Thursday, December 30, 2010

A 64K dollar question

The Cato Institute asks if NASA can compete with Spacex.  After the last few posts, I think the answer is becoming obvious to me.  Two of the more significant developments (in my opinion), the VASIMR and the Space Cannon, are private initiatives.  Throw in Spacex, and it looks like NASA is out of a job.  Well, maybe that's going a little bit too far, but it gives you the general idea, does it not?  NASA isn't at the forefront anymore.  Neither in cost nor performance.  I'd say again that NASA should go into survival mode  if they want to hang around.  Otherwise, they will go away.  The world will see to that.

Hat tip: Transterrestrial Musings

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Future of the ISS

I have been subconsciously and loosely following this outline.  I wrote a little further on the topic here.  On that post, I suggested taking the ISS to L4 or L5.  But rather than doing that, why not take it to L1?  The reason for this is so that it can serve as mass for the eventual construction of a lunar space elevator.   Or rather than taking the entire station up there, take only the parts that would be the most useful.  It would be useful to keep portions of the ISS in LEO, I would think.

The idea of deorbiting the ISS and sending it to a fiery doom seems like a terrible waste.  Surely, the basic materials alone are worth something even if their only value is as a counterweight for a lunar space elevator.  It is consistent with in situ resourcing- "living off the land", which Zubrin has been writing about.  It is the principle behind the idea of recycling the shuttle's external tanks, which I have been writing about.  It will save the money that it costs from having to launch from the Earth's deep gravity well.  No matter how much launch costs can be reduced, it would still be good practice to economize where practical.

The ISS is scheduled to last until 2020.  It is never too soon to think about what comes next.

Update: 12/29/10: 9am

If a space cannon can get fuel up to a space station, that would be helpful way of utilizing the cold box idea I wrote about here.  The cannon can launch the fuel, then dock with the cold box and unload its fuel.  After making its drop, the projectile can reenter the atmosphere and be refilled over and over again for launches into space.  Keep launching these projectiles and filling the cold box until it is full.  When the cold box is full and since the rockets are still attached, fire them up which takes it to EML-1 and mate them together until you have the necessary mass for the lunar space elevator.

Update 12/29: 1:00 PM approx.

Found this webpage about a future moon base on the lunar south pole.  Interesting.

Also, I added a new website (see left side bar under news and info) from one of the Google ads running on my page.  Its a space elevator blog.

Update 12/30: 6 am approx.

The space cannon idea above is said to be relatively cheap ( 250 dollars per pound) way of getting payload to orbit.  It is said to be able to do 1000 lb payloads.  The below is a video about using this concept to fuel rockets that can explore the planets.

One of the things it can launch is argon fuel for the VASIMR propulsion system which is close to being tested on the ISS.  This could be a valuable technology in its own right, and its just around the corner.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's worth repeating

So, I will.  They have these on the Moon too.

Thunder Horse

This idea of Mining The Sky for its mineral wealth has its counterpart here on the ground, or at sea.  Just to show that big projects funded by private funding is definitely possible, witness the Thunder Horse PDQ drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.  Construction costs came in at 5 billion dollars.

I think it is worth noting that "tethers" are used in construction all the time.  Most folks just don't see them that way, but the principle is the same.  For example, the cables in a suspension bridge perform the same function as they would in outer space.  They join pieces of the bridge together in order for it to function as a single unit.    As for the Thunder Horse Platform, it is likely that it uses cables to secure it to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a lot simpler and cheaper than building a huge structure that would tower above the floor of the ocean.

The trick would be in how to employ these techniques in outer space.

By the way, while reading Zubrin's novel, First Landing, I noted that in the story, there was this part about precious minerals on Mars.  I can't confirm this, but it would be a commercial incentive to go to Mars, provided that they exist there.  It is probably too expensive for private enterprise to launch rockets and such, but if some infrastructure could be put up there, it may become a reality some day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lunar Space Elevator

I will be studying this concept today.  There's a pdf file that I managed to download from this source.  I got the idea from van Pelt's book, which I wrote about previously.  Van Pelt mentioned Jerome Pearson, who is the one who collaborated in the study that I will be reading today.

The thing that got me interested is the Deep Space Station that I've been writing about- which could be used to deploy the cable that would extend from the station down to the lunar surface.  Once the elevator is operational, matter can be gathered from the lunar surface and aggregated to the anchor point in space (through EML-1) where the station can disengage the newly completed elevator, and install another one elsewhere- perhaps on Mars.

I'll check back in when I finish reading the file.


Mon., Dec. 27th, 10:00 am approx.

Well, I've finished reading the pdf.  Here's a key extract I obtained from the doc.

The DIRECT concept currently in the works would eliminate the need for ion rockets, I would think.  The tanks could fire themselves up to L1 and be joined together to form the counterweight for the lunar space elevator.  So, my idea concurs with this report, if I am not mistaken.

Update 2: Tue., Dec.28, 2010:

Here's a good idea from that pdf:  collect space junk and use it for mass for the lunar space elevator.  The lunar space elevator needs mass and it would be cheaper to get it from space than launching it from Earth or the Moon.  It can serve the dual purpose of cleaning up all the space junk which is a hazard in itself and converting that hazard into a resource.

Another idea for mass is mine.  By surrounding the ET with aluminum covered with shuttle tiles, the ET can become a fuel depot as well as a mass anchor for a lunar space elevator.  A fully loaded ET can weigh over a million pounds.

If you were to keep all six ET's I proposed together at EML-1, that would be plenty of mass.

Another idea occurred to me: after putting the shuttle tiles down, you could put thin film photovoltaic cells on top of it.  That stuff comes in sheets.  Since it is lightweight and comes in sheets, it should be easy to do this.  You could think of the box surrounding the ET as cold box that keeps stuff very cold inside, but also as a scaffold for solar power that can power the entire station and then some.  These ideas combined together can be said to be synergistic.

Update 3: Tue., Dec. 28, 2010, 7 am. approx.

Looks like there needs to be a lot of mass lifted into space for the counterweight.  Here's the key passage for this from the pdf.  Launch costs of 24 billion.  I wonder: could this be merged with the Moonbase expenditures in order to consolidate costs?  There's overlap in the two propositions, that's why I pose the question.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Landing

Late yesterday, I downloaded a copy to my Kindle of First Landing by Robert Zubrin.  By the way, one thing about these Kindles, they are instant gratification for books.  If you feel you've got to have a book right now, by golly, you can have it right now with this gizmo.  I bought this one back in 2008 with the tax rebate as stimulus. Those stimulus checks were supposed to prevent a recession, but they failed, didn't they?  But I digress.
I managed to read about a third of this book and may finish it in the next few days.  Initial impressions are positive.  It is the first of his books that I have read and I like his writing.  It is a work of fiction.  Not everything he does is fiction, I understand.  Those familiar with his work don't need to be told that.  I will not try to belabor the obvious.

It got me to thinking a bit about Mars.  The idea occurred to me that with an atmosphere, you may be able to fly from one play to another like we do on Earth.  It would be a bit different, of course.  Flying craft on Mars will need to carry oxygen, which isn't necessary for flying craft on Earth.  But with all the carbon dioxide, there will be plenty of oxygen that can be separated from the carbon, and that can make both the fuel and the oxidizer.

You could move ice from the polar regions to the equatorial regions with aircraft.  You wouldn't have to consume the water, just the carbon dioxide.  The combustion would return it to the Martian atmosphere.  Net zero carbon footprint on Mars.  How 'bout that?

If people went to Mars, wouldn't it be a good idea to set up an airstrip?  That would depend upon the ability to make the aircraft that could fly on Mars.  Something to think about anyway.

For what it is worth, even though I don't believe in man made global warming, I could see something to agree with those who do.  For example, you could do something in space, such as make solar power and beam it back to Earth.  This shouldn't go into the grid, though.  It should go into making methanol.  I will explain this idea in a future post.

You have to have a way to get to Mars, or for that matter, to space.  But what else have I been writing about?


Sun. 12/26/10

Just finished the book.  Zubrin has a synopsis of Mars Direct, his vision of a manned exploration of Mars.  Evidently a trip to Mars was not as cheap nor easy as was envisioned.

Someone has to get the blame.  I'm no fan of Obama, but I think the Bush administration blew it.  The new Ares launcher system was encountering cost overruns.  This wasn't necessary.  The mission could have been accomplished with essentially the same hardware as the Shuttle program was using.  That approach, which is the one now being pursued, would have had the best chance of staying within budget.

Now Zubrin proposes in this book that "living off the land" and a big new launcher was needed, like the one in the same class as the Saturn rocket that went to the Moon.  Zubrin had it about half right.  Most likely, the new launchers is where it all went wrong, since the Constellation program required two of these.
Time has been lost, and yet more time can be lost if the dissatisfaction that exists with the new DIRECT shuttle derived launch system derails the new approach.  Will this indecision and confusion be resolved and a definite course be decided upon that will survive multiple administrations and budget crunches?  The space program seems to suffer with each new change of political control.  If that's where we are headed again, then more trouble may lie ahead.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

I suppose that greeting isn't politically correct, but as you may guess by now, I don't care about that.

Because of the holiday, there may not be any more posts today after this one.  But, I want to be sure to keep posting every day, because that is my intention.  Someone may have to shoot me in order to get me to stop.

I'll keep posting my ideas about space travel too.  It may not be the official way that our fearless leaders are interested in, but the ideas may actually work.  If they don't, it's fun to speculate about them anyway.

So, far, I have written about a Paul Spudis' Moonbase, a Deep Space Station, and now my plans are to write a bit about Mars.  I read some free samples of Zubrin's books on my Kindle.  I will be writing more about that in coming posts.

By the way, my ideas for the Deep Space Station are based upon a NASA study done in the early eighties on what to do with the big external tanks being used at that time in order to launch the shuttle into orbit.  I'm just tossing in a few of my ideas.  In effect, I'm proposing turning this into a flyable space station for deep space missions, hence the name Deep Space Station.

Summing up, in order to get to Mars, you need a plan.  Once you get to Mars, you need another plan for when you are there. Finally, you need an exit plan in order to get back.

I think that a Moonbase and the Deep Space Station are good first steps.  I don't think that it's an either/or proposition.   You do the Moon and Mars both.  But the idea of launching a mission directly- from the Earth's surface to Mars- is much too ambitious.  We should set up a system which will allow many missions over a long period of time.  An Apollo type mission to Mars will generate about as much as the lunar version.  A few trips and a very long lag of nothing afterward.

So, this plan here is to go to the Moon first.  Establish a Moonbase, and a Deep Space Station, then set our sights upon Mars, the asteroids and beyond.

Some further thoughts on the Deep Space Station.  Since the shuttle derived system can be partially loaded and still deliver a payload, here is an idea.  Fully load the rocket with fuel and send the ET tank to EML1.  The ET's become the payload.

Perform six of these launches and assemble the station at L1.  Configure it so that it can use the rocket engines already there to power it to missions beyond Earth.  The configuration will allow for lunar water from the lunar base to be accumulated and converted to rocket fuel for interplanetary missions.  It may take several years to fill the tanks.  But on the other hand, you may not need to fill the tanks to get to and from Mars, nor any other location.

I got an idea about how the external tank holding the fuel can be permanently shaded.  This will make it very cold in the shade and allow for cryogenic storage for long periods of time.  The idea was to use shuttle tiles as a heat shield against heat build up which will cause boil off.  These tiles can keep the underside cool, while the outside gets hot.  Assemble these panels inside the station, and then deploy these around the tank so as to make a permanent shading facility that will also serve as an insulator.  You can make it into a big square box for ease of assembly.  Put the big panels around the big tank.  The panels don't have to weigh much.  They just need to be attached to something that can be assembled in space.  On second thought, you may not even need a box.  Just a big flat panel that creates a big enough shade to shield the ET holding the fuel.

With such an apparatus for storing fuel, we can then collect it over a long period of time.

With our rocket engines, we have a means of propulsion.

With our big empty tanks remaining, we have a habitation system for long term space voyages.  They can be spun up to provide artificial Martian gravity at 2 rpm.  They can be supplied with lunar water and other life support supplies (from the Moonbase) for the long voyages, such as a Mars mission.

There's a lot of room inside the Deep Space Station.  You can store a lot of machinery and whatnot for your deep space missions.

You have everything you need to do whatever you want.

That's my Christmas present.  Do you like it?

Friday, December 24, 2010

NASA needs to go into survivor mode

Are you a survivalist?  Can't say that I am, but having read enough of Chris Laird's stuff, I am of the opinion that it is a good idea to be prepared.  By being prepared, I mean the ability to meet survival situations on your own without expecting nor receiving outside aid.  That's because outside aid may not be available, or if it is, it may come too late to be of use.  I mention the topic in connection with the space program as a way of suggesting that this concept must be adapted to space travel.

It isn't new, and it isn't my idea.  Yet, it is not being used now, nor does it seem likely to be unless something happens.  You can't be a survivalist in terms of space travel if you are always demanding that new rockets be built every time you think of a new mission.  A survivalist meets the situations with what he has available; he cannot expect to wait around for something to be sent to him.  It may never get there.

That is not to say that something could get there.  Just don't predicate everything upon its arrival.  You make do with what you've got.  An implementation of this idea is in situ resourcing in space.

The mastery of the technique of in situ resourcing is going to be mandatory if the space program is ever to get out of low Earth orbit.  The reason is the high cost of launch.  The less that has to come off the Earth, the better.  Ultimately, this is the justification for a Moonbase, or Space Station.  It is the reason for recycling the ET's, which I have been writing about.  Such facilities will reduce the need for launches from Earth.  By doing so, it makes space travel less needful for government assistance and closer to actual commercialization.

A way to dress rehearse in situ resourcing is to recycle the ET's.  If you can't find a way to do that, why bother going up in space at all?  In the end, if this isn't going to be done, the space program is going nowhere, really.  In the end, the space program is needful of a survivalist mentality.  If it is to survive, it had better find a way to use what it has instead of expecting funding as if the funds were inexhaustible.  Here is a way for NASA to show that it can come up with a way to do what hasn't been done before.  What rocket has been converted from one use to another while in space?  The external tank has that potential, but will it ever be used?  Or will NASA or Washington expect a new rocket for every new mission?  But if that is the thinking, circumstances may mean the end of the space program.  Funds are limited, and time is running out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ET tank, #11

Earlier, I said that it will take 4 ET's to spin up to Martian artificial gravity levels.  There was a discussion in the pdf file that I've been referring to that mentions 6 ET's.

Can we find a way to use the 2 others? I think I know one.  Put one on each side of the center of gravity.

One side could be used for propulsion, the other side for docking.  It could be set up so that it doesn't have friction so that it won't slow down the spin of the station.  Use magnetic field to push it away from the station while it rotates.  You could also use this magnetic field to spin it up and to slow it back down again if you don't want to spin all the time.  The propulsion can be provided by the tank, engine assembly as is.

In order to avoid boil off, keep the propulsion part in a permanent shade.  This should simplify keeping it cold enough so that it won't boil off.

There's another idea that I had.  Use magnetic fields to provide shielding from ionizing radiation in space.  Perhaps spacesuits could be fitted with such devices.  The Earth's magnetic fields provide such shielding on the surface.  Use that principle to make a wearable shield for astronauts.


If the spacesuits mentioned above can split carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen, it could enable longer spacewalks and such.  The oxygen can be recycled continously while collecting and storing the carbon monoxide which can be used later as a fuel.

In the above mention of the permanent shading for the ET, plenty of material can be found inside the tanks which can be used for that purpose.  Thousands of pounds of metals can be recycled for purposes such as this as well as other purposes.  This is "in situ" resource utilization applied to our own spacecraft.  It is the same principle that got Apollo 13 astronauts safely home.  They scavenged materials in order to make a carbon dioxide scrubber.  Without this improvisation, they would have died.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More on Paul Spudis' Moonbase Project

It's a 16 year project, 31 launches, 88 billion dollar project that will establish a permanent presence in space. It will enable routine access to cis-lunar space without having to launch from the deep gravity well of Earth.  This will make future missions much more affordable.  Here's a way of thinking of it:  it is an interstate highway system to the solar system.  It is an infrastructure project in space.

People may recoil at the cost, but remember that it is for a 16 year project.  Money will have to be found of course.  It may well to remember that the ISS takes up about 3 billion a year, if I am not mistaken.  That is about halfway there, but you will have to wait until 2020 to start.  That's the year that the ISS program is scheduled to end.

It came to my attention that the shuttle derived system takes up 2 billion a year even if there are no launches. Not only that, but it will take some redesign work to make it off the launch pad.  This entails further costs.

Now, what if we used the shuttle derived system to launch those ET's and terminate this system from that point on?  You would need only 6 launches ( or less) to put up the tanks.  Subsequent missions can be accomplished without this launcher.  It can then be retired and the 2 billion can be saved.  By the end of the decade, you will have your 5 billion a year and you can start to work on the Moon base.

Well, you don't quite have enough money yet, but if you stretch the program out a few more years, then that will bring it into line.

The ET's can be your deep space platform to go to Mars.  It can be refurbed over a long term period that will give you plenty of time to be ready when the Moonbase is operational.  When the Moonbase is operational, you will begin work on your Mars and deep space capabilities.  This time frame will be around 2040.  This is about the time frame the Augustine commission was setting for a Mars mission.  So, you are still on schedule.

The ET's will provide plenty of shielding and living space for the crew for its 2 year mission to Mars.  It can be spun up in order provide Martian artificial g, so that the crew won't have to recover from weightlessness when they get back from their mission.  The spaciousness of the ET's will give the crew plenty of room to operate in.

I'm sure that that will be a welcome addition as opposed to be cramped up in tight spaces for 2 years.

One other thought occurred to me.  If the ISS is to end in 2020, why not try to recycle those components along with the ET's?  It seems a waste to send the ISS to a fiery death into a reentry in the Earth's atmosphere. With all the room on the ET's, the space station just might fit inside.  It will cost money to deorbit the ISS. Why not use that money to recycle it instead?


I just now recalled that NASA is spending a lot of money to study global warming.  That needs to stop.  But I am sure that these people will fight that, so here is what I propose in its place.  Set up this Moonbase and Deep Space Station, and then you will have the capability to transition out of fossil fuels into solar power from space.  Instead of wasting money on studies, actually build something of value.  If the money spent on global warming studies is transferred out and spent on this, it will free up the money to accelerate this program and bring a real solution to at least one problem: energy.  We need energy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rand Simberg is right

When he says that the heavy lifter without a mission is a solution looking for a problem.  Here is a problem to be solved:  how to establish a permanent presence in space while at the same time enabling economic development of space.

But there are many lifters available and that seems to be one of the problems.  What to do with all these?  I think this problem is big enough for all of these to have something to do in order to solve the problem mentioned above.

What if nobody thinks of this as a problem though?  What if the question is this "Who cares about being in space?"  If all we are talking about is competition for a few satellite launches, then certainly, we don't need all these rocket systems.

It seems to me that the above problem is the one that occupies the minds of most people in this business.  It's a competition for limited demand.  In cases such as that, you need to eliminate the competition so that you can survive.  Anyone else that's around is taking business from you and you just can't have that.

So, the problem could be restated.  Create new missions so that there are enough to go around.  There are plenty of things to do in space.  Plenty for everybody.  It just takes some people to realize that and to start looking for ways to get it done.

I think one mission is to exploit space for profit.  Impossible you say?  Why not look into that as a problem to be solved?  Why not see if it can be done?  If it can't, then why are there in the first place?


I just went back and checked the comments.  If they can do what they claim, then you don't need the shuttle system after all.   I don't have a dog in this hunt.  It's no skin off my back.  Whatever works best, I say.  If the shuttle system is water under the bridge, then it is what it is.  Whew!  More cliches than you can shake a stick at!

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm asking for it

And I just might get it.  I went over to Transterrestrial Musings and left a comment there about the heavy lifter rocket being developed for NASA.  Before doing that, I followed the link to article he linked to from Rand Simberg's blog.

I realize that I am not an expert.  So, I just might get creamed.  We'll see.


I misspelled the name of the blog.  Great.  Corrected now.


As of this writing, there have been 7 comments in response to that post at Rand Simberg's blog.  I made 3 of them. There were a couple of responses to my comments, but nothing that I would call a disaster, fortunately.

If I am lucky, maybe I got some people to consider my ideas.  But I don't believe in counting on luck.  I'll keep posting on the external tanks as space station concept.  I think the idea may live to fight another day.


There was one reply to my comment at The Space Review .  "Coastal Ron" wrote the reply.  There doesn't appear to be much love for the shuttle derived system.  Not that I have a "dog in this hunt".  I'm not an employee of NASA, nor is anybody I know nor any relatives.  I have no financial stake in the outcome.

If this program is going to survive, it may well have to come from the Democrats.  It is also fair to point out that all the Democrats really want is a jobs program.  Between the two factions, this system may just die for lack of interest.  Too bad.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recycling the ET, part 10

It looks like 10 posts so far on this subject, identified by this label.  I have to apologize for the lack of organization here.  This blog is a bit more haphazard than what I would like.  It appears that so far that there are 9 posts, but I wrote more on the subject in previous posts.  Yet this seems to be hard to find.

What got me interested in this proposition was the fact that the shuttle derived system is now being adopted as the heavy lifter.  Since I learned that, it is now 10 posts, which are easy to access from the label at the end of each post.  Just click on it to bring them all up.

I learned of the decision to use the shuttle derived launcher late last month.  By then, it was a month old decision since it was mid October when the decision was made to use the DIRECT approach.  The DIRECT approach is the name for shuttle derived system as the heavy lifter.

What does this decision mean?  For one thing, the entire rocket system now can be independent of the orbiter.  Since the orbiter carried the main engines on board, it meant that the entire shuttle had to come with it so as to have access to the engines.  Now that the shuttle will be gone, that extra mass, which was considerable, will no longer be needed.  The significance of this is that the external tanks can go into orbit at a much higher and safer altitude than before.  Without having to carry the extra mass of the shuttle, there will be plenty of thrust to get the external tanks to that orbit.  Even with the shuttle onboard, the tanks could have been put into orbit (not just my opinion here, it is in the documentation that is in the pdf file I reviewed).  The reason they weren't was the fear that the tank could reenter the atmosphere due to orbit decay.  At a higher orbit, this concern can more easily addressed.

As for some of the ideas that I put forward, they are not new, unique, nor mine.  It is in the pdf, just mentioned. Not necessarily in the form that I put it in, because that pdf is material that is nearly 30 years old.  The shuttle was still a relatively new launch platform back then.

Thus the use of the external tanks as a space station is an idea which has already been studied by NASA. What may make the idea more interesting is that some of the limitations of the shuttle have now been removed. It may well be more feasible now than before.

What I am saying is that there may be an opportunity here.  The question is will somebody be able to see this and take advantage of it?  Or will that opportunity be lost?  A window of opportunity can close really fast.  I hope that it will not be lost.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another alternative to Moon landings

Joseph Friedlander has a guest post up at NextBigFuture which is titled Setting up an Industrial Village on the Moon . It looks like another method of getting matter up there to the Moon in order to make a permanent presense there.  But there can be no permanent presense unless there's an economical reason for being there. What could that be?  He's looking for a way to bootstrap a colony.

The ideas he mentions say nothing about space elevators or tethers.  Rather, it is looked at from another angle entirely.  In order to get matter to or from the Moon, or from one location to another in general, a method is needed in order to protect the cargo.  The way that he mentions, which by the way, I like, is to use explosions as a decelerator. That idea isn't new, as the Russians used it in the sixties for hard landings on the Moon.

The trick is not to avoid crashes, but make the crashes not quite so hard, so that will not cause disintegrations. The remainder of the mass that's not disintegrated can be salvaged.  This makes setting up a Moon base more economical.

As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.  It can indeed be an economical way of getting materials up there that can be used to build that permanent presense.  Is there yet another way to skin the cat?

I suggest this: why not used controlled crashes to ship stuff from one part of the Moon to another?  From the lunar base to a equatorial base?  Use mass drivers on the polar base, and then catapult the cargo to the equator.  Then send up the cargo by way of a space elevator to the space station that I mentioned earlier.

Why send it all the way from the Earth if the goal is to be more economical?  It could be used to send materials not found on the Moon from the Earth, but for matter that is already there on the Moon, try this other way instead.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

About those ET's

Let's see: Van Pelt's book discusses artificial gravity.  From that discussion, I show four External tanks bolted together and then rotated at 2 rpm would give you an approximation of Mars gravity.  It would need a docking facility and some habitation modules.  It wouldn't need the internal tanks, so those can be melted down.  The metal could be used as shielding.

Just bolt the external tanks together with the docking facility in the middle of the station at the center of gravity.

The docking facility would need to be a fancy bit of hardware, though.  As the station is rotating, there would be a need to avoid putting torque on the docking spacecraft. It may also need a braking device so as to stop the spacecraft from spinning when with the rotation of the station when departure is desired.  Perhaps a clutch- this to keep the docking facility stationary so as to allow docking.  It could be released after the transfer in order to allow everything to spin with the station.  When departing the station, "push in the clutch" to disengage the rotation of the station, then apply brakes to stop the spacecraft from spinning, and then undock and then depart.


A need for those rocket engines must be found.  Otherwise, they may to get melted down or deorbited.  I was thinking, why not detach them from the "bottom" of the tank and reattach them somewhere so they can be useful in moving the station.  A good spot to reattach could be at the center of gravity on the opposite side of the docking port.

In addition to propulsion, there needs to be a climate control feature for the station.  The side facing the sun will be hot and the opposite side will be cold.  Just set up a Stirling engine to redistribute the heat and generate electricity for the station.

By the way, this topic is interesting to me, so I'll keeping adding to it from time to time.  As a reminder, all posts here are classified according to topic, so as to make it easy to locate similar posts.  Just click on the label at the end of the post in order to see all posts related to this or any other topic.

Update: 12/16/10

Trent Waddington at QuantumG's Blog proposed a tether which will enable artificial gravity of .1 g.  I was thinking, it would be a lot easier to wet workshop these external tanks if they were tethered and separated thusly.  When the construction was completed, they could be reconnected and then spun to Mars gravitation.

Some speculation about tethers

I got this idea last night, but it was late, so I didn't write about it.  Let's say you put up several shuttle external tanks and connected them together with an internal tether.  That would keep them all together.  Then spin them around to give artificial gravity.  Now with all the space inside, you could build a lot of habitat.

There is a lot of mass that can be utilized in the tanks after they get into space.  This could be converted into shielding from radiation in space.  The tanks' structure can provide protection for the tether so that it won't break down fast.  Actually, it may last for a very long time with all that metal around it.  Now, if you can get enough lunar regolith around the inner perimeter of the tanks, you could make the space station very robust.

As for lunar regolith, I got another idea from van Pelt's book that I recently perused here.  Set up the lunar elevator at L1 to the surface.  Then send up lunar regolith on the elevator.  The advantage of a lunar elevator is that it can be made from already existing materials.  Nothing new has to be invented.  Just set the thing up and it will probably work.  But people probably don't believe that though.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ay, Caramba!

Quickie post here.  Checking out Rand Simberg's post's  In Which The Truth Is Revealed,  , the comments vaguely remind me somewhat of this post I wrote awhile back.  It could be Politics Schmotics time again. Hopefully, this won't happen.  I wouldn't want to lose the enthusiasm that I found lately.  This kind of thing can wrest the optimism right out of you.  I worry about posting there, I could get clobbered like I did at Huffpo.

Apollo 13

I'd like to discuss something about that mission, which was depicted in the film starring Tom Hanks.  The thing that struck me about it was the makeshift CO2 filter that was improvised with available materials.  They had to work with what was on hand.  There wasn't any other way to deal with the problem.  What if you could formalize this process so that you can fix any kind of problem that you face?  Instead of waiting for something to be invented, improvise something with the materials that are available.

Now let me turn my attention to the problems we face in manned space missions.  If we were to apply the same process as was used in solving the CO2 problem on Apollo 13, here's what to do:  1) inventory what's available 2) brainstorm ways to use what's available that could solve the problem and 3) decide upon the best possible plan using those materials that are available.  Note that the process requires the use of what's available at the time and place in which the problem exists.  The problem can't be deferred until some other time, but must be solved in the here and now.  Now, the question:  could an effective solution be found using the technologies and techniques which we already know so that these problems can be solved?  Well, let's do a thought experiment and see.

Here's a partial inventory of what I've written about   1) space tethers,  2) recycling the external tank, and 3) a moon base.  No moon base actually exists, so perhaps that has to be deferred until later.  However, men have landed on the moon, and any landing is a temporary base.  It looks like it can't be done now, but you can get back to the moon with the rocket technology we already have, so it could be included in the inventory of proven technologies.

Alright, here's a proposal.  Launch two shuttle derived external tanks, which are already in the plans for the future.  Recycle these two external tanks and make them suitable for human habitation for a long term space presence.  In order to move these tanks to a higher orbit, use electrodynamic tethers that would provide rocketless propulsion in order to move the tanks to a higher and safer orbit.  When a lunar base has been set up, bring those lunar materials so that they could be used for this space station.  The lunar materials would come in handy in construction of the space station.   They could provide life support and radiation shielding.

Once enough material is in place the way that it is needed, things are shaping up nicely.  But, how to solve the weightless problem?  With a tether between the two tanks.  By spinning the two tanks around each other at a distance of that would enable 1g of artificial gravity, the gravity problem is solved.  The tanks would be oriented lengthwise and habitation would be stacked inside the tanks from "bottom" to "top".  The shielding would be on the sides and the stacks could provide shielding themselves.  Toward the center is where the most shielding could be in place and where the crews would spend the most time. 

Now, what if you want to move this station?  How do you provide thrust to move it to where you want?  How do you get into it and out of it?  These are questions that can be answered with the materials and technologies that are already available, I would think.

What could you do with this station?  If it could be moved to any location we want, it could be used in exploration.  Provided that the life support could be adequate for durations of up to two years, it could go to Mars as was planned in the Constellation program.  Or it could be used for mining the asteroids over a long term mission that could bring back a lot of useful stuff.

If you set up a bolo to ferry materials from the lunar surface, this can enhance the above concept.  Consider this quote from Space Tethers and Space Elevators

However, if we require continuous transportation of
cargo or astronauts between lunar base and Earth, tethers
may prove to be a superior solution.

How could this concept be used?  By setting up a modest bolo system that ferried small amounts of matter over a period of time, a significant mass could be accumulated.  Use this mass as per above and you could accumulate significant amounts of shielding and life support materials to sustain the base over long periods of time.

Now this may raise the objection that it isn't in spirit of the Apollo 13 formalized process of improvising with what is available.  However, considerable experience has been acquired in using tethers in space.  It may take extensive experimentation to get these up to speed in order to make this work, but the concept isn't far fetched.   Technically, it isn't ready yet to be included here, but it could get a lot closer if work began on it, and building upon what is already known.


I've done a trace of this idea from the first post on tethers here.  From there, I went back to Centauri Dreams, and got Paul Gilster's post on Space Tethers and Space Elevators.

This can seen as something of a reference for these ideas.  The labels for this post can give additional information.  Think of it as a kind of bibliography.  It's not formalized as one may like, but it may do.


Yes, this post is haphazard, but I keep finding things in van Pelt's book.  Here's another concept to consider in which he devoted an entire chapter: disruptive technology.  When a new technology is in its early stages of development, it is not well received nor accepted.  But over time, its advantages become disruptive and make the old established ways obsolete.  He gives two examples which I will cite in this quote:

The steamship and the car are just two examples of new technologies that dramatically disrupted the status quo, even when at the time their use did not seem to be required and their benefits seem insufficient to warrant further investments.  Space transportation now appears to be ready for a revolution as well.  Even though conventional rocket propulsion can support all we do in space and has only relatively recently reached its maturity and become trusted, the limits of its performance capabilities and economic possibilities are already in sight. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Space Tethers and Space Elevators

This will be some preliminary comments on the book that I have just finished.  The author, Michel van Pelt, works for the European Space Agency as an space analyst and team leader.  The book is a little short of 200 pages which took me a little over a day to read it all.

Here are some quotes that I want to cite and comment upon right off the bat:
The key to keeping the development of space tethers going appears to be
It will require considerable advocating, publicizing, convincing and lobbying
to keep development going, and that may turn out to be even harder than meeting the technical challenges.


If it is even harder to keep development on space tethers going than the
technical challenges themselves, then future of space exploration would
appear to be doubtful.  Why?  Are the technical challenges for tethers
that extreme?  If you can't prove an ability to overcome the technical
challenges, what's the point?  You have to believe that you can, or you might
as well give up.  I can't say that I like that much.  It is too negative.

Here's another one that make me feel a little more optimistic:

Complicated momentum exchange tether systems still have a
long way to go before they can be considered operational
technology.  The costs of their development and deployment
into space probably mean that they will be economical only
if they are used to transport many spacecraft on a regular
basis.  However, if we require continuous transportation of
cargo or astronauts between lunar base and Earth, tethers
may prove to be a superior solution.


This is more like it.

Getting matter off the moon is what you should want.  The more matter, the
better.  It could be lunar regolith for shielding for example.  In addition:
fuel, precious metals, and possibly manufactured goods.

Ways to use tethers continuously should be not that hard to find.

One idea is to build a large space station using lunar materials picked up
by tethers and delivered to a location where they can be collected and used
as construction material.

Update:  Here are some links provided by the book

Space Elevator? Build it on the Moon first.

NASA engineers, Tennessee college students successfully demonstrate catch mechanism for future space tether

This one isn't in the book, but comes up in a google search next to it.

Tethers Unlimited


I have added a new poll about Space Tethers.  It is near the bottom of the page.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is the Shuttle derived system a good deal?

Rand Simberg at Terresterial Musings doesn't think so.  As for me, I've been pleased with re-using this system for the now.  That could change though, since my education on this subject continues.  By the way, the link isn't about the Shuttle system per se, he just has a short blurb on the post which shows his opinion of the Shuttle derived system now being pursued as policy- to wit:

If NASA is smart, they’ll use both Falcon and EELVs for crew transport, so they have redundancy. What the Air Force really needs is a NASA to not develop a new Shuttle-derived vehicle, which it doesn’t need, and doesn’t have the budget for, but Congress is insisting that it build anyway, for no reason other than job preservation in Alabama, Utah, Mississippi and Florida.

Yes, the government is a big money waster, no doubt about it.  But I like the idea of using the big external tank for other things besides just ditching it into the ocean after it has finished thrusting a payload into space.  With the continuation of the shuttle based system, this may be at least a theoretical possibility.  Not that something similiar can't be done in another way, though.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Maybe it makes too much sense

By way of Al Fin and NextBigFuture, I came across this post at Centauri Dreams.  What caught my attention was the lunar rotovator concept that I mentioned in the previous post.  It's possible that I looked at this yesterday, and that is what was in my mind this morning. 

Paul Gilster, the author of the post, suggests reading this book, which fleshes out the proposition. 

As for the why this idea may never catch on, well, it wouldn't surprise me a bit.  With a government that spends as much as this one does, the opposite thought may be believed.  But conventional wisdom being what it is, it is most likely wrong.  To the contrary, this idea could save a lot of money, and even make a lot of money.  That is the reason it won't get done.  Nobody believes its any good because no one is doing it.  Yet, look at all the stupidity that is going on.  Even if this was bat do-do crazy, it wouldn't be worse than this other crap they are wasting money on.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Santa, I want one of these for Christmas

A solar sail.  Now if you could just make this thing carry freight back and forth between locations in the solar system, you just might have something.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spacex test of Dragon capsule

This must have occurred this morning.  Must have my head up my posterior.  I missed the live launch.  I do have this video now.  The comments are negative.  Unbelievable!  I think these negative people just prefer that everyone to be miserable as they are.

Update:  I hear that the splashdown and recovery was successful.  Good for them.  In other news around the net, I found this by way of NextBigFuture.  This stuff looks doable, but who knows if it will ever get done.  It hasn't been done before, which means in terms of conventional wisdom, that it is impossible.

Impressions and thoughts on "Moon Shot"

A few thoughts about the book, "Moon Shot".  In general, the book is about the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States- after Sputnik and from the American point of view.  Two of the original seven astronauts- Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton- are the authors.  But it is clear that it wasn't written by these two guys.  It reads a little like a newspaper or a truncated biography.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting read.

It may be little known, but the Russians really were trying to win the Space Race.  Right up until the end, they were trying to get at least to the Moon with a fly by.  The race was real.  There was some real doubt as to who would win, but in the end, it was the United States that won going away- so to speak.

It was hard to tell from the narrative, so I'll speculate.  It looks like the Russian's big super rocket wasn't staged.  It looked like it was just too big and complex and that is why it failed.  Several launches were attempted, but they all failed.  The last one caused a lot of damage to the launch facility.  It may have broken the Russian's spirit.  They pretty much gave up.  Instead of making big rockets that would go to the Moon, they decided to do space stations instead.  This is where they have had their greatest success.

America went ahead with it's big rockets though.  But this book only covered the Space program up until Apollo Soyuz.

What surprised me was despite the successes of Apollo, that there was so much opposition to the program.  It is a shame, almost a tragedy, that more wasn't done.  This was an excellent program that was shot down in its prime, just as President Kennedy was.  We could have gotten to Mars with that Saturn V rocket.  We could have established bases on the Moon with it.  Yet it was all thrown away.  It was considered a waste.  But the real waste was in scrapping the program.  Killing the program wasn't about ending waste.  It wasn't shown in this book, but my opinion is that there is something or someone wanting to hold back the space program.  It is not an inspiring thought.

The Russians gave up because of a lack of technical expertise.  Our guys quit because of the politicians.  They just didn't see enough advantage in the program.  The space race itself looks silly now.  But that wasn't the real reason to go.  The real reason to go was not to create a spectacular show for the public, but to do real things that mattered.  The politicians see it as a show.  Maybe too many people think of it as a show.  But there is real opportunity in space.  It is a curious thing to observe and to note that so many people fail to see it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Day, the day America woke up

Today is the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged America into World War II.  Hard to believe that this was nearly a lifetime ago now.  Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the day which shall live in infamy.  Most people alive today weren't even born yet when that fateful day happened.  It was nearly a generation before I was even born.  Yet, now, I am a bit of an old-timer myself.  I've seen a few things during my time.  One of those was the landing on the Moon in 1969.

The book that I am now reading, called "Moon Shot" was about the early days of the American Manned Space Program.  This book is about the early sixties, which was when I was very young.  Being fairly recent to the times, World War II was very fresh in the minds of people back then.  It is amazing, in retrospect, how much the world changed in such as short amount of time.  Rockets, computers, and television sets were all being put into service for the first time.  All against the backdrop of the Cold War, which followed World War. 

Rocketry was new, but not brand new.  Although Hitler used rockets late in the war, the technology was still untested and undeveloped.  America should have had a head start, since most of Germany's scientists came here after the war.  However, as in the case of Japan attacking Pearl Harbor, America was caught napping when Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit the Earth.  All this happened just a little more than 15 years after Pearl Harbor.  A few months after Sputnik, Alan Shepherd became the first American in space.  But his was a suborbital flight.  America was again playing catch up in the Space Race.  After Pearl Harbor, America was playing catch up with the Japanese Imperial Fleet.  In order to play catch up with the Russians, America had to develop the technology which eventually would take humans to the Moon and back.

Looking back over history, you can see that history has a tendency to repeat itself.  A new power is rising in the East, China, and they are quite interested in space.  Will America fall asleep again and be caught napping when China pulls off a big first?  China is advancing so fast that it almost seems inevitable.  But this is in keeping with the fast paced, changing world of today.  There really isn't time to sleep these days.  You have to keep your eyes wide open all the time.  You don't get caught napping unless you first fall asleep.  Let's see if history repeats again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don Flournoy: Why Not Space Solar Power?

This one seems to have gotten lost on my computer.  I thought I'd link to it just in case anybody hasn't seen this before.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Space habitats

I don't remember how I ended up on this page, but that is the really cool thing that I like about the internet. Whatever thought pops up in my mind, I can put it into the Google search and up comes an entry on the Wikipedia.   I can spend hours or even a whole day doing this.  Someone might say, "Go get a life!" to which  I say: "Hey, I like doing it, so it ain't a bad life if you like what you are doing."

Anyway, this space habitat thing got my speculative thoughts going again.  You know, with all this talk about space elevators, and the use of carbon nanotubes to build it, I got this latest hair brained idea.  Why not build a space station out of carbon nanotubes?  It would be light weight, strong, and you could make the station really large.  But my brain storm didn't end there.

This next part is so crazy it almost makes sense.  You see, people believe so much in this carbon dioxide problem- it causes global warming, we are told- that perhaps it could be "sequestered" in outer space.  If it is in outer space, it would become a valuable resource.  It is like Rodney Dangerfield here on Earth: it gets no respect.  But in outer space, it could support life.  Kinda like what it does here too.  But we got more of it here than some people want.  Just send it off into space, I say.  It might even make Al Gore happy.

Where would you put it in space?  I'd say somewhere that it could be gathered up again in the future when it is time.  Perhaps space probes could be smashed into permanently shaded craters on the Moon.  The probes would be full of carbon dioxide.  The plumes would rise, and measurements could be taken of what is inside every such crater on the Moon. Hopefully, enough of the carbon dioxide would remain so that it can be reused later.

Eventually, when a base is built on the Moon near one of these craters, this carbon dioxide can be mined.  That is, it could be mined as well as anything else that is already in the crater.  If there is enough stuff there, you can start building one those space habitats.  A really large one that could be launched from the Moon.  It could be built out of carbon nanotubes.  It could be filled with enough lunar regolith that it would be adequately shielded from ionizing radiation in space.  These space habitats, if big enough, can be rotated at 1 revolution per minute. At such a speed, it would generate 1 g of artificial gravity.  Voila!  A true habitat in space that resembles Earth enough so that nobody will notice the difference.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lindbergh redux?

Is spaceflight impossibly expensive?  Maybe not.  Check out this post on Quantum G blog.

His estimate of a single astronaut on an Apollo 8 flyby and return from the Moon to be 130 million dollars.  Sounds cheap, relatively speaking.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Solar dishes and sun cubes

Just looking around some old folders for info I dug up a few years ago on the subject of solar power.  The concept that caught my attention was of the solar dish engine.  This looks a lot like one of the uses for the hydrogen tank of the shuttle's external tank that I've written about. That idea for the external tank was to focus sunlight by using mirrors.  The focal point would be very hot and be useful for melting down metals.  However, if you would attach a stirling engine at that focal point, you could generate electricity instead.  That electricity could in turn be used for base operations on a space base, or be beamed down to the surface of the moon in order to provide power to a base there.

Here's another another concept called the Suncube.   This system looks modular, so perhaps it can be put together in a large system of these Suncubes to generate large amounts of power.  The Suncube uses a fresnel lens to concentrate the sun's rays onto the photoelectric cell.  This improves its output.  I saw of demonstration of this concept on a website before.  I don't have the link, though.  Anyway, the guy just put a fresnel lens over the photovoltaic cell, and the output increased dramatically.  Very convincing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

DIRECT project

The wikipedia entry describing the DIRECT project is here.  Further reading on the subject leads me to believe that the speculative posts I made are going to be only in my imagination.  It isn't going to happen unless there is a change, but that isn't likely either.  Hard to say what might happen if additional changes are made.

Instead of recycling the ET, the plan is to de-orbit them just as before.  That pretty much knocks my ideas out of the ballpark.

So, where is this plan going?  It just looks like a modified Constellation program which uses the Shuttle derived system, but not with a sidemount.  It is said to be less capable than the original Ares rockets, but much cheaper and faster to be put into service.  The gap with no manned launch capability will be cut from 7 years to as little as 2 or 3 years.

There was some discussion of the RL-10 rocket engines.   Another variant of this engine which is still in development, would allow the engine to "throttle well" - between 104% to 8% thrust.  The RL-10 design is going to be used in the JUS (Jupiter upper stage), which will serve as the Earth Departure Stage , per Constellation plans.

It is not clear if the throttling engine is in the works for this system.  Nor what it will do.

If it could shut down and restart and throttle well, it could become quite versatile, I would think.  Just a bit of speculation here, this engine could seem more like a jet engine than a rocket.  But much more capable than a jet engine of course.  With such an engine, maneurvering could become more sophisticated.  But for what purpose?  This may answer that question.   It will be used on the Altair lander to land on the moon.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lunar oxygen as reaction mass

The discovery of water on the Moon seems encouraging for many reasons.  Among them, there would be a way to make fuel on the Moon, as opposed to bringing it from Earth, which is expensive.

It has occurred to me that even though there may appear to be plenty of water available on the Moon, that better uses of it could be found.  Before long, with overuse of this resource, you could find yourself back into the position that you were in before.  Water is too scarce.  It needs to be preserved.

But there is a lot of oxygen on the Moon.  If there was a way to utilize that instead of burning hydrogen and oxygen together for thrust, then the fuel problem could be solved.  The question arose, why not use oxygen instead of hydrogen and heat it up as the reaction mass?  It would be the same concept as  Parkin's , but instead of hydrogen being heated up by microwaves, do it with oxygen.  Perhaps this isn't a good idea because oxygen is so reactive.  But if a way could be found, then here's the way off the Moon.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Makeshift lunar lander using materials from the ET

 Let's assume that you could get the ET to L1.  How can the materials from the tank be used to set up a Moon base?  

Here's the internals of the tank again.  From right working to the left,
there is the liquid oxygen tank,
then the intertank,
followed by the big liquid hydrogen tank.

Let's start with the oxygen tank.  It's the smaller of the two propellant tanks and it looks like a convenient shape.  Could this tank be fashioned into a lander of some sort?

If it were possible, attach legs and rocket engines to the bottom of this tank.  There are some big rocket nozzles at the bottom of the big hydrogen tank.  Detach those and reattach them to the oxygen tank.  Use the intertank as material.  Use the hydrogen tank as a solar furnace, melt down and/or cut the metal needed for the legs and attach it below and/or around the rocket nozzles at the base.

How could that be done?  Make some cable out of the intertank and a harness to tighten up the entire assembly into one tight package.  The harness for the cable would span between the top of the cone of the oxygen tank down to the leg assembly.  At the cone, it would be a circular ring where the cable could fit.  The "leg" assembly could be just the round intertank with spaces cut out of round cylindrical shape of it.  Cut out the middle of the intertank and with all the spaces cut out, you could have room for the rocket nozzles to fit into that space.

There would be enough space between the rocket nozzles and the intertank to give clearance at the lunar surface.  If the nozzles are too big, maybe you could use just one of them.  You would need a way to secure the nozzle to the intertank and that assembly to the oxygen tank with the cable and harness system described. Hook up the rocket nozzle to some smaller fuel tanks that may be fashioned out the remaining material, or brought up from Earth.  

If this contrived contraption worked, it would be left on the lunar surface and serve as the first piece of a lunar base.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lunar Polar Volatiles Explorer Mission Concept Study

A proposed mission to survey for what's inside of those permanently shaded craters on the Moon.  Water is expected to be found amongst other things.  Silver, for example.  Silver is useful for making solar panels.  The lunar craters could be rich in useful materials such as this.

I only scanned the document.  I did find a price tag of over a billion dollars for such a mission.  No wonder people think this stuff is expensive.  In this case, it certainly seems so.  Yet, at a billion dollars, the confirmation of significant amounts of water and other useful materials could justify using this resource to further the exploitation of space resources.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fuel depot at L2

Over at the Bad Astronomy and Universe today forum, I saw a thread about going to Mars.  I'm doubtful about a Mars mission.  Someone mentioned in flight refueling and how that makes a Mars mission plausible even with smaller rockets.  Well, that is interesting.

The idea is to put a fuel depot at the L2 Lagrangian point (on the far side of the moon away from Earth).  This is called the gateway to the solar system.  It would also give you easy access to Geo orbit as well as lunar orbit.

I wonder how the big ET tank could fit into this?  Would it be in the way, or could that idea be integrated into this somehow?  Could you get that big tank all the way out there?  Or would it be better in lunar orbit?  A big station would seem useful for manufacturing facilities as well as help in getting to and from the lunar surface.  You could use this as well as the L2 depot, it would seem.

Now if you refill this depot from lunar water, how interesting would that be?  Or you could refill from NEO's.  That might be even better.


It would be easier to get the ET to L1 instead.  Leave the fuel depot there, and then take the ET to lunar orbit.  Use a tethering system to get back and forth from the lunar surface.  If the ET is in polar orbit, that would make it more accessible to water in permanently shaded craters.  Mine the lunar water from these craters and take them back to the ET.  Launch from the ET to get back to L1 fuel depot.  Now:  is this all feasible, or is it a fantasy?

Tethers have been tested in Earth orbit with not much success from my impression.  But in a lunar gravity field, maybe they would work better?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  You could wait until carbon nanotubes become more available, and then hope that will work.  Or perhaps conventional materials would work now.  I just don't know.

Now some of my reading on rotovators suggest that one of these could fling payloads out with plenty of velocity.  But would you want to use it?  And what would be the drawbacks of using one of these setups?


I did some comparisons with the Apollo program and the Shuttle program.  My calculation may not be correct, but I think that the ET can get to L1, maybe even to lunar orbit.

Now, that doesn't mean it is capable of doing this, but it may be possible at least in theory to do it.

Pardon me while I speculate

All of these posts about space.  What's the point?  Perhaps you can see it as a kind of inspiration.  Where it may lead, who knows.  Perhaps its all just idle speculation.  Just the same, I like doing it.

Having read Mining the Sky, Platinum Moon, and numerous pdf's on the subject of space mining, I am of the opinion that it is mostly a human problem that prevents it.  Some may argue limitation due to economics or technology, but I think that these problems can be surmounted.  No, what the real problem is, is this: how do you get people interested in this as a real possibility and how do you get them to do something about it?

So pardon me while I speculate on how to do this.  Maybe you can have as much fun with reading it as I get from writing about it.  So, here I go again.

Let's look at the Space Shuttle external tank once again.  This is a great resource that got completely wasted in the service life of the shuttle program.  As was shown in my discussion of the NASA pdf, the external tank could have been used to 1) launch and retrieve satellites without rocket power by using tethers 2) melt down metals and manufacture new useful items using concentrated solar power 3) provide ample life support and 4) serve as a more or less permanent space station.  From this discussion, one could use an external tank to incrementally set up a recurring mission to the moon for the purpose of exploiting its resources.  What more would it take to do this?

Let's see:  using a sky hook facility from the space station, you could capture a single stage to orbit vehicle that could bring supplies and crew to the station.  From the station, you could launch missions to the moon, get samples and return to the station.  Then you return finished goods back to Earth along with crew in the same manner they came.  I realize this may not be feasible with modern technology, but why not look into it? If you can do space elevators, then a sky hook should be an easier project, I would think.

Who decides on these missions?  Does NASA decide on its own?  Does the President decide?  Congress? What would it take do this as an experimental mission?  I don't think that it would cost that much.  It might actually be a quite reasonable mission.  Even if it failed, it may yield useful information.  Why not do this?


The shuttle at liftoff weighed about 5 million pounds.    The orbiter itself fully loaded weighed 240,000 pounds.  The external tank weighed in at 69,000 pounds.  If you count the orbiter and external tank as payload, that's about 300,000 pounds of mass that can be orbited in space.  Or about 150 tons.  Repeat that over a hundred launches of the shuttle and you can see how much of a waste it was.  The point is that they could have had something really humongous up there by now by doing nothing more than launching these things over a hundred times.


Checked into carbon nanotubes.  They have a way to go yet, so it looks like the tether idea is out for now.  But the tether idea might work in lunar orbit.  Just need to get an ET up there.  Don't know if this is feasible, but guessing that it is.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Recycling the ET

Since the approval of a derived shuttle heavy lifter is a done deal, let's continue the study of using the external tank beyond its initial role of holding fuel for liftoff.  I did some looking into this possibility many posts ago.  It turns out that there was a NASA generated pdf for anyone interested enough to see what studies have already been done on this idea.  I downloaded it and am now in the process of reading it.  I think the point here is that the idea of doing this is not at all far fetched.  It has been considered.  Evidently, somebody in policy making circles decided not to pursue this avenue when this was produced in the early eighties.  But since the external tank is still going to be available for this as a possible use, perhaps these ideas should be revisited.

In the actual shuttle configuration that this pdf studied, there was significant amount of fuel left at Main Engine Cutoff (MECO).  There were ideas on what to do with this of course.  One conclusion is that the external tank could be put into Earth orbit indefinitely.  As for what could be done with it while it is up there, several options were considered.  Here are a few ideas in line with what I have written about before:

a) use of ET for tethering techniques
b) use of ET mass as shielding
c) use of the ET as a "strong-back" to support a space station concept

The report points out that the ET will have to be modified somewhat to made more useful in space.  These modifications are to be kept to a minimum.  Among these modifications are:

1. an attitude control system
2. access ports to the interior of the tanks in the ET must be made accessible
3. handling attachments to facilitate movement and various connections for devices
4. a way of altering the geometry of the ET  (proposed study)
5. better tools, equipment, facilities to exploit the potential of the ET


Here are some applications of tethers to enhance space station (ET) capabilities
1. De-orbiting the ET and booster the orbiter ( with shuttle this is obsolete)
2. Lowering orbiter and boosting ET or payloads  ( also obsolete )
3. Controlling ET drag and prolonging orbital life ( now this is interesting, can quadruple ET orbit life)
4. Adjusting reentry zone of a decaying ET  ( safety measure )
5. Lowering orbiter, raising space station and payloads, and generating power (power?)
6. Rendezvous with satellites and debris collection ( question: could these be launched, then captured?)
7. Orbiter rendezvous with space station ( same question as in 6)
8. Applications with advance materials tethers ( since this report is 30 years old, this is relevant)

In the last application (#8), much longer tethers may be possible with materials available today.
here is a list of applications using longer tethers
a)  apparent gravity of .1 g or more for personnel throughout a mission
b) single state to tether vehicles ( answer to #6, 7)
c) reentry velocities low enough for hot-structure reentry vehicles ( huh?)
d) release of payloads from LEO into GEO transfer orbits without rockets ( a great deal if possible)
e) tether base transportation between lunar surface, orbit, and escape ( ditto)

Update: of course, the above is not all that can be done with the ET.  Significant amount of use can be made of the materials and structures that make up the ET itself.  Here is a schematic of a solar furnace that uses that liquid hydrogen tank of the ET.

The amount of heat that this furnace could generate could melt all the aluminum in the tank.  The aluminum could then be reused for other purposes, even rocket fuel!

Very interesting quote from p. 107
       "...They can provide the means by which we learn to develop growing manufacturing capability off-Earth in the immediate future and do so economically.  The ET's can be an inexpensive, readily available resource base (350-1100 tons/yr) for use in Earth orbit rather than being wasted."

Keep in mind when reading the above quote that this was written nearly thirty years ago.  If it was true then, it is even more true today.

The thought occurred to me that, before in situ resources recovery from the moon or asteroids is even considered, this plan should be executed first.  The reason that the external tanks themselves are an excellent site for in situ resource extraction.  It would be a great place to try out the techniques.  A good knowledge base could be built on this alone, not to mention the other uses for which external tanks could be used.

In addition to the above updates and comments by me, there was even more to this report that is of interest that I haven't even gotten to yet.  For example, an external tank would be a good place for space habitat, or in one recommendation, it could be used as refuge in case of a disaster in space.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review of Platinum Moon

I really don't want to do this, but in order to be honest, I have to be a little critical of this book.  One criticism that I saw on another review said there wasn't enough character development.  I don't think I saw that, but what I did see was not exactly well stitched together story.

For one thing, the characters aren't used to full effect in order to move the plot along.  There is this one character, named Frog, whose appearance in this story doesn't really fit exactly.  She's a pilot, like the main character, Anders, but not on a mission like his.  Her character is an interesting character to know, but what does anything having to do with her matter to what happens to Anders?  Anders and Frog meet by the end of the novel, but by that time, the story is winding down.

Anders has two other characters that accompany him to the surface of the moon.  But you don't know, since the story doesn't tell you, is that the two people are romantically involved.  By the end of the book, you find out that they are getting married.  Big surprise for me.  I didn't have a clue.

Anders and his wife don't get along and are divorced.  That plays a part in the plot.  But Frog doesn't fit into this at all.  She might have, but she doesn't.  Anders own character may be a little too good to be believed.  He is a crack pilot and a good father from what we can see.  Many of his countrymen think he is a traitor, I suppose that a chink in his armor.  But the story shows that this a subjective point of view, not necessarily shared by everyone.  He comes off well.  Maybe a little too well.  I really don't believe this character.

As far as the plot itself, several opportunities to heighten the suspense are missed.  There is one spot where if something wasn't caught in time, it could have led to disaster.  You can see this, but what you don't see is how it all got resolved.  This is just skipped over as if it wasn't very interesting to know.  There could have been others, but I guess I won't mention them.

In short, the idea for the book was of intense interest to me.  That is why I bought the book  If I had not been interested in the idea of mining the moon in the first place, I probably wouldn't have bought the book.  If I had happened across this book somewhere, and began reading it, I don't think I would have finished it.  The story wasn't gripping enough to keep interest.  Hate to say that.  But it is the truth from my point of view.

Finished Platinum Moon

Not much to add to what I have already written.  One thing though.  Everything I
have written on this subject is in that book.  But, until I started reading up on
this stuff, I didn't know much of any of it.  What I am saying here, is if you want
to know what's the basic story in this book, all you have to do is read all the
space stuff posts.  It isn't exactly the same, but the general themes are there.
And that's about it.

This doesn't mean the end of these type of posts, though.

I have written before about wet workshop or dry workshop- terms that describe
the remodeling of the interior of a rocket after it has expended its fuel, and
while it is already in space.  With respect to the external tank that the new
Direct launcher will use, lets find a way to utilize that- don't throw it away.

There should be missions which practice this technique in space.  For example,
refashion the big fuel tanks into smaller tanks.  Then you could use these smaller
tanks and also free up some space inside the big external tank for other uses.  You
could also reuse the rocket motor.  A refueling module could refill the newly
fashioned tanks which would be connected to the rocket motor.  Then you'll have more
mission capability than before.


How could smaller tanks, which used the matter derived from larger tanks, be made
in space?  Being no expert in these matters, and just speculating, here's a scenario:

Cut the large tanks into manageable pieces.  Using molds brought from Earth and
a metal press, stamp out halves of a tank.  Then weld the halves together to make
a full tank.  The metal may need to be heated up so it will be soft and pliable
and will stamp easily into the mold.

Given that the original tanks are very large, plenty of metal is available.  Many
smaller tanks could be made in such a fashion.

Refilling a small tank should be easier than refilling a fricking huge one.  By
making a lot of small tanks, you ease a logistical problem of how to refuel in

Platinum Moon

I am reading this book right now.  I'm about half finished with it.  Interesting ideas here.  If I may offer a thought, even though this may have been written or said somewhere else before, I'll say that art begins where science leaves off.  This book is a novel, it is not nonfiction.  But a lot of this book has high technological plausibility and is often consistent with current developments, yet not entirely consistent with reality as it stands today.  As it is a novel, not a report of actual developments, it is a work of art.  But the art involved consists of the storytelling, for the most part.  The technologies presented provide the setting for the story.

Is there a purpose to the story?  If there is a purpose, one may demonstrate the plausibility of something like this happening for real.  It wouldn't take all that much to try what is being tried in the book.  That's my opinion, and for the most part, what I have been writing about a lot in this blog.  It is also why I bought the book and why I am writing about it here.

It appears that there exists a widely held belief that manned spaceflight has to be expensive.  Anything like space mining would therefore seem too far fetched to be taken seriously.  If this book could serve as an educational tool to inform people of this as a real possibility in our future, and that we may be much closer to doing this than anyone thinks, then perhaps the story here could serve that purpose.

I plan on finishing the book today.  When I do, I'll have more to say.  Until then.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Been busy so far today

More housekeeping on the blog.  I have subdivided the blogroll and updated it to include more blogs.  The subdivision works out roughly as political blogroll and a high tech blogroll.   I found some interesting sites and have implemented some ideas.  I have added a few links to joke sites, for example.

This blog (QuantumG's blog) is now on the blogroll (see left )  He mentions a novel called "Platinum Moon" by Bill White, and also mentions an extensive review which I am checking out as I type this.  I have to disagree with this quote from the review:
The Apollo program cost a Super Power a super-sized fraction of its GDP to employ a vast army of engineers and technicians to build and operate a wide array of gigantic facilities, rockets and spacecraft.
As I mentioned in this post, the government is spending only a tiny fraction of its budget on space.  Now correlate this fact to what Wayne Hale (formerly with NASA) says:
Lots of fancy viewgraph charts.  Big changes, imaginary promises, no more money. No bucks, no Buck Rodgers.
The government asks of NASA more than what it is willing to provide funds for doing.  When it fails, NASA gets the blame.  Its almost like somebody wants it to fail.  Why do so many politicians demand the impossible and why do the people let the politicians get away with failure to provide a realistic chance for success?  A realistic plan is needed and a realistic plan for funding needs to be provided and then a commitment needs to be made to do it.  Otherwise, you are setting up the program for failure.

Update:  just finished reading the review.  Platinum Moon may be worth reading.
Update 2:  I am going to order this book, read it, and maybe review it.  If I review it, I may cross post it on Amazon.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Son of a gun, it's already in the pipeline

From the new site I registered with earlier today is this link, which brought me to this link.  The thing I was suggesting may already be in the pipeline.  Well, not exactly.

It won't be a sidemount.  It will stack on top of the external tank.

Here's a story on how this (called the Direct Movement) came about.  Another page here
with some more info.

Popular Mechanics story on Direct in Jan. 2009.  Obviously, I was in the dark about
this.  Oops.