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Asteroid mining 101 April 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Ventures, The Solar System.
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The Book: Mining the Sky
by John S. Lewis

The recent announcement by Planetary Resources about forming a venture to mine asteroids is no new concept. In 1996 John Lewis published the book Mining the Sky.

Dr. Lewis is a professor of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. In his book he details how humanity might one day tap the huge resources in our solar system. Each chapter is introduced by a vignette of a some future scenario where we are already actively engaged in space mining and colonization.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to know where Planetary Resources is headed since Professor Lewis is a key technical advisory. Based on the depth of his understanding of the physics & logistics of space mining as well as the potential of our solar system it seems they are in good hands.

Mining the Sky is a fascinating look at a possible future for any culture with the will to go into space with a real mission beyond finding extraterrestrial microbes.

Asteroid mining has arrived! April 24, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Space Ventures.
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Image credit: Planetary Resources

This is the most exciting space news in decades! Start-up firm Planetary Resources announce today that is was establishing a business to mine asteroids in space. They are backed by a powerful collection of thinkers and billionaires to pull it off including Larry Page (Google founder), Dr. Eric Schmidt,  Ross Perot Jr. , Dr.Charles Simonyi and James Cameron are among those participating in the venture.

Their first effort will be to orbit a telescope capable of  detecting candidate  asteroids which are close to Earth  for mining.  Once identified they ” …plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals.”  What a milestone this is in placing the future of space exploration and utilization into the hands of practical people, not NASA scientists bent on finding microbial life under some rock.

A great deal of work is yet to be done but this is clearly some of the best news imaginable regarding the opening up space beyond government contrived waste & folly.

Is finding microbes really exploring space? April 23, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy.
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I saw an article on Space Daily that shows the absurdity of letting “scientists” set the agenda for exploring space. The article Bringing Mars Back to Earth which discusses how an international group of space snobs (including NASA technocrats)  thinks we should waste time returning to Earth rock samples from Mars hoping for signs of ancient microscopic life. This is moronic and engenders absolutely no interest among tax paying citizens asked to fund such a folly. This group says it will take three mission to Mars to return samples. What a colossal waste of time and resources. Why are such credentialed  mis-guided people allowed to set the ageda for space exploration? Because our leadership is clueless and has no vision or agenda what so ever.

We need to rebel against such nonsense and demand from NASA (No Advancement Since Apollo) and government an agenda for HUMAN exploration of near space. Why not a create a project; ditch NASA and it bureaucracy and take the money to establish a permanent human occupied outpost on Mars!  Such and initiative would inspire people and lead to a human presence outside of Earth which is legitimate human exploration, not twiddling test tubes looking for microscopic “evidence”.

I urge you to email the  Committee on Science & Technology, which is the US government agency responsible for NASA & let then know the we want to see red Martian dust on an American astronauts boots, not Mars rocks. We have enough rocks in the heads of NASA administrators & “scientists” to examine for decades.

Nuclear rockets anyone? April 19, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Solid core nuclear reactor.

Image Credit: IAA

I have been doing a lot of research on propulsion for spacecraft lately and I came across a paper titled Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion  by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). At 224 pages, which contain a lot of math that will make your skull shrink, it is comprehensive.  It is not a casual look at the technology, rather it is a serious attempt to quantify the design challenges, risks and development necessary if this technology is to be used in space. You come away wondering if there isn’t a better way, but the paper makes some excellent observations about the trade offs of going nuclear.

It is hard to imagine in the aftermath of the Fukushima mess that the general public would stand for anything nuclear and large launching into space. Still the distances between planets is such that conventional chemical rockets are cumbersome for extended trips, not to mention the huge side affects of long periods of zero g, which nuclear propulsion promises to reduce. It seems if there was a way around terrestrial sourcing of the fuel were possible a lot of the concerns would be diminished. Asteroid mining anyone?

Water, water everywhere… April 17, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Image Credit: NASA

The recent mission to the moon like the LRO & LCROSS have determined that water likely exists in Lunar polar regions. This is great news for missions to the moon and beyond. Water is essential for exploration of  more distant locations for a couple of very important reasons like; we drink it and we can make rocket fuel out of it. The lunar surface is intriguing since it is much easier to loft a payload from a body with gravity that is only 16% that of earth.

What makes real sense is the concept of an autonomous plant which can locate and process the water ahead of us and store it until we get there. Such a concept demonstrator is being considered at NASA. This is the kind of break away thinking that will allow a mission to Mars or elsewhere there is water. It would reduce enormously the amount of mass,  supplies & propellant, we would need to take with us. This “live off the land” philosophy could be expanded to other areas too like remote materials processing and fabrication. If we use local resources we will have a lot less to lug along making such an endeavor as a manned Mars mission possible and a whole lot less complex. Can’t wait to sample the first tall glass of ice cold Martian water.

Space based solar power April 16, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Image credit: SpaceWorks Engineering Inc.

Over time there have been initiatives to move the production of solar energy into space. The thought is that the relative power available is higher than on earth without the  atmosphere attenuating it and also the facility is never on the night side of the planet. Transferring the energy from space to earth would be via wireless power transmission (WPT) which could be done via micro wave transfer to a terrestrial receiver. This concept is not new, it was patented by Dr. Peter Glaser back in 1973. Tests were run by NASA  in the ’70s at their Goldstone facility which were promising and indicated transmission efficiency of 80%.

Now there is new interest since the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) published a paper on space power in August of last year. This comprehensive study called Space Solar Power delineates the technology, economics and logistics of generating power in space for terrestrial consumption.

What a great reason to live and work in space;  assembling large collector arrays to beam energy to our planet. Sign me up!

Solar Sails – Take me with you! April 12, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Solar sail unfurledI like free and traveling through space with no fuel is a good kind of free. NASA has plans to orbit a large demonstration solar sail in 2014. By large I mean 124 feet square or 15,376 sq. ft.! It will be the largest solar sail flown to date. Using just solar radiation pressure from the sun it will create a very small amount of thrust but it is constant thrust. This is perfect for certain missions like ferrying supplies or propellant from one point in space to another point in space at no cost for fuel; all of this at 70 lbs. of mass. The sail uses steering vanes for attitude control, again propellant-less maneuvering.

The L’Garde Technology Demonstration Mission will demonstrate maneuverability, trim and stability as well as precision navigation to a specific location in space. It is to  be launched with a Falcon 9 rocket by Space X, the premier commercial start-up rocket company.

Now if they just had Windjammer Barefoot Cruises to Mars…

Zero “g” is fun – for a while. April 11, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Watching the astronauts float around the ISS is intriguing. It looks like fun, and everyone who has been in space says it is. The only problem is the long term affects micro gravity has on the human body. Now imagine floating around for six months on your way to Mars. That’s where fun ends and pain begins. Once on the surface you are back in a gravity environment which takes time to re-adapt. This is precious time you could be exploring at 100% capacity, not slugging along dragging your butt to the next task. Months of zero g leads to a host of issues like loss of calcium in the bones and other maladies, some which are reversible, others are not. This is in spite of rigorousness exercise on state of the art space workout equipment on board the station.

NASA is looking at a very old artificial gravity concept. This idea dates back to at least the 1950’s.  The current project is called Nautilus-X or AG ISS, a rotating torus that will be attached to the ISS to test the concept of rotating the cabin to produce a partial gravity environment for sleep & work. It makes a lot of sense and is one possible answer to improved health on long duration space flights. They are also considering a spacecraft based on this same concept.

Now they are finally coming around to the rotating space stations like the marvelous one in the movie 2001 a Space Odyssey. (Well sort of) Aesthetically the ISS is a kludge by any standard. It looks like a train wreck with gym equipment stuck to it and inside; humans bouncing off the walls in a micro-gravity environment. Let’s hope the torus idea catches on and we give our astronauts a healthier and safer way to explore the solar system.

(See NASA Technology applications paper)

Small electric thruster April 10, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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thruster schematic 2

Image courtesy of MicroThrust

A European consortium is working on a really smart idea for flying a small sattellite on almost no fuel. The program is called MicroThrust and it is amazing and ingenious. It uses MEMS Micro Electro Mechanical Systems to create an ion thruster in a very small package with one version weighing in at 200 grams. The intended use is to allow micro-sattellites (1-100 kg) the ability to freely change orbital parameters including reaching lunar orbit on 1/10 of a liter of fuel!

Slow and steady thrust is the key. The MicroThrusters run continuously producing low thrust but constant thrust which equals constant acceleration. Electric propulsion is a very interesting and exciting branch of propulsion engineering that has incredible potential for a variety of reasons.

Saturn, ah what a planet! April 9, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in The Solar System.
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Of all the beauty in our solar system Saturn is the most elegant and beautiful of all the uninhabited worlds. How can you beat a planet with a ring system and especially one with such diverse and exotic looks. Too bad earth dosn’t have a ring system to glorify the night sky.

Since I started reading scifi it seems like cover illustrators always go for a ringed planet when trying to capture something exotic. To see something like that through the view port on your starship would be absolute nirvana.

If you have followed the Cassini probe and seen some of the ultra cool images that craft has returned then you will know what I mean. Take a look at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/halloffame/ to see some of the best stuff NASA has captured since Cassini arrived at Saturn.

Saturn will be prominent in the night sky this month. It is worthy of a look if you have a telescope.