Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weightless tourism!

We push for space tourism... will we make it? For the millions that some people have payed to get into orbit and float a while, this isn't much. The "Mothership" of the travel looks more like a plane than a command ship, and it basically is. However, it can go fairly close to areas of very low G, and then a rocket can be launched from its centre safely, where it will fly farther out and then dip back to the earth. The plane could also, possibly, provide cheap transport and launching for satellites. So this is a craft that can obviously stand conditions further away from Earth than the average plane and have things launched from it. Will this mean a baby step taken so long ago become not only visited territory, but truly an outer domain of humanity?

The project is scheduled to be ready in two years, and industry almost certainly pounce at such an opportunity. However, will this be done on time? In addition, well... will it work? The plan is only to take a short 'dip' into low-G for a couple hundred thousand dollars, hang on nothing for a few minutes, and then drift back down here. The height is around 15.5k metres from sea level, so we're talking not even twice the height of Everest here. We are talking people who are paying and expecting not to die. Space is notorious for making a mockery of models, but we've improved. This is also a lot closer than the greater virtual void to which we dare not send extensively trained astronauts yet. Mars, technically our neighbor, has an order of magnitude of hundreds of millions of kilometres when measured from us. That's close compared to all the other planets, objects, and major groups of objects around the solar system. All that aside, can we pull 15.5 thousand kilometres as a lucrative tourism business?

My opinion is that there will be setbacks. All it takes is lemon juice. But I think it will at very least get some decent swing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Other people musing... about colonies.

Here, volume, mass, gravity, area, etc. calculations were made in planning a colony ship, using sophisticated math (or, if not as sophisticated as it appears, then a lot of arithmetic. Compared to other models it may or may not be considered big, but the estimate for materials is 1.6 million metres cubed of materials, enclosing 46 million cubic meters of volume. Now, of course, the environment for structures is very different in space than on earth. First, collapse works very differently; it could usually only be crushed by its own mass, which would require some serious size and/or rotation. It could also risk obliteration or massive loss of course if another body's gravitational pull was great enough to affect our structure. Satellites can ignore many of the things mentioned here, because they're small, orbiting slowly and relatively safely around the earth, and they don't usually have to survive impact with a planet (however gentle). A colonial ship would not only have to brave all the bits of debris that floated around space at very high speeds, it would have to get its human cargo off onto another planet safely. If we can't just teleport or shoot people off the craft, then the craft likely has to go down too. First, if it can survive its incredible bulk being launched off of the earth (if possible, an assembly station off of Earth), then it has to survive entry into another planet too. If each cubic meter of material weighs an average of 15kg (likely more), and then the craft loses, say, 1million tons of material (propellant and small amounts of unreusable waste?), then that's 15million tons of stuff that has to survive planetfall. Now, even if said planet has very low G, we're trying to get 15 million tons in a 46 million cubic metre thing to unload cargo into another major gravity well. Good luck working those physics (not too much sarcasm).

The technology for a self-sustaining environment of such, to me, doesn't seem incredibly far off, if we can't do it already. Small systems of plants and animals, in a jar, with sunlight and usually in water, have worked. Making it spin around in space and resist the forces it will create (rotating decks big enough to produce around a G) is a challenge. Part of the challenge here is getting incredibly strong materials with various properties to suit the needs of craft and passengers. Another dead end question that only continued research can come up with a real answer to.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Closer to Home

Most of the things we've done in space have actually been right here at Earth, relative to what we've seen (most of which has spent billions of years in an unknown to us). Orbiting around the Earth, satellites represent most of what we've actually sent into space. When talking about space, we have great ambitions for launching things ('things' because we don't know now what these 'things' will actually be) much further than our significant gravitational pull and even our solar system. Great projects like finding a new place for humanity, life outside of our solar system, and unlocking the mysteries of the enigmatic, from supermassive objects to mathematical manifestations, have so far not even had a decent planning stage initiated. What we've done with satellites, in communications between distant places, observing geographic phenomena, and studying the composition of our atmosphere and space, in both physical and energetic ways, have been massively rewarding for us. Warning systems for natural disasters are now realistic and in motion, and we can send signals around the globe like never before. Eventually there is the slightest chance we may extend into the stars, but for now we should think both on that level on down where we are still advancing life at home.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Robots in Space!

Space exploration, to date, has a number of steps its fundamental planning. The first is observation from Earth (or, even from a while ago, from Earth's orbit). All the sensors for information that we can receive are assembled, checked, run, checked again, and then we ponder the results. The second part is the vaguest, yet among the most immediate concerns to physical exploration: theorising with regards to what's there, the obstacles that need facing and/or piles of cosmic trivia that ends up useful immediately or later on, all based on part one. Part three is building the craft. All it takes is lemon juice to mess this part up, but it can be used more creatively in other parts to similar effect. Once the explorer is constructed, it's time to fire it off wherever it's going; part four. With the potential to yield the massive fruit of all the other parts, there are various ways this could be designed to end (either it makes it back to earth ok, it crashes on earth, or it's just annihilated by the environment it's observing*).

Though the article wasn't solely related to this point, "Interplanetary Pioneers" from Space: 50 Years and Counting, it goes over the basics of what spacecraft were capable of and what we want them to do now. Among the things I read here that I found interesting was that the Moon is theorized to have once been part of the Earth, but some event split us apart "in the early days of the solar system". Probe launches in the future and more or less recent past include:

-Clementine (1994)
-Lunar Prospector (1998)
-Messenger (2004)

-Chandrayaan 1 (2008)

E.U. with Japan:
-BepiColombo (2013)

*"Some simply fell silent, their fates shrouded in mystery."
Space: 50 Years and Counting, 2007)