We interrupt this mission to Mars for a word from our sponsors…

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Via Slashdot, here’s a paper at the Journal Of Cosmology (who need to hire a web designer, like, yesterday) that suggests such well-worn corporate PR strategies as sponsorship, “naming rights” and other licensing angles as a great way to finance a manned mission to Mars.

Sound familiar? So it should – Jason Stoddard did something very similar when he made a Mars mission into a reality TV challenge in his story-that-became-a-novel “Winning Mars” (free online versions are available; the book is in the production pipeline at Prime Books at the moment).

In a way, it’s a sad indictment of the post-modern nation state that the only viable funding methods for space exploration are corporate; a mars mission would be a terrible waste of taxes that could be used for more important matters, right?

  • The predicted cost of going to Mars: ~$145 Billion.
  • The cost of the Iraq war thus far: ~$739 Billion. [via MyElvesAreDifferent]

Propellantless propulsion

Tom James @ 25-08-2009

Tether-satellite-NASAFollowing on from solar sails we have a discussion of that other science fictional bastion of propellantless propulsion – the space elevator – it turns out that space elevators and space tethers can be used for more than just getting into orbit:

A series of bolo tethers, each tether passing a spacecraft onto the next, could be used to achieve even larger orbit changes than a single system. For example, one tether system could catch a spacecraft from a very low orbit and swing it into a somewhat higher orbit. Another bolo picks it up from there and puts the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). A third tether catches the load again and imparts sufficient velocity to it so that it reaches escape velocity. A satellite initially orbiting just above the atmosphere could thus be slung all the way into an interplanetary orbit around the Sun, and all this without using any rocket propulsion and propellant

This is in the context of a review by Centauri Dreams of Space Tethers and Space Elevators by Michel van Pelt, which explores tethers and space elevator concepts in some detail.

[from Centauri Dreams][image from Wikimedia and NASA]


Over to Mars in 39 days

Tom James @ 23-07-2009

marsA fascinating article at New Scientist on a new nuclear powered ion drive called VASIMR that could transport astronauts to Mars in as little as 39 days:

VASIMR works something like a steam engine, with the first stage performing a duty analogous to boiling water to create steam. The radio frequency generator heats a gas of argon atoms until electrons “boil” off, creating plasma. This stage was tested for the first time on 2 July at Ad Astra’s headquarters in Webster, Texas

Thanks to the radio frequency generator, VASIMR can reach power levels a hundred times as high as other engines, which simply accelerate their plasma by sending it through a series of metal grids with different voltages. In that setup, ions colliding with the grid tend to erode it, limiting the power and lifetime of the rocket. VASIMR’s radio frequency generator gets around that problem by never coming into contact with the ions.

Hitherto most plans to get to Mars involve lengthy journey times, during which exposure to cosmic rays and extended periods of weightlessness (ameliorated somewhat by centrifugal artificial gravity) could have a debilitating effect on the adventurers.

The creation of these powerful ion drives is an exciting and interesting development. Certainly I hope to see someone get to Mars within my lifetime. I wonder what technique will be used?

[from New Scientist][image from chipdatajeffb on flickr]


Biotech to the stars

Tom James @ 28-05-2009

dendritesCentauri Dreams discusses a DNA-based self-replicating interstellar probe:

Think of a probe that gets around the payload mass problem by using molecular processes to create cameras and imaging systems not by mechanical nanotech but by inherently biological methods.

A Von Neumann self-replicating probe comes to mind, but we may not have to go to that level in our earliest iterations. The biggest challenge to our interstellar ambitions is propulsion, with the need to push a payload sufficient to conduct a science mission to speeds up to an appreciable percentage of lightspeed. The more we reduce payload size, the more feasible some missions become

This is similar to Robert L. Forward‘s starwisp concept (popularised by Charlie Stross in Accelerando).

I suspect that if and when we do get round to interstellar exploration it will involve sending small-mass packages that are capable of bootstrapping themselves to a broadcast/exploration mode using local materials on arrival in the target system.

It remains to be seen what kind of space-based molecular replicating systems become viable. Will we be able to create space-hardened bioware, or good ol’ fashioned machine phase fullerene nanotech?

[image from neurollero on flickr]


Loopy space elevator concept

Tom James @ 27-05-2009

rotatingspaceelevatorsIn the same general theme as Keith Loftstrom’s launch loop concept [via Speaktomanagers] we have the Rotating Space Elevator:

Golubović and Knudsen have introduced the Rotating Space Elevator (RSE), a rotating system of a floppy string that forms an ellipse-like shape. Unlike the traditional Linear Space Elevator (LSE) made of a single straight cable at rest, the RSE rotates in a quasi-periodic state.

“The idea came by itself,” Golubović told PhysOrg.com. “I was thinking how to make things move easily and quickly up the traditional Tsiolkovsky-type space elevators. In my kitchen, I was mixing coffee in my cup too vigorously and the centrifugal force on the rotating coffee won over gravity to make some of the coffee lift and splash out the cup. This was my ‘eureka’ that lead to adding a similar conceptual feature to the old space elevator idea…

[via Next Big Future][image from Physorg]


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