jump to navigation

I’m Back + Planetary Resources May 8, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Ventures, Technology.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed
ARKYD Spacecraft

ARKYD 3 Spacecraft Photo Credit: Planetary Resources

 

I took a long hiatus from my blog but I am back. Being distracted by running a business has kept me from what I love, space, but no longer! I will again begin to add content to share with other space enthusiasts.

Speaking of space Planetary Resources is very close to releasing there first prospecting telescope called Arkyd 3 from the ISS in July of this year. The instrument was lofted into orbit aboard the most resent SpaceX Dragon launch to the ISS. The mission of the Arkyd 3 is a technology demonstrator to proof the spacecraft and systems necessary to orbit other craft with the ultimate mission of identifying near earth objects (NEO) suitable for capture and mining.

Planetary Resources has a very ambitious goal of ultimately mining asteroids. They are taking a very measured approach to this by first identifying a list of candidate asteroids within reasonable range of earth. Once the database of objects is complete they will go to the next phase of mission planning along with their partners to begin actual mining. Their partners are heavyweights like Larry Page (Google), Eric Schmidt. (Google), Sir Richard Branson (Virgin everything), Ross Perot Jr. and a bunch of others that have the resources to move the venture from proof of concept to reality.

Keep you eye on this company. They have the potential to not just talk space but do space in a big way. It is what we have needed for a long, long time; entrepreneurs with vision that can literally reach for the stars.

Private Space Station Possibilities May 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Space Ventures, Technology.
Tags: ,
comments closed

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.
Tags: ,
comments closed

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.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

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!

Nuclear rockets anyone? April 19, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed
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.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

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.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

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.
Tags:
comments closed

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.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

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.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed
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.