying down the foundation for when they will send rockets past Earthen skies.

Even though they still have quite a distance to go before they launch humans into space, SpaceX's test multiple engine firings are giving hope that the commercial sector can pick up where the public left off.

(SpaceX Press Release) The engines operated at full power, generating over 180,000 pounds of force, equivalent to a Boeing 777 at full power, and consuming 700 lbs per second of fuel and liquid oxygen during the run.

"This is a major hardware milestone for our company," said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. "It marks the first time that we have simultaneously fired two engines on the same stage. No significant problems were encountered transitioning from single engine testing in November, which suggests that we will be able to ramp up rapidly to a full complement of nine Merlin engines. Our propulsion and test team has done a remarkable job." [...]

SpaceX has designed its Merlin engine for rapid mounting and change-out. A new engine can be installed in a period of hours, a feature that will provide significant operational efficiency and responsiveness on the launch pad.

With the recent successful firings of their Merlin engines, SpaceX is not only on track to fulfill their launch schedule, but they may also help fill in for NASA after the agency retires its shuttle fleet.

SpaceX hopes to eventually bring down the prices of launching rockets into space, which may help make the industry competitive on an international scale. If successful, Elon Musk's space "rebel" company may help spur innovation once again, which could ultimately lead towards cheap reliable access to space (aka CRATS).

Exit Question: If SpaceX continues to build upon its previous success, will its future stock make it worth more than Google?

South Korea To Partner With NASA?

Often ignored by its larger "Asian brothers," South Korea has been taking small, yet steady strides towards the stars.

After cooperating with Russia and constructing its own space base, South Korea is broadening its horizons by signing a promising deal with NASA.

(SpaceRef) NASA's Ames Research Center and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, (KAIST) South Korea's premier research and education institution, signed a memorandum for the record on Jan. 26, 2008, an important milestone in a new relationship under development. [...]

"We are exploring a new partnership with South Korea in future satellite research and development," said Worden. "We are looking forward to working with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology to advance future space exploration," Worden added.

"I am delighted with this outcome. This potential collaboration is a historic event for KAIST as well as for NASA Ames," said Suh.

Even though the deal mostly involves satellite launches, it has the potential of opening the door for South Korea later on when NASA heads towards the Moon.

While the "tiger nation" lacks the size to compete against its Asian rivals, perhaps they can secure their slice of the final frontier--ensuring that their government can play a critical role in humanities quest for the stars.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (38)

Last weeks Carnival Of Space was hosted by Sam Wise of Sorting Out Science.

While I encourage everyone to read all of the entries (as Sam presented them in an interesting story like format), a few posts that did catch my eye were:

This weeks Carnival of Space is coming up quickly, and readers interested in joining our little "space gang" can email Fraser at info [at] universetoday [dot] com for more details, or they can visit this site to see the space carnivals of the past.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Lucky 37)

Welcome readers (both new and old) to the 37th Carnival of Space!

Here you will find a collection of ideas, space highlights and random thoughts ranging from the average (but passionate) citizen to space scientists seeking to break down our complex universe into layman's terms.

Starting from the center of our star system is Phil Plait (of Bad Astronomy) who enlightens us regarding those seasonal sun cycles, not to mention a way for the visual impaired to enjoy seeing the universe in a new light.

Moving outward it seems that Mercury has regained its lost romance with humanity, with a probe finally being sent by NASA.

Stuart Atkinson captures the passion on Cumbrian Sky while Bruce (aka Flying Singer) helps logic lovers understand how these probes can "bounce between the planets" with some cool computer software.

Meanwhile I entertain the gruesome thought of turning Mercury into a prison planet.

Skipping over Venus we head towards our home world where we find our species still stuck on Earth. Like a kid window shopping at the mall we are able to see the universe but are unable to touch it.

Brian Wang of Next Big Future (formally Advanced Nanotechnology) discusses how Boeing's space gas station may help change all of that.

Until then, our current love affair with space shuttles will have to suffice for the time being. Speaking of space shuttles, Atlantis's belated launch is scheduled for liftoff in February, with Nancy Houser of A Mars Odyssey covering the story.

For those of you who are in the mood to taste some interstellar space, Paul Gilster over at Centauri Dreams does not disappoint, highlighting what it might take to build and launch an interstellar probe.

But try not to travel too far off course, as Louise Riofrio (aka A Babe in the Universe) reminds everyone that wandering black holes may roam our not so tiny galaxy.

Speaking of galaxies, have you ever heard of the Galaxy Zoo? Did you ever wonder who the mysterious keepers behind the celestial catalog were? So did I, and it seems that Pamela Gay of Star Stryder was fortunate enough to interview two of them, to the delight of true believers everywhere.

Last but not least Robert Nemiroff reminds everyone why some of us are fascinated by the stars with a glowing image of a dust nebula declaring its presence to the universe, and to all who wish to partake of its glory.


Thanks for visiting this weeks edition of Carnival of Space, hosted by Darnell Clayton of Colony Worlds.

If you are interested in receiving more stories like the ones mentioned above, I would highly encourage you to subscribe to the authors websites, many of which are my daily highlights throughout the week.

Here is a recap of the participating sites, along with their site feeds (for those of you who wish to subscribe to them via RSS).

While this weeks round ends, the 38th Carnival of Space will begin shortly. Instead of being a lonely spectator, why not shine some light on your space based article?

If you desire to have your articles read by a multitude of space lovers from various walks of life, then you can take a trek towards Universe Today where Fraser Cain has the necessary info.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Welcome To Mercury (The Prison Planet)

So you want to see the future?
To see the glory of tomorrow
And experience adventure
As well as escape today's sorrow

But every great society
Has to remove the base and vile
From the rest of humanity
Sadly casting them into exile

~Darnell Clayton, © 2008

With NASA's Messenger probe seeking to map out the entire planet of Mercury, one may ponder whether or not our species may settle upon that sun baked world.

Mercury's high density may hint towards an abundance of metallic resources beneath its surface. If so, the cratered crust may rival that of our asteroid belt as far as wealth is concerned.

While Mercury may hold the promise of a future colony world, the cratered globe will probably not attract large bodies of people, who may consider it too dangerous to live due its close orbit around the sun (hint: think radiation).

Instead of future solar governments "bribing" their citizens to declare the first rock from the sun home, why not populate Mercury with prison colonies?

While the common citizen may consider working (let alone living) upon Mercury too hazardous for health, future solar governments could mine the surface using prisoners convicted of serious crimes.

Since the "Merurian days" may be too hot to handle, underground Penal colonies would have to be established in order to protect the inmates (as well as guards) from the wrath of the Sun. These underground prisons may not only make it safer for these prisons to operate, but also help contain these inmates as any escape may result in the "mother of all sun burns."

(Image: Sunrise on Mercury. Credit: JPL, California Institute of Technology)

During the "Mercurian nights," prisoners could seek out metallic rich rocks upon the surface, and gather them for later processing in "the day time" below. Metals harvested from "yesterday's labor" could be left upon the surface for pickup during the Mercurian day.

Governments could later use the harvested resources to benefit their respective economies, perhaps even splitting the profits with families seriously hurt by the convicted criminals who inflicted them pain.

While turning Mercury into a prison planet may ultimately result in its final transformation as a self governing world, colonizing Mercury may help ensure that human race thrives upon every habitable world, from the fiery inner system to the frigid outer limits.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Turning Martian Air Into Fuel?

(Hat Tip: Mars News)

(Image Credit: NASA)

If humanity is every going to subdue the red planet, then they will need an inexpensive way to transport goods and personal across its crimson deserts.

Instead of looking towards the distant sun to energize our future Martian rovers, why not pull fuel from the "abundant" Martian air?

(Renewable Energy Access) Using concentrated solar energy to reverse combustion, a research team from Sandia National Laboratories is building a prototype device intended to chemically "reenergize" carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide using concentrated solar power. The carbon monoxide could then be used to make hydrogen or serve as a building block to synthesize a liquid combustible fuel, such as methanol or even gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The prototype device, called the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5, for short), will break a carbon-oxygen bond in the carbon dioxide to form carbon monoxide and oxygen in two distinct steps. It is a major piece of an approach to converting carbon dioxide into fuel from sunlight.

Even though the inventors probably designed this technology to help the world to become energy independent, it may have a more practical use on the crimson world millions of kilometers away.

While future colonists may be able to power their space ports using innovative solar technology, it may be in their best interest to make their vehicles "solar independent," thereby giving them more freedom to explore the red planet.

Barack Obama Becoming Space Friendly?

(Hat Tip: The Write Stuff)

After previously supporting a drastic cut to NASA in order to provide more funds to education, it looks as if Senator Obama is now warming up to the needs of NASA.

(SpaceRef) Develop the Next-Generation of Space Vehicles: The retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010 will leave the United States without manned spaceflight capability until the introduction of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) carried by the Ares I Launch Vehicle. As president, Obama will support the development of this vital new platform to ensure that the United States' reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period. The CEV will be the backbone of future missions, and is being designed with technology that is already proven and available.

While this is good news on the space front, his campaign seems to be more or less leaning towards robotic missions, rather than pondering if the US can once again visit the moon (and beyond).

Other candidates have expressed their opinions regarding space exploration, with Senator John McCain looking favorably upon sending humans towards Mars.

Even though the United States can depend upon the private sector (to a degree), it will take the cooperation of government and NewSpace if America intends upon beating China back to the Moon.

India To Enter Space Tourism Market

With the space race heating up, several countries are exploring unorthodox ways of keeping their space programs afloat in order to finance their trip to the stars.

While other nations depend upon the "generous" donations of tax paying citizens, India is looking towards space tourism to help keep its solar dreams alive.

(Hindustan Times) The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) seems to be in an expansive mood, the way it proposes to take potential space tourists on short duration sojourns in low earth orbit. The Isro Chairman, G. Madhavan Nair, thought aloud on this the other day and reportedly told the media that “well-heeled tourists” — read immensely rich wannabe astronauts — could go for week-long spins on board an Isro spacecraft in eight years’ time. The idea apparently is to use the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to loft a couple of space tourists into a 400-km orbit around Earth.

By India opening up its facilities towards the private sector the government will be able to experiment with human space flight without the need to heavily tap into its public funds.

This move may also speed up India's goal of sending its own citizens into space, and (with a little luck) upon the moon as well.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (36th Editon)

This weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Steinn Sigurosson over at Dynamics of Cats which held an interesting round of posts varying from space weather to revisiting Mercury.

Some interesting posts included:

  • Pradeep's post indicates that India is becoming increasingly busy in the space arena.

  • Jon Goff has a lengthly (but awesome) post regarding an air launched Single Stage To Orbit. Is it possible? The world may never know should consider this option.

  • The Space Cynics are attempting to counter the Space Exploration Alliance to everyone's disappointment (they are lobbying for cheap, reliable access to space)

  • Paul Glister has an interesting article regarding Europa's oceans being oxidised, not to mention the ice mountains of Titan.

Those interested in submitting their blog posts (or articles to the carnival of space can visit this page over at Universe Today for the details.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

John McCain: Go To Mars...Yeah

(Hat Tip: Space Pragmatism)

It looks as if presidential contender John McCain is not only serious about winning the white house (which looks a little closer after he won New Hampshire) but also perhaps Mars as well.

(Hobby Space) Today John McCain was at Dartmouth College on a final rally before the primaries in the Granite state There I had the opportunity to ask him this question: "Senator, what is your vision for America's space program?" [...]

He replied "Sure" then paused, "whats my vision?" he asked as though trying to clarify my question "...go to Mars. Yeah..."

Other presidential candidates from both sides have also given "their blessing" towards space exploration, even if they are at odds with President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (or VSE).

With the presidential primaries heating up, the space community must identify (and support) candidates who desire to spread our civilization beyond our home world, as space has the potential of solving our current energy woes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Space Tourim To Promote Space Medicine

One of the great benefits about space tourism is the industry will help reawaken the dream of humans traveling beyond the stars.

While the passengers themselves may not be charting out new worlds, their participation may help us navigate the medical arena of space travel.

(AMNews) "We're bringing civilian space travel into a different medical paradigm," said Jan Stepanek, MD, MPH, director of the aerospace medicine program at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and a physician within Mayo's executive health program. "Are these people going to have problems with coronary artery disease or pulmonary disease that could put them at risk? Something that could lead to an in-flight medical emergency that could compromise the safety of passengers or the safety of the flight?" [...]

This is why Mayo Clinic in Arizona has joined aerospace experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Wyle Laboratories in Houston to form a medical space tourism program. The trio is offering commercial space flight companies their services to screen and prepare civilians for trips into orbital and suborbital space.

Even though humanity still has a long way before figuring out how we are going to live upon other worlds, this research should enable doctors to diagnose and (hopefully) prepare patients for the ride of their life time.

In time, doctors may be able to determine a standard to see who is fit to travel beyond the stars, enabling the masses to safely consider a future lunar side (or even upon Mars).

Friday, January 04, 2008

NASA To Locate Most Earth Killing Asteroids

While colonizing the heavens above us is important to our species, defending our home world ranks even higher on the scale.

Fortunately NASA (along with China) will be scanning the sky above looking for asteroids that can pose serious threats to our Earthen cradle.

(Computer World) By the end of this year, NASA hopes to find about 90% of the largest asteroids that could potentially strike Earth, a blast that could throw dust into the atmosphere and cause firestorms and acid rain. These asteroids can be as large as mountains but are at least 1 kilometer (3,280.8 feet) in diameter. NASA estimates that 900 of these objects are in potentially hazardous range of Earth.

Defending our planet from space rocks will probably become a priority long after we expand our presence throughout the solar system.

Even if our species were able to send millions of individuals to colonize Mars, Ganymede, Callisto and Saturn's Titan, losing Earth would be devastating for our species, as there is no known world like it.

Hopefully lessons learned defending our planet on Earth can be duplicated elsewhere, as an asteroid impact can be one of the few objects that can turn a solar city into a mass graveyard.

Virtual Worlds To Keep Martian Astronauts Sane?

(Image Credit: NASA)

While NASA has dedicated hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists and engineers to ensure that the future humans traveling to Mars make it back to Earth in one piece, they have paid a lot less attention to the fact of them getting homesick.

In order to help lift their spirits (and perhaps counter cabin fever) NASA is considering building a "Second Life" virtual world that would enable them to communicate with friends and family.

(Wired.com) While aerospace engineers are designing the Ares rockets to be deployed in the Mars missions, a more starry-eyed contingent at NASA is testing networking and virtual reality technologies that they think will connect the first wave of Mars pioneers with their families, friends and colleagues back on Earth, in a 3-D virtual world cut from the mold of Second Life or World of Warcraft.

"We want to help our remote explorers 'phone home' in a way that lets them sit around a dinner table with their family, help their children with homework and analyze the latest findings with their Earth-bound peers," says Jeanne Holm, chief knowledge architect at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The initiative is the latest in the space agency's enthusiastic push into virtual worlds. In May, NASA set up its own island in Second Life to enable online collaboration on technology projects, and the agency is working to create 3-D simulations of the orange-red deserts of Mars, so astronauts can experience the Red Planet before going there.

Even though constructing this virtual world make sense for lunar astronauts, creating it for Martian explorers may be a bit over the top. Mars is approximately 20light minuets away from Earth, making such "virtual interaction" useless, at least in real time.

NASA would probably be better off designing a system allowing astronauts to post video messages to their family (and vice versa) than designing a virtual world for them to play in.

Note: If NASA however decided it needed to send video games in order to help the astronauts pass boredom, they might want to consider contacting this company.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (35th Edition)

The 35th Carnival of Space is up over at Bruce's Flying Singer, with entries spread out over two separate posts.

Some interesting discussions include:

Those were some of the interesting articles that caught my eye during this round of the Carnival of Space.

If anyone is interested in joining our growing "space gang," you can contact Fraser from Universe Today over at CarnivalOfSpace [at] Gmail [dot] com, or by visiting this site for the necessary info.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Russia Backing Out Of Space Tourism?

Despite pioneering the "newspace" movement (with the help of Space Adventures), it looks as if the nation responsible for getting us into space has decided to push space tourism to the wayside--at least for now.

(Physorg.com) "It has to do with international agreements that stipulate that from 2009 the (ISS) crew must be made up of six people if Japanese and European scientific modules are launched," said Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov.

"In this case there will be no room for space tourists," Perminov told a news conference, adding that space tourism making use of Russian vessels and the ISS would therefore be "rather problematic".

"I'm afraid that from 2009, tourism as we see it today may be discontinued," he said.

With the space shuttle scheduled to retire early, many nations are looking towards Russia to transport their astronauts to and from the International Space Station (or ISS), hence the reason for placing space tourism on the back burner.

While this may be a setback for Space Adventures (which currently is the only company ferrying passengers), hopefully Bigelow Aerospace can provide them with more options in the future (not to mention Galactic Suite).