Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New NASA Web Feature To Make Its Case For Space

(Image: New NASA web feature highlights influence of space in the average home, city. Credit: NASA)

After previously redesigning their website, NASA it seems has gone a step further by making an interactive feature to help the public understand why the space program has significance (outside of cellphones and the weather channel).

(Space Travel) The U.S. space agency has added an interactive program to its Web site, allowing users to discover some of the space technologies that now impact daily life. [...]

[NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale] said the interactive site takes users on an illustrated tour of the commercial technologies and products in their homes and cities that trace their origins to NASA's space and aeronautics research and development..

NASA has documented more than 1,500 examples of how its technologies have been used for bettering life on Earth.

This web feature should help NASA make its case for space against "nay sayers," who may have the perception that America is wasting billions of dollars investing in our public space program.

While NASA has placed a link towards the site on their home page (which can be viewed directly over here) hopefully the NASA team would consider creating a separate domain in order to make it easier for the public (and Google) to find it.

Radiation Storm Forecasts Via SOHO

Video: SOHO's Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) caught this image of a coronal mass ejection. The green static represents the particles that the solar storm projects into space. Credit: NASA.

Despite the fact that the majority of the planets, moons and dwarf planets (sorry Pluto) lack a significant atmosphere, future colonists may still tune in to the latest forecast regarding upcoming storms.

But instead of storms involving weather, it will be radiation storms that they will be worrying about, a concern that the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) may help us predict.

(NASA) Explosive events on the sun can blast particles to high speeds, causing intense radiation storms that can disable spacecraft and cause radiation sickness or cancer in unprotected astronauts. Advance warning of radiation storms could give astronauts time to take cover and allow satellite operators to take protective measures.

Scientists are now testing a new method that could do just that. The method uses data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) to predict, in real-time, the approach and intensity of hazardous solar particles that would threaten astronauts and technology in space. [...]

The new forecasting method calculates the appearance and intensity of solar ion events by measuring these relativistic (near light-speed) electrons. Extreme solar events create the relativistic electrons, which have characteristics that can be exploited to predict the time and intensity of later arriving ions, predominantly protons with energies more harmful to humans.

Predicting when these solar storms could easily determine the difference between a live astronaut and a dead one, which may make future solar weathermen one of the most important jobs in the solar system.

In order to thrive off world, future colonists may have to be content constructing lunar bases within magnetic safe havens until scientists can create artificial ones on their own.

Update: Corrected video description above. Also corrected title link above.

NASA: Can Our Immune System Handle Micro Gravity?

Even though humans have spent at least a half century orbiting the heavens above, our species still has yet to find a way to adequately survive living "without gravity."

Unfortunately for us, micro gravity is not only unfriendly towards our bones, muscles and heart, but can wreck havoc on our immune system.

In an attempt to address this issue, NASA is conducting a study in order to help find a way to thwart this semi-major problem.

(Space Daily) International Space Station crew members are collecting blood, saliva and urine samples to study their immune function in microgravity.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said while previous research conducted after landing showed dramatic changes in crew members' immune systems, the on-going first-of-its-kind study is the only one to comprehensively monitor the human immune system before, during and after spaceflight.

This study is critical if humanity is ever going to live off world, especially since micro gravity gives harmful bacteria a dangerous advantage over our immune system.

Hopefully either NASA (or even the private sector) can find the solution to this problem, lest we have to build orbital space stations (which can be quite expensive) in order to dwell among the stars off world.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Using Lunar Rock For Future Moon Bases

(Image Credit: NASA)

With NASA preparing to send humans once more to the Moon, many people have been envisioning humans creating lunar space bases out of metals either mined from our Earthen cradle or from the asteroids far away.

While building with such materials may add to the beauty of a lunar home, it would also add to the cost, raising the price tag of us settling lunar side. In order to help keep costs down (and the vision from being potentially killed) it may be better for humanity to choose lunar rocks and dirt instead.

(Universe Today) As it turns out, lunar regolith has many useful properties for construction on the Moon. To complement lunar concrete (as introduced earlier in Part 2), basic building structures may be formed from cast regolith. Cast regolith would be very similar to terrestrial cast basalt. Created by melting regolith in a mold and allowing it to cool slowly would allow a crystalline structure to form, resulting in highly compressive and moderately tensile building components. The high vacuum on the Moon would greatly improve the manufacturing process of the material. We also have experience here on Earth in how to create cast basalt, so this isn't a new and untested method. Basic habitat shapes could be manufactured with little preparation of the raw materials. Elements like beams, columns, slabs, shells, arch segments, blocks and cylinders could be fabricated, each element having ten times the compressive and tensile strength of concrete.

Using lunar rock as a main building block for lunar bases may not only reduce the overall cost of us setting foot abroad, but also help protect ourselves from cosmic radiation (as it would be much easier and cheaper than powering artificial magnetic fields).

While these thick lunar walls may be able to resist being penetrated by tiny incoming space rocks from above, it may be wise for NASA to consider "insulating" the walls with inflatable material as an extra precaution.

Will Interorbital Dominate The Space Tourism Industry?

(Hat Tip: Spaceports, Image Credit: Interorbital)

So far the biggest contender in the upcoming space tourism industry is probably Virgin Galactic, whose early entrance (plus safety features) may give it a "Google" edge over its rivals.

However a new entrant to the field is promising to make its rides more attractive by not only offering up to a weeks worth of weightlessness (for $2.5 million) but by also down playing the major players in the upcoming space arena.

(Interorbital) Several companies are currently offering seats on manned suborbital joyrides. Some rocketplane developers are advertising two-hour suborbital trips into space. Beware! An actual suborbital rocketplane ride to the edge of space and back lasts only 15 minutes. Most of the two-hour suborbital trip will be spent cramped inside the rocketplane's cockpit being hauled up to launch altitude. And then, after the completion of the 15-minute suborbital roller coaster ride, the passengers will have experienced only a few minutes of zero-G (while strapped in their seats) and spent only a few minutes in space. An orbital spaceflight is a completely different experience.

Orbital missions take place at altitudes of 100 plus miles (161 plus kilometers) above the Earth. In a spaceship traveling at 17,500 miles-per-hour (28,226 kilometers-per-hour) in Earth Orbit, passengers experience uninterrupted zero-G, and gaze at nonstop panoramas of the Earth and of limitless space. They can marvel at an unending series of sunsets and sunrises; see the wakes of large ships on the world's oceans; track weather systems from a wildly new perspective; talk to friends and family from orbit and share the wonder. An orbital expedition is the only way to experience real space flight.

Note: Original paragraph broken in two by editor for easier reading.

Interorbital plans on launching their first rocket joyride in 2009, and is even offering discounted "rebate" tickets at $250,000 for the first ten clients. If they are successful in their adventure, Interorbital may help redefine the space industry, as well as attract more "thrillionaires" towards space.

Note: While Interorbital may be downplaying Rocketplane (not to mention Benson Space and EADS), they better have some serious hardware to back those bold words, lest they end up as fodder for the Space Cynic.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (42 And Going Strong)

Chris Lintott's hosted last weeks Carnival of Space over at Chris Lintott's Universe, featuring articles ranging about Saturns moons to updates about NewSpace to even some back ground info regarding the NASA logo (note: be sure to read the comment section).

A few interesting reads include:

There are plenty of other articles to discover, and if you would like to participate in the next Carnival of Space, a simple trip towards Universe Today would enlighten you on how to enter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NASA Warms Up To NewSpace, Offers Commerical Launchpad

It looks as if America's one and only space agency is taking aggressive measures to court the private sector (aka NewSpace).

(Florida Today) NASA will unveil plans this week that would enable Florida or private companies to build and operate a commercial launch complex at Kennedy Space Center.

With shuttle fleet retirement set for 2010, the complex could pave the way for an American company to launch U.S. astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station rather than buying those services from Russia.

While there are many space firms seeking to launch American astronauts when NASA retires its shuttle, SpaceX seems to be best positioned to help "fill in the gap" while NASA works on the Orion rocket.

This is a smart move by NASA, as outsourcing its transportation to Russia may not be a wise idea, especially with tensions heating up between the two space powers.

Bigelow Aerospace: 50 Launches In Five Years?

(Hat Tip: Space Pragmatism)

(Image: Bigelow's first Space Station, Genesis 1, currently in orbit)

If there was any space firm out there turning galactic dreams into reality, it would have to be Bigelow Aerospace. Known mostly for their inflatable space stations, this company is quickly becoming "the Google" of the space industry.

After previously teaming up with Lockheed Martin, the future space station corporation is scheduling 50 rocket launches in less than half a decade, a feat most nations could only dream of accomplishing.

(Flight Global) Commercial orbital complex developer Bigelow Aerospace is in the final stages of negotiating a deal with Lockheed Martin to provide a manned capsule and up to 50 Atlas V launches for crew and cargo by 2015. [...]

In late 2006 Bigelow announced it was in talks with Lockheed and the two are now in firm discussions for a contract for the 2010 and 2011 launches followed by six launches in 2012, 12 in both 2013 and 2014 and then 18 in 2015, in line with Bigelow's business plan.

"The capsule has to be determined at this time. Lockheed has a concept for a capsule. Our application is specifically for experienced astronauts and we will have our own training regime," says Bigelow.

If successful humanity may see multiple space stations funded not by government taxes, but by private corporations using common sense and a solid business plan.

Currently Bigelow is attempting to launch a human habitable space station, which may ultimately spell out an uncertain future for the International Space Station.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (New Frontiers-41)

The Fool hosted last weeks Carnival of Space, which featured an array of articles ranging from evil carnivorous galaxies to Earth's "other moons," to even ponderings about the lack of space themed TV shows.

Of the many posts featured at the Carnival, here are a few that caught this authors attention.

Those were a few of the entries highlighted last week, and if any lurkers outer there would like to see their article featured in the next space carnival, all you have to do is visit Universe Today for more details.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Japan: We Will Build A Solar Powered Satellite By 2030

(Hat Tip: Posthuman Blues)

Ironically while it seems half the planet is in a space race to either beat their neighbors to the stars, it looks as if Japan is busy figuring out a way to harness the power of one.

(Pink Tentacle) JAXA, which plans to have a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) up and running by 2030, envisions a system consisting of giant solar collectors in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The satellites convert sunlight into powerful microwave (or laser) beams that are aimed at receiving stations on Earth, where they are converted into electricity.

On February 20, JAXA will take a step closer to the goal when they begin testing a microwave power transmission system designed to beam the power from the satellites to Earth. In a series of experiments to be conducted at the Taiki Multi-Purpose Aerospace Park in Hokkaido, the researchers will use a 2.4-meter-diameter transmission antenna to send a microwave beam over 50 meters to a rectenna (rectifying antenna) that converts the microwave energy into electricity and powers a household heater. The researchers expect these initial tests to provide valuable engineering data that will pave the way for JAXA to build larger, more powerful systems.

If Japan is successful in their tests, they will not need to worry about mining the moon for Helium-3 later on down the road.

Although they have yet to put a human into space, Japan may gain a lead later on in the space race by focusing their attention upon harnessing the energy from above.

If successful, Japan could not only become energy independent, but sell their technology to not only present Earth governments, but future lunar and Martian colonies as well.

Is NewSpace Becoming Mainstream?

Often seen as the weirdo outsiders with too much time (and too little money) on their hands, the private space industry--often called NewSpace--are often marginalized to the side of the "overall space race" with greater emphasis placed upon NASA and their favorite pals Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.

But with the Bigelow Aerospace partnering with Lockheed-Martin, Dan Schrimpsher from Space Pragmatism brings up an interesting point regarding this relationship.

(Space Pragmatism) It is common among new space folks to talk about traditional aerospace as "dinosaurs" who live off the government and pooh-pooh creativity and innovation. However, what I think this proves it the more correct statement that they are looking for profit.

Lockheed builds rockets for the military and NASA because it is a safe way to make money. What the new agreement with Bigelow shows me is that Lockheed Martin sees these stations as a viable way to make money. They don't normally push new ideas because they are risky.

If Lockheed sees this new venture as a future success, could it be a signal that NewSpace is becoming more mainstream? If so that is good news for the tiny space firms that dot the American soil, not to mention public companies like SPACEHAB and SpaceDev.

Building A Lunar Base: Problems And Solutions

Aside from the sun, the celestial object that is the most familiar to kids and adults alike is the Moon.

While other planets and moons may offer a more exciting environment, our second journey towards the stars will probably begin with our lunar friend in the sky, in part due towards its distance from Earth.

However, if humanity ever decides to dwell upon lunar soils, they will have to figure out a way first to survive upon them.

(Universe Today) So where do you start when designing a Lunar Base? High up on the structural engineers "to do" list would be the damage building materials may face when exposed to a vacuum. Damage from severe temperature variations, high velocity micrometeorite impacts, high outward forces from pressurized habitats, material brittleness at very low temperatures and cumulative abrasion by high energy cosmic rays and solar wind particles will all factor highly in the planning phase. Once all the hazards are outlined, work can begin on the structures themselves. [...]

The actual construction of a base will be very difficult in itself. Obviously, the low-G environment poses some difficulty to construction workers to get around, but the lack of an atmosphere would prove very damaging. Without the buffering of air around drilling tools, dynamic friction will be amplified during drilling tasks, generating huge amounts of heat. Drill bits and rock will fuse, hindering progress. Should demolition tasks need to be carried out, explosions in a vacuum would create countless high velocity missiles tearing through anything in their path, with no atmosphere to slow them down. [...] Also, the ejected dust would obscure everything and settle, statically, on machinery and contaminate everything.

With all of these problems presented challenges, it is quite evident that space is not a place for either cowards or the foolish (as dying in the final frontier is not exactly healthy for the body).

While a complete lists of hurdles towards colonization will probably expand as we gather more information about our little lunar sister, here are some helpful solutions that may ensure that we are able to inhabit the moon, let alone revisit it.

  • Vacuum and temperature variations: NASA and Russia have probably had the most experience dealing with the issues (after all the International Space Station is a perfect example) so this may not be a worrisome issue lunar side.

  • High velocity micrometeorite impacts: With the moon lacking a noticeable atmosphere, space rocks raining down from on high could easily spell the death of a lunar base (let alone a colony).

    Inflatable buildings (Bigelow style) may be the solution towards ensuring that we survive on the surface, although building a basement underground probably would not hurt as well.

  • High outward forces from pressurized habitats: Inflatable buildings (or habitats) may solve this dilemma, something Ian O'Neill expands upon over at Universe Today.

  • Material brittleness at very low temperatures: Again, NASA (and other space agencies) probably have this issue pretty much wrapped up (as those Martian golf carts, among other examples are a testament to).

  • Abrasion by cosmic rays and solar wind particles: This will probably be the most difficult, although like any building on Earth, lunar habitats will have to be constantly maintained in order to ensure their safety.

  • Drilling and digging underground: With the lack of atmosphere on the Moon, drilling may become useless, especially when lunar rocks begin to meld to the drill bits used to pierce the lunar surface.

    One solution is to enclose a fairly large area with an inflatable structure, pump it full of air (perhaps via oxygen extracted from lunar dirt) which would help reduce the friction from massive moon digs.

  • Lunar Dust Love (contamination via static): Since lunar dust could pose a problem to both man and machine, and finding a way to remove it is critical towards establishing a beachhead on Luna (aka the Moon).

    Lunar vacuum cleaners could solve this dilemma, helping to ensure both carbon and silicon life enjoy their stay one light second away from home.

Even though humanity may not have the technology to implement solutions to all of these problems above, they can take the necessary steps to create defenses against these solar show stoppers--thus ensuring that our species survives its first step towards conquering the final frontier.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Belated: Carnivals Of The Space Geeks (39 And 40)

After taking a longer than expected hiatus from blogging, it looks like I forgot to mention the previous carnival (not to mention a few other key stories). So in an attempt to "catch up," both space carnivals will be rolled into one post.

Carnival of Space 39

The 39th Carnival of Space was hosted by Sean Welton of Visual Astronomy who linked to posts ranging from astro-poetry to analysis on the raging Jupiter storms.

A few interesting posts readers should check out from the Carnival include:

Those were some of the highlights from last week's Carnival of Space, and here are some of the interesting articles from this week's Carnival of Space (hosted by Orbiting Frog).

Carnival of Space 40

  • Brian Wang discuses the progress of SpaceX's Merlin engines, which is very good news for NewSpace.

  • Clark Lindsey of HobbySpace highlights Bigelow Aerospace teaming up with Lockheed Martin in order to launch their inflatable space stations.

    For those wondering why this is an incredible event, Clark publishes a second post that will enlighten new comers and old timers alike.

  • Sean Welton (last week's space carnival host) thinks humans should pay closer attention to the sky lest we get our astro-turf kicked around by a wandering space rock.

  • John Benac via Action for Space is attempting to "rally the troops" to help promote human exploration within the 2008 election. It looks as if Hillary got the message (note: go John!!).

  • Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams discusses a way for a probe to reach Alpha Centauri in under ten lifetimes, give or take a century.

That's it for the latest Carnival of Space (both 39 and 40). For those of you thinking about submitting an article, astro-poem or space post towards the next round, you can simply visit Universe Today for more details.