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]
The guardian has a technology article about a UK study on hypersonic aviation that concluded that producing a plane fueled by liquid hydrogen could feasibly transport commercial passengers on long distances in much shorter times than current planes. Provided the hydrogen is created without using hydrocarbons (not easy currently but potentially doable in the future), the flight will be pollution-low, as hydrogen burns to form plain old water, although as the correction to the article mentions, Nitrogen oxide byproducts would still need to be contained.
There are issues though, before we can hop on a sub-orbital or hypersonic flight. Like the Virgin Galactic project, there are concerns about how well us puny humans can cope up there in high-atmosphere at very fast speeds. And, like Paul said earlier today, the future is expensive, including that of flight – will people be willing to pay many times more for such a ticket? Incidentally, isn’t it neat that the design looks and behaves just like the ‘Fireflash’ hypersonic airliner out of Thunderbirds? Supermarionation is the future!
[link and picture via the guardian]
Antimatter has powered countless science fictional starships, but has yet to be used as a propulsion method in reality. Reasons are manifold: firstly, it’s very difficult and expensive to make even the tiniest amount of it; and second, we’re still not entirely sure what it is or how it works. Centauri Dreams reports on the state of antimatter research, and hopes that someday we’ll be able to use it to move between the stars.
That said, successful Space Shuttle launches aside, we’re still short of a simple and affordable route to orbit, let alone our nearest stellar neighbours. JP Aerospace reckons it has an answer to getting us at least half-way there – namely making lighter-than-air flyers to ascend to a sub-orbital space station, from which super-light orbiters could be launched. It’s a low-budget lo-fi approach, but if it works, why not?
Still hungry for space-related stuff? Carnival of Space #14 is live at Universe Today.