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Private Space Station Possibilities May 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Space Ventures, Technology.
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Image Credit: Bigelo Aerospace
BA-330 Space Module

It is refreshing to see all the activity in private launch services to allow more access to space beyond what NASA ever could or would. A recent announcement of a collaborative effort between SpaceX and Bigelo Aerospace has put a new twist to the possibilities of private space ventures. SpaceX has a huge lead over any of their competitors in developing a human rated launch system able to loft seven people into orbit & safely return them to earth. Now they are teaming up with Bigelo Aerospace, a company with no competitors in providing on orbit human habitats for any purpose.

It’s a sure bet that the price for such services; reaching low earth orbit, will be way beyond what I can afford but the trend is what is so exciting. For the first time in history someone other than a government is talking about a space station! How cool is that. Bigelows concept of a soft, inflatable structure for space habitation is unique. The BA 330 pictured is 330 cu. me. of usable space that is pressurized and has all the attitude control and module avionics to make it an autonomous space station. Even better is that the modules can be joined to make a much lager facility for research, space tourism or anything a customer can imagine.

Bigelow already has had  two test modules in orbit for several years gathering important data on long term exposure to the harsh environment of space. I can’t wait to see what these two innovative companies will do in concert to give us mortals the ability to become astronauts too.

Mars in six weeks. May 18, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Image Credit – NASA
Fusion Rocket Engine

The Redstone Arsenal located in Huntsville Alabama is preparing for an important test this summer that could pave the way for a usable fusion rocket engine using the Z-pinch concept. The energy density for such a rocket is enormous but the propellant mass is measured in pounds of fuel instead of the huge tank loads that a liquid rocket would consume. The essence of a fusion rocket is similar to the process which drives our sun only instead of hydrogen fused to helium it would be hydrogen and lithium performing the fusion reaction. The result is a burst of pure energy which would drive a spacecraft as a series of fusion pulsed detonations.

A profile of a flight to Mars with such an engine would consist of a thrust phase up to a very high velocity, then coasting flight followed by a braking thrust to a safe speed for entry into the Martian atmosphere. Total time for the trip 6 to 8 weeks instead of six months or more using a chemical rocket. This reduction in travel time is  essential to the crews health and well being upon arrival at Mars.

What Redstone will be doing is a test using some very powerful banks of capacitors to energize the fusion cycle. They will gather data and determine if the concept is viable, and if so the process of scaling it up to a workable engine can begin. This type of engine is for use in space since the mass required to boost a spacecraft into orbit is too great to overcome. It advantage is long duration high impulse with low fuel consumption. If proven a workable concept this engine has uses in manned exploration, asteroid mining, deep space probes or any spacecraft needing high velocity to reach distant objects.

Let’s hope the fusion engine has a future on the Mars Express passenger liners of tomorrow.

Anti Matter Engine Anyone? May 17, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Image Credit: CERN

I know this sounds too Star Trek to be real but actually anti matter propulsion has been considered for a number of years by credible agencies. The latest is the European agency CERN, you know the guys with the huge super collider (Large Hadron Collider). They have turned some of their high powered particle physics simulation tools loose on the problem and have come up with a very interesting result. They believe, based on the simulations, that an anti matter rocket engine could be extremely efficient, more so that anyone has previously thought possible. This is using only the technologies available today.

The secret to achieving high particle velocity, which in turn yields high thrust is the magnetic containment of the particle stream. A Cornell University team using CERN’s simulation tool called GEANT4 believe exhaust particle speeds reaching 70% of the speed of light are possible. This velocity is not possible in conventional combustion cycle rockets used today and could enable future space craft to achieve much higher speed thereby reducing the travel time to destinations both inside &  outside our solar system.

Everything has limits and so it is with anti mater propulsion. The limiting factor is the availability of anti matter. Today it is limited to singular atoms produced in the lab but with a focused effort larger quantities could be created or captured from a recently discovered ring of anti protons which surround Earth.

Who knows, maybe Scottie could cobble up a little anti matter impulse engine to go along with his transparent aluminum and away we go!

100 Year Starship Project May 14, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Space Policy, Space Ventures.
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Image Credit: 100yss.org

Image Credit: 100yss.org

It is rare to find an organization dedicated to anything beyond the lifetime of the average person but the 100 Year Starship™ Initiative  (100YSS) is just such a group. Their purpose is simple; plan for a human crewed space ship capable of traveling through interstellar space to a destination outside our solar system. While their purpose can be simply stated there is nothing simple about the goal.

Traveling beyond our solar system is a daunting challenge considering the distances involved, and the technology currently available. It is interesting that their website points out that H.G. Wells book “First Men on the Moon” was published just sixty eight years before we set foot on our closest satellite; an unthinkable goal in 1901. The group is trying to galvanize industry, government and the rest of us to get on board & support the effort.

To continue their efforts 100YSS plans a series of symposiums to gather a group and discuss the issues involved in interstellar space. They plan to hold the next discussion in Houston Texas September 13-16. They achieved a milestone with a grant from DARPA of $500 million. In addition to this hey have recently recruited Mae Jemison, a former Space Shuttle astronaut to head the organization.

It is very impressive that such a bold initiative is gathering momentum in this current era of slash and burn budget cuts. They hope to lay the groundwork for the next human space adventure by establishing a firm footing inclusive the vast number of necessary disciplines to ultimately make the project happen. It is so refreshing to hear of a people who dare to dream way beyond putting around in low earth orbit. I appreciate their enthusiasm so let’s set coordinates to Alpha Centari and, what do what else; engage!

New Thunder: The Saga of the Seven Worlds May 7, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General.
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New Thunder

New Thunder

I am pleased to announce that I have just published an exciting new e-book called New Thunder. This science fiction story is set in the distant future among the descendents of Earth who have been scattered across seven remote planets light years from the home world. The main character, Avalon Parder is a cocky military star-pilot, humbled to a desk job of lowly military attache by his outrageous behavior.

Unknown to Captain Parder a profound action adventure awaits him which unfolds as a enigmatic mystery spread across the seven alien worlds founded by Earth. It is a classic struggle of stubborn will of one man versus the ruthless control of a federated government just on the verge of perfecting a total mind control super weapon. Parder is a resourceful & clever fighter, but so are his adversaries. His one advantage is a gift from the distant masters of Earth who have left humanity an incredibly capable space craft, the Omega Equinox, with her one man crew sworn to assist Avalon in his quest no matter the outcome.

I hope you will enjoy this unique action story which can found as an e-book at amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0080ID5ZQ

Why do robots have all the fun? May 2, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General.
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Image Credit: NASA
View of Mars taken by Opportunity.

The robot explorer Opportunity passes a milestone of its ninth year on Mars this month. What a testimony to a first rate engineering team and what can be done if we want to do something difficult. Is it just me or am I the only one who gets irritated that little “rovers” are exploring Mars. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to know what is on the surface of Mars but when I see incredible vistas and fascinating objects littering the landscape of Mars I get a little jealous.  I want to be the one drilling a rock, climbing the rim of a crater or motoring along the red sands. Well maybe not me, but a human, not a machine. The old videos of the Apollo guys doing, well, human stuff on the Moon, like wringing out the moon buggy or drilling core samples or whatever. Now I can identify with a person doing things that you or I would do, but a little R2 unit clicking and chirping along; that is less that thrilling.

The next “explorer” NASA has in route to Mars is named Curiosity and is set to touch down in August of this year. It is a SUV sized rover that will do what else; sniff out water and microbial life. I think it is time to find out for ourselves if Mars can support life. We should be sending SUV sized remote construction vehicles preparing the infrastructure for a human habitat. Now that is a goal that people could get excited about. We’ll bring our own SUV’s and do some roving for ourselves. Feature an astronaut cruising across a brilliant red dessert landscape with their arm out the window of their space rated Hummer making some dusty tracks to the next ridge to see what is over it when “crunch”. “Oops, sorry little fellow didn’t see you there digging for Mars cooties.”  Microbes, that’s what you use to make beer, not blowing a billion or two in order to find them on Mars for what possible reason?  Humans need to have a little fun too since we foot the bill.

Next time you see a photo of the Mars surface envision yourself at the wheel of your own rover laying down a red dust trail with a huge grin on your face. Now that’s exploring!