Showing posts from December, 2010

My 2010 Review

I started this year thinking the Augustine committee had nailed the Moon shut. Considering that I was a proponent of Constellation before the Augustine committee, that's pretty significant. If I go back to that time and see what I was saying to people, most of it was explaining the flexible path as an alternative to sitting on the ground waiting for a booster and a capsule and a lander to be developed by NASA.

I end this year thinking that the Moon isn't nailed shut. SpaceX has demonstrated that making a capsule and booster need not be expensive. Armadillo Aerospace and the other contractor's work on Project M (now Project Morpheus) demonstrated to me that going to the Moon need not be expensive. Tim Pickens and the Rocket City Space Pioneers have successfully restored my faith that the Google Lunar X-Prize will be won. Paul Spudis has actually become a robotic exploration advocate! In a few years time it won't be absurd to suggest that a commercial effort could s…

Soonest Space Solar Power

Space Solar Power has a bad rap, caused predominately by advocates who can't separate the exciting long term vision from the short term facts. In his recent paper, Al Globus has tried to rectify this by investigating what can be done with demonstrated launch vehicles, solar collectors and power beaming (and without on-orbit assembly, manned outposts, lunar materials, etc). His conclusion is that it appears space solar power is now ready for niche markets, such as forward military bases, where the price of power can be as much as $1/kWh.

The low cost launch vehicle of choice is, of course, SpaceX's Falcon 9. High specific power solar collection is achieved using thin-film heliogyros as demonstrated by the Japanese Ikaros satellite. The power beaming technology is infrared laser with custom solar panel receivers, as demonstrated by LaserMotive in their win at the Space Elevator Games last year.

A minor improvement in Globus' architecture is apparent. The mass of the sp…

Non-Rotating Artifical Gravity

If you put a long boom on a satellite, it will align to the "local vertical". This was first demonstrated on the GOES 3 probe in 1978. It works because the forces of gravity and the "centrifugal force" balance at the center of mass.

Today, long life space tethers are available, using existing materials they are light enough for long lengths to be launched on a cheap launch vehicle like SpaceX's Falcon 9. A length of 500 km, with a lifetime of 10 years, would have mass of just 1275 kg. The tether would stretch from the altitude of the International Space Station (~340 km) up past the altitude of the Hubble Space Telescope (~595 km), out to where the polar orbiting satellites do their job (~700 km+). Within equal masses on each end of the tether, a force of 0.1g would be experienced, with no rotation of the structure required.

Of course, this only works while in orbit around a planetary body. Around the Sun, say for generating artificial gravity for a trip…

A New Sputnik Moment?

Stephen Smith has an post over at his blog questioning President Obama's rhetoric that the down tick in the economy is having the same effect today as Sputnik had on the USA in the 50s and 60s. He's not convinced and neither am I, but near the middle he asks an interesting question: What would be the equivalent of a "Sputnik moment" in today's world?

The shock in the US caused by Sputnik was not so much that it was a military threat - although it was - but that it was a significant technical feat achieved by what most of the western world considered a backwater of scientific thought. Today, there are many technologies that are slowly being developed around the world which are primed for a breakthrough. Earlier this year North Korea claimed a fusion power breakthrough which certainly would have been a Sputnik moment if it hadn't turned out to just be a claim about fusion bombs, not fusion power.

This highlights a very important part of the Sputnik formula: …

Apollo 8 Solo

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew non-stop from Long Island to Paris. He was catapulted to instant fame by doing so and won the Orteig Prize. He didn't have a co-pilot. He didn't have an army of engineers monitoring his plane or a flight surgeon monitoring his heart rate, it was just him and his trusty single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. His achievement is heralded today as kick-starting the commercial aviation industry and opening up the skies to the everyman.

But what of space? Could a modern Lindbergh fly an impossible journey and change the way we look at spaceflight forever? I think it can be done, and for cheaper than you might imagine.

In 1968 the first humans left the vicinity of Earth, flew 6 days and nearly a million miles to the Moon and back. Their mission not only was the first, it also proved the feasibility of the missions to follow. Apollo 8 would have been much easier to achieve had they only wanted to swing-by the Moon, and still a significan…