Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lunar Dust Dilemma Solved (Via Space Umbrellas?)

Despite having the potential to feed our energy gluttonous world, lunar dust can be fetal to both humans and our robot friends, not to mention very electric (thanks in part to the solar wind).

While scientists have suggested melting down nearby Moon soil in order to counter the rough dust particles, it may be better to construct large space umbrellas thanks to new research regarding lunar dust.

(Moon Today) "Before you can manage the dust, you have to understand what makes it sticky," says Brian O'Brien, the sole author of the paper. His analysis is the first to measure the strength of lunar dust's adhesive forces, how they change during the lunar day -- which lasts 710 hours -- and differ on vertical and horizontal surfaces. O'Brien used data from the matchbox-sized Dust Detector Experiments deployed on the Moon's surface in 1969 during the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions. [...]

O'Brien found that later, as the Sun rose and the angle of incidence of the Sun's rays on the dusty vertical surface facing east decreased, the electrostatic forces on the vertical cell weakened. The tipping point was reached when the Sun was at an angle of about 45 degrees: then the pull of lunar gravity counteracted the adhesive forces and made the dust start falling off. All dust had fallen by lunar night.

"These are the first measurements of the collapse of the cohesive forces that make lunar dust so sticky" O'Brien says.

If the Sun is really influencing the stickiness of lunar dust, then the easiest way to combat it may be to erect an enormous space umbrella over the Lunar base.

While this may not give a future settlement an aesthetic look (which would not matter unless one was into the lunar hotel business), it could help reduce the amount of dust that makes it inside these future space habitats (a feature that may appeal to long term residents).

(Image Credit: Fashionably Geek)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Did Somebody Say Anti-Germ Space Paint?

Aside from radiation, micro gravity and cabin fever, keeping a space ship clean can easily spell the difference between life and death.

Since micro gravity has a way of encouraging the growth of deadly organisms, future explorers will probably have to spend a lot of time keeping their "space trailer" squeaky clean--especially the walls.

While cleaning up the space ship may appeal to those in love with Mr. Clean, it may be better for space agencies to coat their space craft walls with anti-germ paint instead.

(Fox News) Scientists at the University of South Dakota have invented a new germ-killing molecule that can be added to commercial brands of paint to give the paint long-lasting antimicrobial properties.

The molecule includes a bleach-like substance called an N-halamine. N-halamines are already used widely, but the South Dakota researchers were able to develop a new type known as Cl-TMPM. [...]

In tests, Staphylococcus aureus organisms were killed with 10 minutes of contact, and E coli organisms were killed with 5 minutes of contact. Paint treated with Cl-TMPM was even effective against the superbug MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria.

Unfortunately the new paint is only effective against a small selection of organisms, although hopefully scientists will be able to expand it to a variety of organisms known to infest human habitats (whether on our homeworld, off world or even in space).

If perfected, this paint would not only save future explorers countless hours in "de-germing" their extra terrestrial habitats, but make living on another world a lot safer as well.

(Image Credit: eHow)

One Small Step Away From The Moon? (NASA)

Despite pursuing a vigorous course to achieve lunarhood on Earth's nearest neighbor, it looks like NASA's plan for a Moon encounter may potentially be delayed by a few years.

(Orlando Sentinel) NASA's internal plans had called for Ares V to go to the moon in 2018, though the agency had announced a public goal of 2020. Internal deadlines are used by NASA to keep programs on track and to provide a margin of error for developmental problems. But because of growing budget woes, the agency is resetting its internal date to 2020. And privately, engineers say that means the public 2020 date to send humans back to the moon is in deepening trouble.

The news is the lastest sign of upheaval in the agency's Constellation Program which has been beset by financial and design trouble for the past few years. There is even talk now of cutting down the maximum number of crew that the Orion capsule can carry from six to four. It is the latest effort by NASA managers to reduce costs and the weight of the spacecraft.

This news (if true) could not have come at a worse time for NASA as the agency is already having trouble securing a leader after Mike Griffin left. Hopefully NASA can get its game on by 2020, otherwise we may see future Lunar citizens speaking Chinese.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Alice In Spaceland)

Last week's Carnival of Space was hosted by Alice Enevoldsen upon Alice's AstroInfo which featured posts ranging from hot pink galaxies to our Sun's evil twin brother to even Steven Colbert making history by having a treadmill named after him.

Interesting articles readers here might want to check out include:

Be sure to read the rest of the entries, and for those of you interested in joining this weeks upcoming Carnival of Space, feel free to contact Universe Today for details on how to enter.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Universe Today Plus Moon Surprise)

(Note: Preview from the upcoming Moon film.)

Fraser Cain of Universe Today hosts the 98th Carnival of Space which highlighted articles ranging from the mysteries of dark matter to the hand of Galactus (note: you do remember who Galactus is, right?) to interstellar starships (which may require a lot of fuel).

Articles readers here may want to check out include:

Be sure to check out the rest of the entries, and for those of you thinking about joining this weeks upcoming round (note: which this author keeps forgetting) should visit Universe Today for more info.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Are Traditional Space Elevators The Wrong Way Up?

After being first envisioned by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, then perfected by Yuri Artsutanov, Jerome Pearson and Brad Edwards, the space elevator has captured the imaginations of thousands of individuals who believe it's humanities best hope for colonizing the solar system en masse.

This radical space concept led to the creation of two startups (LiftPort and Blackline Ascension), as well as support from NASA who (despite their skepticism) is offering $4 million in prize money towards successful teams/companies (thanks in part to their Centennial Challenge).

Despite the momentum that the space elevator community has built up over the years, their dreams of a 100,000 km "beanstalk" stretching into the heavens may not come to pass as the earliest plans for a structure coming into being hover around 2030.

Rather than spend decades perfecting carbon nanotubes and power climbers (key ingredients if a traditional space elevator is to become a reality), it may be better to focus on Skyhooks (aka orbital space elevators) instead.

Instead of grasping the Earth's surface from either a seaport or a mountain top, a Skyhook would hover 150 km above our home world, giving it several advantages over its earth bound cousins.

While a traditional space elevator would require a massive counterweight at the end (i.e. an asteroid or a large space station), a Skyhook would only need a light counterweight at the top of the structure, which might be feasible with today's technology (not to mention this economy as well).

A Skyhook would also be much shorter than their traditional brethren, spanning a length of no more than 4,000 km compared to 100,000 km for a traditional space elevator. Even if a Skyhook's cable had to be fashioned from carbon nanotubes (which may not be needed as Kevlar and/or Spectra might be sufficient), it would be much easier to fashion due to its shorter length.

Last but not least, Skyhooks would probably not need to beam power to their transport climbers from below, a feat that may be extremely difficult for traditional space elevators (especially 100,000 km away!). Instead, climbers transporting cargo on a Skyhook could be powered by miniature nuclear reactors or via solar power from the rays of the sun.

Although Skyhook's have a significant advantage over their earth bound friends, their Achilles heal lies in the fact one would need to construct a rocket/jet hybrid capable of "breathing air" when flying through our atmosphere, and later on switching to rocket engines when they reach the edge of space.

Fortunately the British are in the process of developing a new craft called Skylon (by Reaction Engines Limited) which may help remove that hurdle, making the construction of a Skyhook possible.

While space elevator enthusiasts may still opt to construct their terrestrial beanstalk in an attempt to link heaven and earth, it may be wiser to focus their efforts on Skyhooks instead--especially now that companies like Lockheed Martin may seriously pursue building a Skyhook which in the end could help open the final frontier to the masses.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Google: We Would Invest In A Space Elevator, But Only If It Worked

Last week, the search engine giant known as Google launched a venture fund creatively known as Google Ventures, which the company will use to invest in startups in and outside of its main industry (example: cleantech, healthcare, bio-tech, etc.).

Erick Schonfeld from TechCrunch had a chance to interview both Google execs running the fund, Bill Maris and Rich Miner (the latter known for helping create the Android OS running on T-Mobile's G1 and other phones), and here is what they had to say regarding a potential investment regarding space elevators.

(TechCrunch) The day of the announcement, I chatted on the phone with Bill Maris and Rich Miner, the two Google executives who are managing the fund to get a sense of what they are interested in and how the fund will work.

It turns out they are open to investing in pretty much anything from the Internet and cloud computing to healthcare and mobile. "We don't want to artificially limit ourselves," says Miner. What about space elevators? "Show me one that works," retorts Maris, "and I will invest in it." The two of them will run the entire fund pretty much by themselves, bringing in other Googlers as needed for expertise and to help evaluate startups.

Note: Emphasis mine.
While Google is not shy about investing in space related projects (after all the founders helped launch the Google Lunar X-Prize a little over a year ago), there seems to be a high amount of skepticism regarding space elevators as a whole--at least among Googler engineers.

Perhaps the newly founded International Space Elevator Consortium could help convince Google that a space elevator is something worth investing in, as gaining the support from a public company could go a long ways towards convincing the masses that this long term project is indeed viable.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Japanese Space Androids To Conquer Lunar Frontier

(Hat Tip: Engadget)

What does an country with moon aspirations do when its rival outnumbers it 10 to 1? Send in the robots of course! It looks as if the Japanese are seriously considering leveraging their silicon friends in order to make lunar life more habitable.

(Times Online) But by 2020, Japan predicts, humanoid robots will be ready to colonise the Moon. [...]

The group's remit was to draft a five-year plan on the development and exploitation of space - a programme for action that was initially to have included the goal of putting a human Japanese astronaut on the Moon within the next 20 years. In the latest plans, though, robots have inherited the prime position in Japan's first – and still unconstructed – lunar lander. Experts have been arguing for years that the country’s aim should be to develop humanoid robots to the point where they are capable of everything people can do, and more.

Unless Japan desires to create Cylons (or worse, Terminators) they may want to refocus their efforts on beefing up their own citizens for the lunar stroll.

Although robots would give the land of the rising sun an early advantage against China, it may also devalue their claims of ownership over certain lunar real estate (as a country would have to have a very good reason for injuring a human as opposed to destroying a machine).

Another Blue Collar Space Job: Firefighters

(Image Credit: NASA, Hat Tip: Gizmodo)

If one were to list which blue collar space jobs would be needed for the future, Firefighters would be right at the top of the list (or at least up there with pig farmers).

Since fires can spread a lot faster in micro gravity than on our home world, NASA is preparing future explorers by equipping them with new ways to douse the space flames.

(MSNBC) "In space, fires are like spheres. They're not shaped like what we have on Earth," said James Butz, vice president of operations for Colorado-based ADA Technologies, which last week announced it had received a grant worth nearly $100,000 from NASA to continue work on an extinguisher that coats fires in a fine mist. [...]

The key to getting the droplets small enough is to use compressed gas. The system uses water and nitrogen so it is environmentally non-toxic and has an unlimited shelf life. Also, because oxygen and nitrogen will be aboard the spacecraft, the extinguisher can be refilled if needed.

This technology will not only be critical for future colonists traveling between the worlds, but also to settlers living upon dwarf worlds (like Ceres and Pluto) where the gravity is not as strong.

Even though NASA is preparing future explorers on how to deal with fires on a smaller scale, they may one day need a more specialized force (especially if humanity begins to thickly populate the spheres that dance around our Sun).

Can A New Spaceship Save Russia?

It looks as if the nation that helped bring us to the stars (via Sputnik) is now seeking to build a spaceship that can not only take them beyond our terrestrial sky, but towards the Moon as well.

(MSNBC) The Russian space agency on Tuesday ordered design work to start for a next-generation spaceship capable of flying missions to the moon, setting the ground for a potential new space race with the United States.

The space agency granted the state-controlled RKK Energiya company the $23 million contract for the initial work on a new, reusable craft to replace the 40-year-old Soyuz spacecraft.

With the world wide recession leaving none unscathed (even the NewSpace industry), it may be difficult for Russia to compete against NASA, although an alliance with China may help them close the gap.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Astroengine And Cheap Astronomy)

Two weeks ago, Ian O'Neill of AstroEngine fame hosted the 96th Carnival of Space. There were many interesting articles posted which ranged from lucky space billionaires to Martian girl rovers to even mentions of a Venus manned mission.

Articles readers here might want to check out include:

Be sure to check out the rest of the entries over at AstroEngine, as space here fails to mention the other interesting articles (like interstellar probes).


Last week's Carnival of Space was hosted by Steve Nerlich upon Cheap Astronomy, which highlighted many articles ranging from bouncing Martian boulders to who really fathered American space stations to even how to detect exo-planet worlds via their magnetospheres.

Interesting articles readers here may want to check out include:

More entries can be viewed upon Cheap Astronomy, and for those of you looking to join the next Carnival of Space, feel free to contact Fraser over at Universe Today.