Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Lots of tunnels on the moon

Seems a lot of lava tubes have already been discovered on the moon.

I remember those Selenites. Wouldn't want to have dinner with one...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Rory McLeish

I cam across Rory McLeish's 2D and 3D creations the other day the other day. Well worth a look at.

If only I had one of these...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Tunnels on the moon

I recently read some interesting stuff on the prospects of using lava tubes on the moon to house a moon base.

Lava tube are left over from volcanic activity. They are self contained spaces in volcanic rock, found anywhere from a few meters under the surface, to a few thousand.

On Earth, these tubes are typically a few meters high. On the moon, they are likely to be ten times the size (none have been found yet, but i'm not sure any have been looked for).

If one of these tubes could be made air tight, and structurally sound, it could be an excellent basis for a lunar outpost. If a tube were found, say, ten meters beflow the surface, it would most likely be structurally strong enough to withstand a little light engineering, and could be propped up with steels imported from Earth (expensive), bricks made from the lunar regolith (difficult, and if you can build them, you're half way to not needing the lava tube) or perhaps an inflatable structure.

Some sort of spraying robot could then traverse the length of the tube, spraying the walls with plastic, or preferably a cement made from local regolith to make it air tight.

Ironically, the larger size of lunar lava tubes would make this exercise much more difficult, in terms of spraying, and keeping the tube at a reasonable temperature (note to self: check ambient temperature of lunar surface ).

The first such base, therefore, would want to be perhaps, five meters tall and ten meters long. The floor could be levelled with an inflatable pontoon, and fixtures bolted into the wall.

Larger tubes would have their advantages, though. Under artificial light, a garden would make the living space much more palatable, not to mention the benefits of a small farm, even a smelt and a factory.

Lava tubes might be used within a few years build up of resources on the moon.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Space Exploration Architecture

Conjectures on the mission architecture that could be used for human exploration of the solar system over the coming decades.

Whatever options are chosen for human mission scenarios, they need to be cost effective. The world can only afford to divert a finite fraction of it’s resources towards space exploration, especially in the current economic melt down.

Space missions need to be relatively safe. I say relatively, because many people feel that present day mission planning, compared to the 1960’s, has become far to risk averse.

Finally, another desirable aspect would be that missions leave a building block for future endeavours to build upon. This might be either the design of a ship or station segment that can be reused, or the hardware itself can be reused.

However, the real benefit of this stance must always be scrutinised. It’s a nice idea that modules used to build a moon-base could also be used on Mars, but the environments are really quite different. Many believe that going back to the moon will not actually be good preparation and training for going to Mars, but just an unnecessary distraction.

So the following articles are some ideas of the projects that might comprise an overall strategy for exploring the solar system.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Rockets, the Only Game in Town

This was an excellent article in New Scientist, comparing the advantages of rockets with air breathing engines.

I like Henry Spencer's writing, it's always clear and concise, and usually convincing.

So, if rockets have a cost/weight/simplicity advantage over air breathing engines, how does that alter our options for a launch vehicle cheap enough to open up the space frontier?

The emphasis has to be on price (and, I guess, environmental friendliness). Not safety, not reusability per se, just anything that will bring the price down of orbit access. Make it cheap enough, and the cost of satellites will come down, and risk to the payload will come down - a reverse price spiral.

A straight up and down ballistic rocket is technology we know and understand. If the stages and boosters can be recovered by parachute, all the better. Liquids are hard to work with, solids cannot be throttled, and are pretty noxious to boot. That leaves hybrids.

For manned vehicles, the capsule should be reusable. Either a parachute and dunk in the ocean (how hard would it be to refurb this capsule?) or perhaps land like a delta clipper.

So, simple is best. Should be able to start developing hybrid motors that work for simple sounding rockets for £5mil.

Anyone game?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Kepler, at last

Yes, Kepler has been launched, at last, and safely, thank goodness.

Unlike other exo-planet search tools, it will be able to watch a hundred thousand stars at once, looking for flickers in their star light that might indicate a planet passing infront of them.

This will be the first mission that will have a decent chance of detecting an Earth sized planet orbiting in a "habitable zone", a distance from a star where water could in liquid form. As such a planet would have to pass infron of the star twice before we can calculate it's orbit, we will probably have to wait a year and a half before the first confirmed sightings.

Well worth the wait, though.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Corot-Exo-7b - smallest yet

Corot has discovered the smallest planet yet, two Earth masses.

OK, it's a tad hot, with an orbital period of 20 hours, but we're getting closer to Goldielocks all the time.

Monday, 28 April 2008

A planetary smashing time

A report in the New Scientists provides further problems for potential life harbouring planets around other stars.

Not only do they have to be in the habitable zone aroung a friendly star, this article highlighta the potential perils of being in a system that is even slightly unstable

Growing Plants on the Moon

This article on the BBC shows that with a little added bacteria, Moon dust could be a bonanza for any potential Lunar Farmer.

My brother argued with me that to set up any self sustaining biosphere on the moon you would have to import enough soil from Earth to cover Bristol. Well maybe not.

Also mentioned here is Moon First, a concept I wasn't aware of before.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

After a long absence...

.... this blog is back!

My intention is to focus on four areas
1. Extra solar planet detection
2. Inter-stellar travel research
3. Exploration of potential homes for life within the solar system
4. Groundbreaking technologies and intiatives to provide low cost access to Earth orbit.

That's not to exclude anything else regarding space exploration, though.

I will start browsing the news-sphere for more relevant articles, and try and act as a news hub. Peoples contributions in this, or just their own ideas and commentary, will be very welcome.

I will also be creating a web site to provide an understanding of extra-solar planet search technologies and news on progress.

To kick off, it seems we have now found four sub-surface oceans in the outer solar system that could potentially harbour life. One day we'll go and find out if they do!

Friday, 4 May 2007


At last, something that can authentically be called an Earth -like planet.

GLIESE 581 C has got to be the WOW discovery of the century so far.

So what would be like to live there? We don't know anything about atmosphere composition, only that it might well have surface liquid water, it's about 5 times as massive as Earth and 1.5 times the radius. So, so questions.

I calculate surface gravity would be around 2.25g. Not nice to walk around in. In fact, after a few hours it would probably start to do damage to your vital organs. It would make take off very difficult - escape velocity higher, perhaps critically so

Effect on winged flight (granted, higher air pressure as well might counter gravity a little)? Would there be any birds?

Atmosphere - no hydrogen bleed off? Any other gasses that would be more plentiful in the atmosphere?

Plate tectonics - more or less? More, I'm gussing. That could make it even more inhospitable.

In a 13 day orbit, even around a red dwarf, would this bath the planet in extra radiation, much like Jupiter does to Io?

Many questions. If you have answers, let us know. I will make enquiries.

BBC Article

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Focus on something better

My darling wife brought me home a copy of Focus science magazine the other night. I'd never read it before.

It was a "Britain in Space" special, featuring a British Space Rocket, Starchaser - same rockets as always, but rather a nice picture of them being trawled down a main road along with their launch towers - and promising Spaceplanes Ascender and Skylon.

Now excuse me, but I haven't heard anything new from the Bennett camp in more than a couple of years, and from what I can tell, nothing new has come out of REL or BSP in a couple of decades

Why can't these science magazines cover current projects that are actually happening, or at least are being worked on? Please stand up, Prof Ball, Prof Pillenger and Prof Zarnecki!

Anyway, that was the first time I'd read Focus, and the last.

Friday, 9 March 2007

ESA & NASA Budget Reductions

Mark Bentley wrote "I guess the problem now is that the US and Europe don't have the budget to go it alone, and so we have to wait for a time when we're both in budgetary sync - or wait for the Chinese :-)"

I read somewhere that budget reductions were likely to impact the near term development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle, and therefore their plans to return to the moon. Has the same happened with Aurora? I am rather out of the loop with what's happening with that.

At one stage it was supposed to be Europe taking the initiative in sending humans back to the Moon and on to Mars. I suspect this has already been watered down to something much more ordinary.

Anyone have any information?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Virgin G gets into bed with NASA

According to a article and I’m sure NASA and Virgin Galactic press releases, a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. space agency and Virgin Galactic was signed on Tuesday. This will allow, I quote “NASA to eye future collaboration with the space tourism firm on the development of spacesuits, spacecraft heat shields, hybrid rocket motors and hypersonic vehicles.”

Interesting stuff indeed. Makes a change from the typical ‘lets slag off NASA and the big agencies’ attitude. Refreshing to see the commercial companies working with the like of NASA. Slumbering giants they may be, but they also have some incredible talent and knowledge within.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Space Station Phobos

In a recent BBC Online interview, Dr Andrew Ball of the Open University spoke of their proposed plan for a sample return mission to Phobos, Mars' largest moon, to act as a precursor mission for a Mars Sample Return Mission.

No disrespect, but I've never understood the point of sample return missions. Surely any analysis of a rock sample back on earth ought to be able to be carried out in situ with current technology. The added expense, and danger (bio-security), is not justified in any way I can see.

One thing did interest me about the idea of sampling Phobos.

Phobos is thought to be composed of carbonaceous materials, at least on the surface, with a porous interior. Carbonaceous materials are composed of water and organic compounds - carbon and hydrogen.

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen. Water, food, rocket fuel.

I could envisage an automated unit, a drill/refinery, that could mine the surface materials generating supplies for missions visiting or returning from Mars, or even stopping off before venturing further into the solar system.

But now think of this. The drill goes down 200m, then latches itself air tight to the top of the hole. Next, drop a thermal devise to the bottom of the hole, which blasts a cavern 50m diameter. The gas and water vaporised by the blast is captured by the refinery. The surface of the cavern may have been melted by the blast, sealing it, or could be sprayed with plastic to make it air tight.

Ready made space station, burried beneath the ground, safe from radiation.

Even more useful for visiting crews.

BBC Interview: Phobos Sample Return Mission

My Son, the Rocket Engineer

My son is Raphael. He is three and a half. He is a rocket engineer.

His first rocket is made from leading edge materials, high tensile yellow cardboard and extra sticky sticky tape. It has already flown six missions and is completely reusable; it's still around the house somewhere (I think).


Friday, 16 February 2007

India to test reusable launch vehicle

I saw the following article a little while ago on RLV news. I really had no idea that they were in the race.

India to test reusable launch vehicle

Chidambaram, Jan 4: India will test a hypersonic reusable launch vehicle, the first step towards building a space shuttle, later this year.

The Wednesday launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), carrying a Space Recovery Capsule (SRE) will help the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) gather data to develop a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) that will return to earth after placing a satellite in orbit.

"We aim to marry a Supersonic Combustion RAMJET (or SCRAMJET) engine, an advanced jet engine, with a reusable launch vehicle (RLV). Such a vehicle will take off by the year-end," B N Suresh, director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) said at a theme session on 'Space Applications for Planet Earth' at the ongoing 94th Indian Science Congress here.

A RLV Technology Demonstrator, scheduled to be launched by the year-end using SCRAMJET and weighing 1.5 tonnes, would have aerothermodynamic characteristics with a speed exceeding Mach 6 or six times the speed of sound.

"Reusable launch vehicles reduce launch cost by one order and would be operated reliably like an aircraft with in-built abort and emergency landing capabilities," Suresh said.

An aircraft having SCRAMJET engines could dramatically reduce travel time and put any place on earth within a 90-minute flight.

SCRAMJET is an advanced jet with air-breathing engine that uses atmospheric oxygen to burn fuel unlike conventional rockets which carry oxygen along with fuel.

"Most critical to SCRAMJET propulsion is stable supersonic combustion, as at speeds greater than 1 km per second in combustion, it is like lighting a candle in a hurricane," he said. ISRO announced it had successfully carried out tests on the indigenously designed and developed SCRAMJET, a precursor to air-breathing rockets that would make space launches cheaper.

The space agency said through a series of ground tests, a stable supersonic combustion had been demonstrated for nearly seven seconds with an inlet Mach number of six.

The PSLV-C7 will carry into space India's Cartosat-2, a 680-kg mapping satellite, and the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE, 550 kg), Indonesia's Lapan-Tubsat satellite (56 kg) and Pehuensat of Argentina (6 kg). (Agencies)

Now Mach six is not the same as Mach 22, or whatever it is that you need for orbital velocity, so they're not there yet. As I understand it, the trick is to have one engine that can operate at subsonic all the way up to Mach 22, and this isn't straight forward, but India has certainly come a long way in a short time. It would be a wonderful irony if they were the first to be able to build an authentic Reusable Launch Vehicle

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Darwin Scape Telescope

OK, the first post for this blog.

My current hot topic is the Darwin Project

Darwin is designed to use stellar interferometry to mask out the glare from distant stars and allow a direct view of any planet orbiting them. Initially, it might only show the existence of planets, but with refinement of the technology, it could allow us to see it's chemical composition.

Imagine being able to see blue oceans on a distant Earth sized worlds, or to be able to see brown land masses and the existence of oxygen, even direct evidence of life.

How exciting would that be? What would it be like for humanity to know there are other planets we could live on, or even other planets that others might already live on.

What a wake up call that would be for the human race!