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.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

I just joined this forum and got a link which led to this video (posted on YouTube).  It's called Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum.  Can't recommend nor not recommend as of yet.  To see anything there, you have to register, which is what I did.

Some more thoughts on open source

Here's a quote from Keith Curtis' book "After the Software Wars".
"At Microsoft, we had it beaten into our heads to fix bugs: a bug meant an unhappy customer, and a bug that affected just 1% of users meant that there were millions of unhappy customers!  Software that doesn't work is not worth anything."
For anything open source, bugs may be an issue because no one has a proprietary interest in the product.  That's a strength of proprietary software ( or anything else of intellectual property origin ).  He goes on to point out the bugginess of Linux distributions and how necessary it is to address the bug issue with respect to the future of Linux.

Perhaps the thing to do is to nip it in the bud from the start. Nothing gets in the codebase until it is fully vetted.  It must get a seal of approval and that seal has to be earned.  No point in doing anything if it isn't right.  Better to start on the right foot than to end up on the wrong foot.

Don't reinvent the wheel revisited

I didn't know this before I wrote the original post- that the shuttle external tank reaches 98% of orbital velocity.  With a little more power, it can get into orbit instead of being sent back to a fiery doom during reentry from space.  So, why not use this as a resource as opposed to wasting it?  That's what I was writing about before, so I'll return to that subject again.

The Augustine Commission considered a Shuttle derived system as one of the possible heavy lift vehicles that will replace the Shuttle.  With a little less mass, as would be the case without a shuttle to put into orbit, the Shuttle derived system could reuse its external tank.  Since the tank already has 98% velocity with more mass, the reduction in mass (from not having to lift the shuttle) should make virtually the entire system  reusable.  But not as it is.  Once it arrives in space, it will need a little work to set it up as a permanent facility in space.

The external tank can be remodeled into a useful bit of machinery that could save a lot of money and do something useful.  Instead of putting extra rocketry on its sidemount, it could carry equipment and supplies that would be transferred to the inside of the tank so it can do the remodeling job.  How can you do that?  Well, I think that it would take a few modifications to the external tank in order to make this possible.  You would need to make a large door at end of the tank so that stuff could be put inside the tank after its launched into space.  Think of it as a hood and/or trunk type setup.

Each subsequent launch would add more equipment and supplies, but not a duplicate of what was sent earlier.  Instead, after the first tank was finished, launch the next tank into space.  Transfer the equipment that was no longer needed on the first, and equipment from the second is tranferred to the first for further work on the first.

In such a manner, an assembly line could be set up in space which would build a fleet of large habitats in space for future missions.  All that would be required after construction of one habitat is for a crew to come up in a separate vehicle and transfer to the large habitat.  Not only would the big external tank be a habitat, it would still have a large powerful rocket that could take it on missions back and forth.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Space Elevators

In his book book "After the Software Wars", Keith Curtis advocates the development of the space elevator.  What about a space elevator?  There isn't much doubt that this would be much preferred over chemical rockets. The trouble, I think, is that it too exotic at this time.  It would require mastery of a materials that aren't quite well understood as of yet.  Certainly, the use of chemical rockets must seem pretty old fashioned by now.  But it is the only proven way to get to space.  To discontinue the use of rockets first, then switching priorities to space elevators would seem to be premature.  My opinion of course.

Not to defend chemical rockets here, but the really bad thing about how this has been done is the fact that so much mass gets wasted.  The shuttle was supposed to solve this issue, but the design was flawed in that sense.  Or to put it another way, if the purpose was to save mass, it failed because the design was not geared toward saving mass in the way that counted.  Inasmuch as most of the mass is fuel, that part cannot be saved unless the number of launches is minimized.  The amount of mass that goes up must be minimized as well as the amount that you have to bring back.  This is where the shuttle failed.  In trying to construct a system that could land, you have to bring back too much mass.  This takes from payload.  What you end up doing is burning a lot of fuel just to get your vehicle up and back down again.  You need to put a lot of payload up there and keep it up there.  Bringing it back only means you have to climb the gravity well again.

A good solution is a one and your done launch.  The shuttle design was good in that the shuttle could be used over and over.  But it needed to be kept in space.   When the astronauts and/or cargo had to return to earth, just do it the same way as in Apollo.  Just use relatively small capsules to come back.  Not bring a large vehicle back.  Use that vehicle in space to go places.  Maybe even back to the moon.  Or to Mars.  It is silly
to keep launching it again and again from the earth.

Therefore, a radically new launch system really isn't necessary.  We just need to use what we got in a more effective manner.  A shuttle derived system, which was considered by the Augustine commission, could've possibly been set to reuse its big engines.  Or could it?  Try to imagine refueling one of those big rockets in space.  If that could be done, you have a lot of rocket capability up there.  But the commission really didn't go into that.  The refueling would take place with a much smaller craft.  Too bad.    It would reduce the number of launches to move things if you had that much power potential in one rocket already situated in space.

Space elevators would be great.  But chemical rockets didn't have to be this bad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Came across this while researching mass drivers

Its a paper from the Space Studies Institute.  I am reading it now.  It has a lot of the same ideas that I have been discussing.  I knew about these guys from an Al Fin blog post in October.   The paper is called "A Space Roadmap: Mine the Sky, Defend the Earth, and Settle the Universe.  Not to compare myself to this guy, but what I have written here on the subject is a lot like what I have read so far.  That makes me no further out there than they are.  For whatever that's worth.

Update:  Here's an interesting quote in light of what I posted just this morning:

We can imagine a point, sometime in the future, where the manufacturing cost per unit mass is as low in space as it is on the surface of the Earth. Well before that time, however, space manufacturing will have an advantage in the construction of plants for base load power. At some time, slightly more distant, we can imagine that the manufacturing cost of space derived materials will be cheaper than those produced on the surface of the earth for the simple reason that one of the primary inputs, energy, will always be much cheaper in space.


Here's another which dovetails nicely with what I wrote recently:
The failure to develop this critical spacefaring technology is an indictment of our national space enterprise.

And this:
Despite the crying need for such a system, and despite the demonstration that such systems are possible, none yet suitable for space settlements or indeed more modest missions has been developed. Such development is clearly within the purview of NASA’s mission and should be undertaken with the idea that the survival and prosperity of the human race may depend on it.

Good stuff.  Read it all.

Update:  Found an article that is somewhat related to the discussion of mining the sky.  Here is a comment that says the same thing this article says.  The article was on Popsci and it was about diamonds on other planets and the possibility of mining them some day.

Thought experiment, continued

This is a continuation of the thought experiment started yesterday.  Let's reduce
this down to just one car and the amount of solar panels you would need to produce
the electricity for that one car.  From my study of batteries, you can get about
3 miles per kilowatt hour with a battery.  This calculation is from my memory and
may not be entirely accurate nor up to date.  But this isn't exact, a round figure
will suffice for now.

The Chevy Volt has a 40 mile range for its battery pack.  Using the 3 mile per kwh
number, you would need about 13 kwh of power to drive with electricity.  Again, this
may not be exact, but it is using a figure from the real world in order to get a
rough estimate.

From this we can calculate how much solar panelling will be necessary in order to
produce the 13 kwh.  Using the web page from yesterday, we have 80 watts of continuous
power from a 1000 sq inch panel.  At 95% availability in geosynchronous orbit, the
panel will produce  (.95*80 watts * 24 hours)/ 1000 watt hours per kwh = 1.824 kwh.
Why 95% availability?  A solar panel in geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of
22,000 miles (approx) will be in the sun almost 95% of the time.  From this number,
we can now calculate the number of panels needed in order to produce the electricity
for 1 auto.  13 kwh/1.824 kwh per panel gives a little over 7 panels.

What would be the cost of these 7 panels?  This is about 49 square feet of panels.
From this webpage, we can calculate it (again a bit rough calc) it figures out
to be about 56 dollars per square foot.  So, 7*56 = 392 or about 400 dollars.

How long will it last?  Maybe it could last 30 years.  Perhaps that would be way
too optimistic.  Let's say 10 years.  Then the cost per year would be 400/10
which would be about 40 dollars per year.

Sounds pretty cheap, still.  What is the cost per kwh if you use electricity from
the wall plug?  At 10 cents per kwh, you and 13 kwh per day you get the following
.10*13*365= which is about 475 bucks per year.  The above solar panel configuration
would only have to be 1/10th as efficient in order to yield the same cost.

Is it worthwhile to launch from the moon?  You have to have the infrastructure in
place on the moon in order to make the solar panels and to put them into orbit.
That would take a considerable investment.  If you can get the costs down of
manufacturing the solar panels to anything near what it takes on earth, then what
you have left is the cost of launch.  How much would that be?  About 5% of what
an earth launch would cost.  Again, rough figures.  That would be about 10,000 *
5 percent or 500 dollars per kg.  You'll still have to do better than this because
7 solar panels would definitely weigh more than 1 kg.  The 10,000 number is based
upon shuttles which are expensive even for earth launches.

The launch problem still exists even on the moon, or at least in this example.
Can you do better than the 5% number?  Maybe.  It takes energy to launch from
anywhere.  Getting stuff off the moon would require an efficient way to use
energy for launches.  If you figure that out, you figure out this problem.

What about mass launchers?  It would only use energy and little to no fuel.  This
could be a start.  I pick this up again in a future post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I googled this and actually got an answer

How many solar panels do we need to power the US?  

Note: link above was broken, just fixed it.

I ran some of the calculations.  I'm not so sure that his calculations are correct.  The number of hours in the year is 24 times 365.  His number is 9125.  Mine is 8760.   That 365 extra hours from somewhere.  Maybe he multiplied 365 by 25 hours in a day?  He came up with 1643835616 panels.  I won't run those calculations.  Just assume that it is correct.  At 1000 square inches per panel, that adds 3 zeroes to the above number of panels giving total number of square inches.  Dividing this by 4,014,489,600 square inches in a square mile should give number of square miles.  That gives 409.4756 square miles.  You could put that into space, don't you think?

Space Cadet

I guy I used to work with, whose first name was Dave, had a favorite saying.  He liked to say "If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't be living."   So, what about that?  Isn't it useful, in a pragmatic sense, to have a sense of humor about things?  Well, it can certainly take the edge off some social tensions.  I bring this up because of what someone said about me in reference to a post I made on the subject of space.  He was ridiculing my ideas that I have been exploring here.  I answered back, but kept my anger somewhat in check.  All the time, I was wondering if I was taking it all too seriously.  Was I not able to take a joke?

But being a rather stubborn sort, I continue to soldier on ( or space cadet on ) with these ideas.  Because I am getting more and more sure that they could work.

Incidentally, this guy who made fun of me with this space cadet remark is on Huffington Post.  It is mostly left wing site which I make comments from time to time.  This particular comment was about how to create jobs.  People need jobs nowadays.  There isn't enough of them.  So, I made the suggestion that we could launch solar powered satellites from the moon.  These in turn could supply power to Earth which could be used to solve the transportation fuel problem we have here in the USA.  Rather than to say too much more about it, an interested reader can go to Huffington and pick up the thread there.

On the subject at hand, the idea of making space pay, I would like to get past all the baloney and see if it can work.  Let's consider this a thought experiment.  Can it work?

Let's see my progress on this.  I posted about Stirling engines and nukes as a power source on the moon.   You definitely need power sources to do anything on the moon.  Today I have been reading about fresnel lenses.  I remembered reading about these in connection to generating solar power.  Seems like somebody in Australia was making solar cubes and selling them.  The solar cubes used fresnel lenses to concentrate the rays of the sun on the photovoltaic cells.  This made them more efficient.

This idea may be useful on the moon too.  Not necessarily using solar cubes, but the fresnel lenses.  You can make fresnel lenses out of plastics.  With an earlier post, it appears that plastics can be manufactured by using yeasts.  The yeast could produce plastic from carbon dioxide.  You would need a way to use carbon dioxide on the moon.  What better way than to make plastics with yeast and with the plastic make fresnel lenses?  You can make the photovoltaics from all the silicon on the moon.  Now you have two elements for making photovoltaics from in situ resources of the moon.  You could use these on the moon, and/ or you could launch them into geosynchronous orbit around the Earth.  From there, you can beam down the energy to Earth which can earn a profit from operations on the moon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stirling engines

I first became aware of these about 6 years ago.  They are quite interesting gizmos in that they can run on any energy source.  There are demo models of these that can run off the heat energy coming off the palm of your hand while you are holding it.

These little marvels are more than just curiosities though.  Stirling engines are being used in submarines.  Also, NASA has worked on these for possible use in space missions.  Since they do not require combustion to run these engines, they are quite handy in such situations as subs and spacecraft, where air is not easily accessed.

There is one that got my attention in connection to my series of posts about making a permanent space station on the moon.  Here is a place where such a device may come in quite handy.

In those configurations that I have seen, I am not sure that there is one that would match up nicely with what you need on the moon.  This is most likely because no one is on the moon at the present time.  (lol)  But could one be designed that would be suitable for lunar base needs for power?  Would it be nuclear powered or solar powered or both?

The reason I am interested in this is that in order to do anything serious on the moon, you would definitely need a power source.  Perhaps photovoltaic power would be a good thing, but could you improve upon this? A solar trough design, for example, may be more efficient than photovoltaic cells.  If used in combination with a Stirling engine, you could get the best combination of efficiency, reliability, and portability.

Was the Constellation program a good response to the Columbia Disaster?

This is the next of my most recent series on space.  I posed the above question in
a previous post.

I think the answer is no.  Constellation is too ambitious.  The mission will require 10
launches to set up for the mission to Mars. It will take 2 years to complete the mission.
The odds of everything going to plan during all this time and over all these launches-
is not good.  It is also bad because they are throwing away the shuttle system
in favor of a new launch system.  This launch system needs its own shake down time.
Before it can be ready, many years will have passed.  In the meantime, nothing gets
accomplished.  Lastly, they are not showing the way to the future.  This doesn't answer
 the economic needs of the country.  It looks more and more like a luxury instead of a
necessity.  People may decide that they don't need the space program anymore.  That
would be a mistake.

Was the loss of Columbia all NASA's fault?

No doubt that NASA made a lot of mistakes.  But how about the rest of us?  Why did we forget space?  Why did spending revert to such low levels?  The following chart shows that if NASA doubled its budget, it will still only be half the size of what it was during the Apollo era.  Yet NASA is expected to do more.  If NASA had gotten more funding, it could have spent more on safety and saved both shuttles.  The cost would have minimal.  Yet the space program is seen to be expendable.  Why should it be surprising then when it fails?

Here's the history of the budget from the pdf:

By the same token, if you eliminate NASA entirely, you don't even begin to balance the budget.  But cutting NASA is cutting muscle not fat.  This is what I am trying to get across.  "Saving" money by scrimping on NASA is self defeating and does not save money in the long run.  It will end up costing more.

By looking at this chart, I noticed that the spending now is comparable to spending level (as a percentage of the Federal Budget) as it was in the early sixties.  For NASA to accomplish as much as it did in this political environment is a stupendous achievement.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I know this is dated material, but I have never had time to look it over completely.  A couple hundred pages of pdf to read over about the Columbia accident.  My impression going in is that we have a political problem.  One thing about this report that I can comment upon right now is that it was quite thorough.  In that respect, it is impressive.  I'll have more to say on it later.

NOVA: Columbia - Space Shuttle Disaster

Update:  I haven't written anything new about this yet, but I have thought about it.  I continue to believe that we have a political problem.  This may have contributed to the accident, but probably didn't cause it directly.  If you look at the budget history of NASA, it is called upon to do more and more with less and less money.  Therein lies at least part of the problem.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A short blurb on the following post

from Nextbigfuture.  I have it listed at my stumbleupon page.  Well, I haven't been on my stumbleupon page in a couple of years.  All the links are still there.  And I saw this one from 2008.  It was about in vitro meat.  Reminds me of the post I wrote recently about aquaponics and aeroponics .  Here you are, you can also produce meat without the animal.  If you're interested, there's a paperback that covers the topic:  Meat Substitutes: Tofu, in Vitro Meat, Soy Protein, Quorn, Wheat Gluten, Tempeh, Textured Vegetable Protein, Bk Veggie, Laetiporus

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nukes on the moon?

Not bombs, but reactors.  There are small, safe reactors that might fit on a rocket, and perhaps even a moon lander.  This is a speculation, but it may be possible.  According to this, the reactors are the size of hot tubs.  Doesn't say what it weighs.   Now, the Altair lander for the Constellation program can carry tons of cargo.  If the hot tub size reactor doesn't weigh too much, it might just fit.  With as much power as one of these generates, it would be possible to do a lot of interesting stuff.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NASA video shows dramatic Deep Impact flyby of comet Hartley 2

Beam me up, Scotty

This is the 100th post of BNO.  A milestone.  Who would a thunk it?  Ok, let's get on with it.

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute, asks if we are a biological miracle.  I want to comment upon the following quote.  By the way, the story is on Huffington Post.  Here's the quote:
In Europe, some academics have recently weighed in on the side of the skeptics, claiming to find biological roadblocks that would stall the easy evolution of thinking beings.

The thing I want to comment upon is evolution.  Why assume that we evolved by accident?  Could our existence be only explained by a mere accident also known as the theory of evolution?  I only want to posit a different possibility.  After all, scientists claimed to have created life itself in a laboratory.  But that would not be any accident if it were to happen.  An intelligent life form would have created another life form itself.  But how would you reconcile the two?  If humans create life, then who created humans?  Does evolution happen all by itself?

This isn't a religious argument being put forward as a way to discredit the theory of evolution.  I don't consider creationism a science.  This isn't about creationism.  Nor of intelligent design.  It is only to suggest that evolution may not be asking the right questions and therefore you cannot get answers unless you ask the right questions.

Is the right question the one that Shostak asks?  It may be a miracle, but not the one he may be suggesting.  On the other hand, for an intelligent being, to create life routinely isn't any miracle.  Besides that, not all life is intelligent.  Intelligence itself has to be defined.

Kicking around some ideas

What would be the obstacles to colonizing the moon?  First, you get life support set up.  This requires assistance from Earth of course.  But over time, you want to minimize this because it is very expensive.  Therefore, the initial goal should be to get the moon base set up for life support on a long term basis. You need permanent shelter, water, oxygen and food.

Shelter will need to be built.  The initial shelter can come from Earth, but eventually you will want to build things from lunar materials.   How would you build shelters on the moon?  It may be possible to make them from yeast that can make plastics.  I read about plastic making yeasts recently on the web.  (see link)  These yeasts take the carbon dioxide the colonists will exhale and convert this into a useful building product.  Therefore, you want to collect the carbon dioxide as opposed to discarding it as waste.  It turns out that carbon dioxide is a very useful raw material in its own right.  In a very real sense, we are made of the stuff.

We may not be able to breathe carbon dioxide and live, but plants use it to make food that we can eat.  No reason to throw away carbon dioxide.  But what you are really doing is finding useful things to do with matter which is very expensive to launch from Earth.  The less matter that has to be launched, the more valuable the moon becomes.  This is because it is becoming more and more capable of sustaining itself without being resupplied from the Earth.  As food is imported, eventually it becomes plastics which can be used to make shelter.  That means fewer launches from Earth to support the colony.

But how do you grow things on the moon without water?  As with food, the initial supplies will come from the Earth, but ways must be found to extract water from the moon.  It turns out that this is possible.  There are small ( very small ) amounts of water in the lunar regolith. ( fancy way of saying soil )  By extracting this water,  it will become possible to sustain a lunar agriculture based upon lunar water supply.  Inasmuch as the water is hard to come by, it will be necessary to be very careful about how it is used.  As with carbon dioxide, it cannot be wasted.  Carbon dioxide from exhalation will be a supply for the plants.  Human waste can get recycled back into carbon dioxide or other organics which in turn can keep the cycle closed so that nothing is wasted.

Once you are able to solve the problems of shelter, food, and water, you can move on to becoming more productive.  At first you only be able to do limited number of things because of a lack of energy.  How to obtain energy?  As with basic life support, a starter energy system has to be imported from Earth.  But you want to be able to construct your own energy making systems with lunar materials.  How to do this?  Could you make solar panels with lunar materials?  This is possible.  Could you make a Stirling engine with lunar materials?  Stirling engines aren't new.  They were invented before steam engines.  One would suppose that a Stirling engine could be constructed with lunar materials on the moon itself.  It could be the first lunar power plant fully constructed on the moon to serve the lunar colonists.  Now the colonists can do things to increase their productivity even more.  The colony is becoming more self sufficient.

Perhaps the lunar colony can export something back to Earth in order to support itself even better.  What does the moon have that the Earth could want?  One thing that it has is energy from the Sun.  If you can make lots of solar panels which can produce far more than what the colonists need, you then have an exportable product.  But maybe that is getting ahead of oneself.  For the moment, perhaps it will suffice to be able to launch from the moon.  This will save the Earth from having to supply the moon with launching fuel ( and launchers).  You may want to learn how to do that next.  One thing the Earth could want is to stop having to subsidize the lunar colony.  If it can launch things on its own, it will be able to exchange with the Earth on a more equal footing.

Rather than thinking of the moon as a cost center, it can eventually be turned into a profit center.  If you want energy imports from the moon,  maybe you still want to subsidize it so that it can develop a real industry on the moon that can build and launch solar power stations into Earth orbit.   This may require the export from Earth of more sophisticated technology such as a complete launching infrastructure and manufacturing facility.
The manufacturing facility will produce the power station from lunar materials.  The launch facility will get it off the moon and into Earth orbit where it can produce energy for the Earthlings.  The moon is now supporting itself economically.

Besides energy, the moon can used to launching things.  It costs much less to launch from the moon than from the Earth.  But you have to have something that's on the moon that you want to get back from the moon.  Once you have that on a money making basis, the launch facility on the moon can move on to new projects.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Heavy lift comparisons

I pulled two graphics out the pdf files for comparison purposes and put them together for comparison.

The left chart is from Parkin's The Microwave Thermal Thruster pdf.  The right chart is from the Augustine Commission Final Report pdf.  I underlined the configuration on the left chart and for comparison, look at the Ares V payload mass.  For one, the underlined configuration is not the biggest one in the chart.  Number two, the Saturn V that took astronauts to the Moon weighs almost 3 times as much while lifting comparable payload.  Number three, the one with the wet mass of 1000 tons will lift as much as the Ares V launcher.  That means it can give the same capability in terms of payload capacity with a much lighter launcher.

Hopefully, this concept of using a Microwave for rocket propulsion will work.

Update:  A couple of questions occurred to me:  1) Could this launch concept
be used on the Moon? and 2) Could this launch system be extended to a landing
system as well?  (especially on the Moon,since it has no atmosphere which
prevents a glider like landing system that the Shuttle used.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010


How do you stay alive for two years in outer space?  NASA will have to learn how if they are going to send a crew of astronauts to Mars.   The study of Aquaponics may show a way to do this.
Aquaponics is the simultaneous cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a symbiotic environment where the animal effluents that accumulate in the water are used and filtered out by the plants as nutrients, after which the water is recirculated back to the animals.

Nothing can get wasted in outer space.  There is no room for pollution either.  It must be kept clean.  Water and carbon dioxide must get recycled continuously.  Food must be produced that includes a balanced diet of meat and vegetables.  This system looks like it can do this.  What can go wrong?

Aquaponics systems can have multiple 'single points of failure' where problems such as an electrical failure or pipe blockage can lead to a complete loss of fish stock

In practice, that's how it can happen.  Clearly, there needs to be backup systems in order to recover from times when things go wrong.  But this is true in all space flight systems.   Perhaps the system can be productive enough so that, in case of failure, reserves of food can be produced that will be enough to sustain a crew until a new crop can be grown.  Perhaps this is not the most critical of worries for NASA.

Update:  Not only can you grow food, you can cultivate yeasts which can produce plastics.  Hat tip: Instapundit.

Parkin's Microthermal Rocket revisited

Having finished with the Augustine Commission posts, let's move on to Parkin's device.

This post is based upon the pdf file referenced in the previous post above.  Who is Kevin Parkin?  Nextbigfuture blog has a post which says a bit about who he is and his device.
One of the major advantages of a beamed microwave external propulsion system, said Kevin Parkin, the deputy director of the Mission Design Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., is that it can bypass some of the typical constraints of a traditional propulsion engine.
There is a Cnet story from the post above which tells more ... 
But NASA is already looking into the technology, Parkin said, pointing to a research project under way at the U.S. space agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
 It appears that the Microwave Thermal Propulsion concept evolved out of work on Laser Propulsion.
From Parkin's thesis:
The use of lasers for propulsion was first suggested by Kantrowitz (1972) and independently by Minovich (1972) a short time later. Kantrowitz focused on lasers in his seminal paper because high power microwave sources at wavelengths practical for beamed- energy launch did not exist at that time (Kantrowitz, 2004).
...Most of the attention thus far has focused on ablative laser propulsion (Pakhomov and Gregory, 2000). 
The laser lightcraft (Wang et al., 2002) has a diameter of 12.2 cm and weighs roughly 50 grams. It is powered by a 10 kW CO2 laser. A parabolic mirror on the underside of the craft, shown in Fig. 1-14, focuses the beam into the engine air or propellant. The pulsed laser heats the air, causing it to break down into a plasma. The plasma strongly absorbs the incoming pulse, heating to roughly 18,000 K before exploding from the annular  underside region, generating thrust.
The ablative microwave lightcraft concept of Myrabo and Benford (1994) shown in Fig.1-15 uses microwaves rather than lasers. The concept is airbreathing but switches to an on-board hydrogen supply for the later stages of ascent (in vacuum).  

It was a short step from there by building on the work of the nuclear thermal concept which was almost brought to prototype during the Apollo era. 

Why use Microwave Thermal Propulsion?  From the thesis:
This thesis sets forth the new approach of microwave thermal propulsion, which belongs to the wider class of heat exchanger-based propulsion techniques that includes nuclear thermal and laser thermal propulsion. 

The past 40 years of launch prices (Fig. 1-1) suggest that the elasticity of demand is locally flat at the present launch price of $10,000 per kilogram of payload, in essence a metastable level, and that an evolutionary path to a lower launch price does not exist.

This thesis offers a technological solution to the problem above: The Launch Problem.  ...
The combined effect of lower structural cost, greater payload fraction and higher flight rate can profoundly alter the economics of launch, minimizing the need to boost launch demand in order to solve the launch problem.
According to the Nextbigfuture blog post above, the device may go to prototype by 2018.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The last on the Augustine Commission

This is in reference to the Constellation mission, which the Augustine Commission was reviewing.  I began with a series of posts in which I used the report as a guide.  It was loosely following the guide, with a smattering of my own comments and speculations.  After finishing reading of the document, I am still of the same opinion that a trip to Mars is too ambitious for the technology involved.  However, it should be pointed out that this commission was composed of minds far more knowledgeable on this subject than my own.  Not to be too critical though, I am just not convinced of the Mars part of this proposition.

The commission did a good job, in my opinion, of putting forth the options for policy makers need in order to make the best possible choice.   They had to consider the new technologies needed and the budget constraints that would be relevant in making those choices.  Here are a couple charts which shows what the committee was reviewing.  They didn't recommend any particular one of the options, but what they did say was that Mars was not the best first option, but it was the ultimate option.

As can be seen from the charts, one of the more significant items (in my opinion) addressed was in flight refueling.

 In flight refueling would make the shuttle derived system- which is now operational with the shuttle- capable of  Mars missions.  That is actually quite impressive.
Refueling the external tank?
Titan/Delta hybrid "Heritage" Launcher can be refueled?

In summary, I would prefer a flexible path (Option 5c) with a deferred schedule to Mars.  Before going to Mars, a better launch system than these should be developed.   A two year mission is too long.  The procedure required is too complex, which invites critical errors in my opinion.  With a mission like this, there is no margin for error.  That makes the mission too vulnerable to failure, which would be too great of a risk.

Update:  I think I should add one more speculation on this proposition.  Can the SDS (shuttle derived system) be refueled?  If it could be reused again and again, that would be better than discarded it the way they do now.  That big external tank can hold a lot of stuff and could come in handy in space.

Friday, November 5, 2010

ISS waystation to the cosmos

In my post,

What could done about the ISS, I began:

The ISS then would be saved for a long as possible, and integrated into a series of space infrastructure improvements that would facilitate the development of space resources.

With this post, I suggest that the ISS could be sent to a Earth Moon Lagrangian point (L4, L5) and used to as a way station for deeper space missions.  It would be costly to de orbit the ISS and even costlier still to put up more infrastructure that will be necessary to undertake missions to the Moon, asteroids, Mars, and beyond.  Why not save that expense by recycling the ISS and using it a way station?

A Lagrangian point has many virtues that could be quite useful for deep space missions.  The first virtue is that any deep space launch from this point would not require an escape from a deep gravity well.  A second virtue is that it would require very little station keeping, or perhaps none at all.  A third virtue is that when these virtues combine, it then would be useful as a space bank in that it could collect and redistribute assets ( fuel, rockets etc.) when needed.

Getting the ISS to a Lagrangian point could be done by a combination of ion engines and conventional chemical rocket engines.  It may not require any new heavy lift rocket because it is already in low Earth orbit. Getting it higher to a Lagrange point would take a boost.  I am guessing that this is feasible.

Any future missions would be to the way station and then beyond.  The way station could be supplied from the Earth.  Its capabilities can also be expanded.  Much more mass can be deposited there, which in turn, can enable mass to redeposited in useful places elsewhere, such as the Moon.  It could serve as a collection point from the Moon as well.  The Moon itself is a much easier gravity well to escape from, since it requires only about 5% of what Earth launches require.  Ultimately, it can be a collection point from the NEOs (Near Earth Objects) which can be mined for useful materials.  These useful materials can be used for future rocket launches and life support.  In this way, capabilities are enhanced for future deeper space missions, such as a mission to Mars.

Update:  I thought about this a little more and came up with these thoughts.  1) in space, there is almost no matter, but lots of energy of various kinds  2) on the ground, there is much matter, but it takes a lot of energy to get out of the gravity well.  The trick to travelling in space is to not use matter, but to use energy instead.  Energy is plentiful, but matter is not.  You want to get the matter up there only once, not time and time again.  Each time takes great amounts of energy to get out of the gravity well.  Then you get back down the well and have to do it all over again.  If you launch what you need only once, then you leave the well behind.

Subsequent launches take less energy, where it is plentiful.  If you have the matter you need, then all you have to do is to exploit the energy available so you can go somewhere.  You need reaction mass, but you can get it from asteroids.  Gravity wells for asteroids hardly exist.   So, you can collect all the fuel you need in order to go somewhere from asteroids.  This compares to having to lift the fuel off the ground out of that deep gravity well called Earth.  So, the solution for the problem is to move mass where you need it and the easiest way to do that is to use energy from the sun and mass from asteroids and collect them in a place that is convenient to Earth so people can get to and from it without much trouble.  That's the idea here.

You need various kinds of matter, but it boils down to 2 purposes.  The first purpose is for life support.  The second purpose is for propulsion.  Water would work just fine.  Mine asteroids for water.  Use the water for life support and propulsion.  Break down the water into oxygen and hydrogen.  You can use the hydrogen as reaction mass and breathe the oxygen.  You can use the water to support animal life and plant life.  Grow you own food in space with asteroidal water.  If you need more carbon, you can mine that too off the asteroids.  You can get all the matter you need for life support and propulsion from the asteroids.

If you need more, the Earth is nearby.

For complex structures and matter not easily found on asteroids, you can use the Earth as a supply point.  You would still need to launch from the Earth, but the matter needed would be much reduced.  And that would make it cheaper.  For complex machines, the Earth would be the best source of supply.  Their high value would be a justifiable reason to launch from the deep gravity well.   Launch the complex machinery from
the Earth and the low value stuff can come from asteroids and the Moon.

Therefore, solution to the launch problem may not require more powerful rockets.
The launch problem exists because it costs so much to launch.  Reduce the number
of launches that will accomplish the same thing and you solve the problem.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Odds and Ends on the subject of space

Space humor: sometimes the joke is on you, catch the one about VOIR pronounced voyeur.

Here is an interesting youtube video of colonizing space, also ditto for the moon.
And a discussion about colonizing space.

Here is an excerpt from the book The Colonization of Space, by Gerard K. O'Neil.

One of the proposed destinations for the manned space program is Lagrangian points.
I like the idea.  What could be even more interesting is if you can put a Parkin device
in a L4 or L5 Lagrangian point.  That is, if the Parkin device is a viable propulsion
concept.  You could even launch the hardware for this by using a Parkin device on
the ground.  Put it into low Earth orbit, then use a conventional space rocket to take
it to a Lagrangian point.  I am not sure, but from what I read about Parkin's device, it
could be a powerful way to send cargo and possibly crew on long range missions.  It
would not require large amounts of fuel.  The fuel could be mined from the Moon or
from Asteroids.  Or perhaps sent from the ground.

While I am at it, my opinion about US space policy -with respect to a mission to Mars-
is that it is too ambitious.   The actual mission to Mars would require upward to ten
separate launches just to get the mission set up.  If any of these go wrong, the entire
mission is in jeopardy.  It would be far simpler and less risky to keep policy on a
more modest level until such time that a better propulsion system is invented.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If you can get it up into space

it will be a good thing.  Let's see a plan to do just that.

This could be interesting

Another geeky post about Space Exploration.  Another in a series of posts on this subject.

Back in August, the New Scientist had a story about brainstorming sessions in which NASA wanted to find ways to use parts of the ISS to visit an asteroid, as opposed to launching the infrastructure from Earth.
On Tuesday, Brian Wilcox of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, presented (pdf) some of the ideas generated by the agency's engineers during brainstorming sessions in January and June. 
NASA hosted a conference on these ideas back in August.  Here's a page from a pdf with a couple of ideas.
It shows what you can do with the ISS, but it might be better to do this in lunar orbit
instead.  Then you can use the moon as launch base using ideas like this:

It is a circular track concept which the Air Force was studying back in 2006.  On Earth,
a mass driver would encounter friction from the air, which would cause overheating.
But on the Moon, there is no atmosphere and so there is no friction.  It has the virtue
of not requiring fuel in order to launch.  Also, on the Moon, the velocities needed for
orbit would be much lower.  This means less power needed to get off the surface than
the Earth.  You could mine the Moon for fuel for rockets that could be catapulted into
orbit around the Moon.

From the Moon, you would refuel the rockets for trips to the solar system or back to
Earth or even back to the surface of the moon.  You may want to do this to get crew
back and forth.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thoughts on future space policy continued

This is another speculative post about the future of the US Manned Space Program.

With this post, I will cover what the policy is now and speculate on what its
future course may go.  This post won't be too long, because it the latter is
about the future which is too hard to see.  But it is the most interesting, no

To illustrate current policy in the most succinct manner, let's look at the following
chart from Obama's commission that reviewed US manned space program.  There are
eight options listed that would give the most realistic scenarios going forward-
these are based upon the interplay between budgetary constraints and national goals.
I made a screen shot and edited it into this form for display here.  Then, I added
my own comments in column to the far right.  Let's go over each of these rows of
options.  The first column is an option, the second column is budgetary assumptions,
and the remaining columns are goals and means to goals.  I added the column in which
I think the likely outcome of the option may be.  This includes my opinion, based
upon the projected likelihood of a Republican victory in the midterm elections
being held as of this writing.

The first option is already dead as far as I can tell.  It won't be picked up again
by the new Congress.

The second option might have a chance if the ISS is cancelled early.  This would
free up some money.

These first two options are consistent with Bush's Constellation program of record
as of the time the report was issued.  Obama has already decided to not to do it
that way.  Congress will have to change directions in order to go back to this.
Not likely.

The next three options are also not favored by Obama (as far as I know).  These
are not likely either.  The Republicans will want to cut spending, not increase it.
The best the Republicans can do is to look for areas to cut.  Looking at option 3,
the Ares program could become a target for replacement.  This is already happening
anyway and could accelerate.  Ares V is probably in trouble here and will at least
be replaced by Ares light configuration.  This cuts out the Ares I configuration.
This means instead of two rocket systems- Ares I to launch crew; Ares V to launch
cargo- there will be one Ares light system to launch cargo and crew separately.
Option 4 will extend the ISS to 2020 which could become a target of budget cuts.
Option 5 will scrap the Ares program altogether and use a shuttle derived crew
and cargo option, while keeping the ISS to 2020.  I consider this least likely
because Obama's opposition.  The Republicans might consider this though, because
using the Shuttle derived system can get you back to the Moon and would not require
a substantially new launch system to be developed- such as Ares.  The cheapest
option would be Option 5 modified to include a de orbit of ISS.  Won't happen.

The next options are more likely to favored by Obama (again as far as I know).  As
a matter of fact, Option 5A would keep the Ares light configuration and the ISS.
But the Republicans may want to de orbit the ISS.  This is likely not to happen
because of Obama's opposition.  The next option is most intriguing, but would
require a new launch system based upon the Delta system being currently used for
unmanned missions.  It would create the most upheaval at NASA, but would result
in lower costs over the long run.  The last option is to use the Shuttle system,
but with in flight refueling.  This one is also a possibilty, but is the least
capable system considered.  It would also have higher life cycle costs.  The
cheapest possible system would be this one combined with the early end of ISS (not
listed here as an option).  But it would be the least appealing scientifically and
technically.  It's virtue would be in the least disruptive configuration to NASA
and low up front costs.  Life cycle costs would be higher in the long run.

If the Republicans are bold, they will take the Delta option with refueling.  If
they are timid, they will follow Obama's current pathway with Ares light flexible
path.  They might try to cut ISS, but won't likely be successful.  The most likely
path will be these two in my opinion.  The last option is possible if the political
scenario favors it.  At this point, I wouldn't hazard a guess.

The last option, a shuttle derived system, is the one I would favor.  I would forego
a trip to Mars and a manned trips to asteroids in favor of developing the most capable
moon base possible.  From the moon base, it could be possible to build a new launch
system directly from the moon, which would ( I hope ) solve the launch problem.  In
such as system, the moon would serve as a way station to the rest of the solar