Sunday, October 18, 2009

No longer working at C&Space

Yes that's right, I've quit C&Space, but typically for this blog, I've waited a couple of months before announcing it.

The last few years, including both work and study, have been very fulfilling and I certainly don't regret the time spent in Korea. The opportunity to work in New Space and meeting some of the active players has been a highlight.

I don't know if I have the patience to continue this blog in the same way now that I'm not working in the field. Commercial space development seems to be progressing over a period of decades rather than months. I might just prefer to occasionally check to see how things are going and take note of the major highlights (such as the anticipated Falcon 9 and SpaceShipTwo launches) rather than closely following every minor development.

If you would like to get in touch with me about anything, please just leave a message in the comments section and I'll get back to you shortly.

Good Luck and a happy Thanksgiving and Christmas in advance to all the new-spacers out there toiling to make the last frontier accessible!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Space Settlement post

I didn't sign up to do a post on the 20th originally because I thought I might be traveling to the USA, that day, plus I'm in the middle of finishing my paper. This is actually the 21st for me, but I guess in the US timezones it is still the 20th.

Rather than a long post on an overall vision and rationale for space settlement, which I believe other bloggers can do better, I will just throw together a number of statements that summarize my own ideas and opinions.

I strongly believe in the concept of space settlement driven by non-government organizations. By this I mean private enterprise, and settler organizations. I'm not sure that it is inevitable, but it surely ought to be. My concept of space settlement is technology driven. I believe that people will venture into space when the tools and infrastructure are available for us to stay. Tools will include, for example, advanced tele-operated robots, and infrastructure will include long term maintainable life support systems, energy harvesting systems such as large solar concentrators, and magnetic field generators for protection against charged particles. While I think there will be a significant element of risk, the environment should be such that we can, for the most part, stay safely within a maintainable technology framework, with plenty of redundant options should anything go wrong.

I'm an asteroid settler, myself, rather than a Mars or Moon settler. By this I mean that I think that asteroids are likely to be the first places to be settled and will be much easier to access than gigantic clumps of round matter at the bottom of steep gravity wells. I'm predicting that most prospective settlers will prefer to live in approximately 1 earth g. and have some prospect of returning to earth, and will adapt quickly to the coriolis forces present in a rotating habitat.

I think the first settlers will not be in it for the money or even the thrills. Being one of the first off earth settlers is going to be like basically volunteering for the 21st or 22nd century's version of a lifetime of backbreaking labor. The only way the first habitat will be built is by a group of settlers who know that this will be their only option for survival in the long term. They won't be receiving much, if any, monetary benefit, but they will at least obtain their wish of being able to set up a mini-society in whatever way they wish, and having some likelihood that the people around them will share the same values.

Unless the space elevator is built, access to space is going to remain somewhat expensive, at least compared with air travel. I know many space enthusiasts are hoping for a vast low earth orbit infrastructure which can provide settlers with the materials they need. I'm not sure this will be the case. Settlers may have to be almost self sufficient, with the exception of certain high value, low mass products, such as medicines, ICs and precision mechanical devices. I think it is an important field of study to understand the technology necessary to maintain a colony with a limited mass flow rate, and mass transfer latency into the colony, and the period of time the colony can be entirely self sufficient based on their level of technological capability and resources.

Nothing is free, and the settlers will be paying for whatever supplies they receive somehow. I somehow feel that minerals from commercial mining ventures will not be one of the first exports. The initial exports are likely to be information. First, there will be a lot of interest on earth in the daily lives of these settlers. This could be one of the most valuable exports for quite a long period of time, until space travel becomes commonplace. Secondly, there will be much scientific knowledge to be gleaned from the environment around the settlement, for example observations of the sun and other planets, and detailed research on the composition of the asteroid itself. Later, high quality zero gravity research may also be conducted relatively cheaply by settlers.

Lastly, I'd just like to comment that although most of our focus is on finding better ways of getting out of earth's gravity well, there are other, just as important, fields of research that need our attention in order to spread civilization to beyond the planet. I suggest that space agencies in various countries that can't afford a large space program can participate in this kind of research in a really meaningful way. For example I would love to see Australia start a space program based not on developing launch vehicles, but on applying its considerable mining expertise to ways of harvesting materials from asteroids, and using them to build structures. That's a space program I could really be supportive of!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Congratulations SpaceX and ATSB

Congratulations to SpaceX for a first successful commercial launch, and congratulations to ATSB for having the guts and foresight to select the Falcon 1 as their launch vehicle and saving a packet of cash by doing so!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

IEEE Spectrum on Mars

Over the last month IEEE Spectrum have been doing a special on "Why Mars, Why Now"

They don't seem to have a permanent home for all the articles, so here are a few links in case some disappear: (actually returns a 404 error, but this link was found on an IEEE page and was redirected to previous link. Maybe they intend to make a new page with this link in the future.)

I'm putting their spaceflight section in the sidebar links.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Amazing artificial muscle made from CNT

If half the claims in this article at IEEE Spectrum (actually from March, but I only discovered it a couple weeks ago) are true, we may be about to enter a new era of biomimetic robotics. In my robotics class last year, I learned that robots are usually quite weak for their size. To design a robot that can pick up another robot the same size and weight is still a difficult challenge. This invention may change that. The only thing is I can't see how the wine-rack explanation for how it works matches the claim of 220% dimensional change made in this video, unless they are referring to lateral dimensional change which doesn't seem to be very useful.

There must presumably be some more development work before they can be set to use, otherwise if it were me, I couldn't wait to try putting them into robotic arms and fingers and make a much more impressive demo.

Importantly this could be a good initial application for long nanotube fibers. In the video, those fibers look so much like space elevator cable sections!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

X37 - some speculation

I'm pretty pleased about the story about the X37B in It's funny how USAF and DARPA seem to be playing tortoise to NASAs hare. While the US military may not be the most efficient organization either, at least they seem have a good handle on what 'operational' means and the importance of having a well thought out plan for maintaining and running a system when it gets past the development stage, and how important it is to design a system with operational requirements in mind. The X37B is, of course, an experimental platform but it is interesting to speculate on what it might develop into in conjunction with a suitable heavy lift launcher.

I assume that the planned tests will involve integrating the X37B into an EELV as purely a payload, ie the current 1st and 2nd stages of the launch vehicle will be used. This will put a small winged return vehicle into LEO. It is interesting to compare the possible capabilities of a hypothetical, operational follow up to this system with the needs of USAF in space.

As I understand the USAF would like to have the following:
-ability to protect/replace assets in space,
-rapid and repeated delivery of munitions anywhere, anytime,

A followup system to the X37 could possibly have the following capability:
-rapid launch to orbit via heavy lift including possible recovery of the first stage if SpaceX are eventually successful with that,
-rapid turnaround between flights if the turnaround time between heavy lift launches can be reduced,
-ability to insert an object into orbit and return to a designated landing site,
-(maybe) launch to a suborbital trajectory over a target location, followed by powered return to CONUS.
-ability to loiter in orbit, with scope for limited orbit changes,
-ability to drop a payload during some sections of its non-orbital flight path.

some limitations:
-Whether you think this limitation is a good or bad thing depends on your point of view, but I can't see this hypothetical system becoming a 'space weapon' capable of dropping munitions from orbit simply due to the impracticability of having to decelerate the payload from orbital velocity, and only being over the target every 90 minutes or so. (although I suppose such a system might solve a need to avoid overflights of aircraft or missiles of other non-participating nations)
-The second stage will be disposable for any standard launch system in the forseeable future.
-In the event of a full fledged attack on space borne assets, it would be vulnerable to orbital debris.

The best part is that a successful operational system will be a good demonstrator for a commercial reusable orbital stage so I'm hoping that something practical comes out of this program. Who knows if one day we might be seeing routine launches of winged orbiters atop VTVL launchers.

changed my links again

After I got in email contact with the author of the ISS blog offering me a 'link exchange' (see 2 posts back in comments) I strongly suspected based on the email I received that the blog was a mashup done by a group of professionals, probably in a poor part of the world where the work involved might actually pay enough to be worth it. This was confirmed by a google search of a text sample from the blog that returned an article in the NASA site. I should have guessed it before due to the odd nature of the blog's own links. (men's suits indeed!) The link is gone and I've replaced it with a couple of links to sites that make their own content.

To anyone who wants to propose a link exchange, the site you want me to link to needs to have 3 qualities:
-be interesting to me,
-be maintained by a human,
-be of sufficient quality.

frankly I would probably fail my own blog based on the last point (and yes I am human :-) )

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Relay board completion

I've finished the relay board and it's been working well for several weeks. We can now independently control up to 32 24V valves, expandable to 35, plus 3 spark plug igniters. I discovered that I had made some mistakes with the PCB design after all, when I received it which was a bit disappointing. Fortunately there were some relatively simple workarounds that didn't require carving up the board. I'm not sure if I subconsciously screened the design for really bad errors and just ignored the others. It just goes to show that absence of anxiety about a design should not be the only indicator of the quality of said design!

A reader asked me if we could swap links, so I have put a link to his ISS blog in the sidebar. Somehow, when I changed the blog design the old links were lost. I'll have to get around to adding some more soon.

I'm heading into a period of reduced busy-ness, especially following my final exam next week, so hopefully I can start posting a bit more often. There is certainly no shortage of topics to post about at the moment!