A fascinating article on the pros and cons of air-breathing spacecraft vs. rockets for orbital launch at Short Sharp Science:
Trying to build a spaceship by making airplanes fly faster and higher is like trying to build an airplane by making locomotives faster and lighter – with a lot of effort, perhaps you could get something that more or less works, but it really isn’t the right way to proceed. The problems are fundamentally different, and so are the best solutions.
[image from jurvetson on flickr]
Well, at least one sector of the web is in a cheery mood at the moment – the space buffs are pretty stoked that President Obama’s budget includes a nice boost for NASA:
The budget calls on NASA to complete International Space Station construction, as well as continue its Earth science missions and aviation research. Yet it also remains fixed to former President George W. Bush’s plan to retire the space shuttle fleet by 2010 and replace them with the new Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, which would fly astronauts to the space station and return them to the moon by 2020.
Good news for extropians and forward-thinkers, then – though it’s almost surprising to see a spending increase on something that, by definition, doesn’t garner immediate tangible results at home. Perhaps Obama”s gang are thinking that this is the ideal time to sneak by a budget increase that might otherwise cause much angst and wailing; US$19billion may sound like a lot, but it’s a tiny fragment of that bailout package… [image by jurvetson]
Physicist Friedwardt Winterberg has a new paper here on a possible fusion-powered spacecraft, with shades of Project Orion and Project Daedalus:
Large scale manned space flight within the solar system is still confronted with the solution of two problems: 1. A propulsion system to transport large payloads with short transit times between different planetary orbits. 2. A cost effective lifting of large payloads into earth orbit.
For the solution of the first problem a deuterium fusion bomb propulsion system is proposed where a thermonuclear detonation wave is ignited in a small cylindrical assembly of deuterium with a gigavolt-multimegampere proton beam, drawn from the magnetically insulated spacecraft acting in the ultrahigh vacuum of space as a gigavolt capacitor.
For the solution of the second problem, the ignition is done by argon ion lasers driven by high explosives, with the lasers destroyed in the fusion explosion and becoming part of the exhaust.
The key point is that it’s designed without $MAGIC_FAIRY_DUST technology and is intended to be feasible from a purely engineering standpoint.
[via Slashdot][image from SantaRosa OLD SKOOL on flickr]
After last year’s long-awaited confirmed discovery of water on the red planet, David Bowie comes another step closer to finding the answer to his question: NASA called a press conference today to announce that they have, in partnership with some university science teams, “achieved the first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars”.
So what’s the big deal with that? Basically, there’s two reasons you might find methane in a planetary atmosphere: geological activity or biological activity. It’s going to take a lot more work to discover which of the two is the culprit in the case of Mars (and the NASA announcement does a better job that I can of explaining it all), but either option is pretty exciting to space nerds… after all, it’s not all that long ago that we pretty much assumed the whole planet was inert.
And as a side-tangent, this is great political timing from NASA, whether accidental or deliberate – with a new president about to enter the White House with promises to shake things up, announcements like this get everybody talking about space with that old-school sensawunda I remember from my childhood… and given the bleak state of the news headlines at the moment, something to make us look up from the mundane for a moment can only be a positive. Something big to dream about. [image by chipdatajeffb]
I mean, just think – life on Mars! It’s like something out of a science fiction novel, isn’t it? 😉
Start scrimping and saving, US citizens, because 2010 will present you with an opportunity to purchase a piece of space memorabilia without peer – a used space shuttle. [image by D’amico Rodrigo]
Also, you’ll need to ally yourself with the right sort of organisation: a science museum, perhaps, or a university. NASA won’t sell them to any old interested party with $42 million in used banknotes, you see… or at least, that’s the plan at the moment while they scout for potential buyers. If there aren’t many interested parties, maybe your independent bid will be taken more seriously.
So why not go for it? The buying price includes the cost of stripping out all the toxic and hazardous materials, as well as flying it to a US airport of your choice – worry-free bargains like this are one of the upsides to the economic slump, I guess.