Archive for the ‘space’ category: Page 285

Jan 17, 2012

Artifacts in the Solar System

Posted by in categories: philosophy, physics, space

One way that astronomers and astrobiologists search for life in the galaxy is observation of rocky planets orbiting other stars. Such planets may contain an atmosphere, liquid water, and other ingredients that are required for biological life on Earth. Once a number of these potentially inhabited planets have been identified, the next logical step in exploration is to send remote exploratory probes to make direct observations of these planets. Present-day study of other planetary systems is so far limited to remote observation with telescopes, but future plans for exploration include the design and deployment of small robotic exploratory spacecraft toward other star systems.

If intelligent, technological extraterrestrial life exists in the galaxy, then it is conceivable that such a civilization might embark on a similar exploration strategy. Extraterrestrial intelligent (ETI) civilizations may choose to pursue astronomy and search for planets orbiting other star systems and may also choose to follow-up on some of these targets by deploying their own remote exploratory spacecraft. If nearby ETI have observed the Solar System and decided to pursue further exploration, then evidence of ETI technology may be present in the form of such exploratory probes. We refer to this ETI technology as “non-terrestrial artifacts”, in part to distinguish these plausible exploratory spacecraft from the flying saucers of science fiction.

In a recent paper titled “On the likelihood of non-terrestrial artifacts in the Solar System”, published in the journal Acta Astronautica (and available on as a preprint), Jacob Haqq-Misra and Ravi Kopparapu discuss the likelihood that human exploration of the Solar System would have uncovered any non-terrestrial artifacts. Exploratory probes destined for another star system are likely to be relatively small (less than ten meters in diameter), so any non-terrestrial artifacts present in the Solar System have probably remained undetected. The surface and atmosphere of Earth are probably the most comprehensively searched volumes in the Solar System and can probably be considered absent of non-terrestrial artifacts. Likewise, the surface of the moon and portions of Mars have been searched at a sufficient resolution to have uncovered any non-terrestrial artifacts that could have been present. However, the deep oceans of Earth and the subsurface of the Moon are largely unexplored territory, while regions such as the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt, and stable orbits around other Solar System planets could also contain non-terrestrial artifacts that have so far escaped human observation. Because of this plenitude of nearby unexplored territory, it would be premature to conclude that the Solar System is absent of non-terrestrial artifacts.

Although the chances of finding non-terrestrial artifacts might be low, the discovery of ETI technology, even if broken and non-functioning, would provide evidence that ETI exist elsewhere in the galaxy and have a profound impact on humankind. This is not to suggest that the search for non-terrestrial technology should be given priority over other astronomical missions; however, as human exploration into the Solar System continues, we may as well keep our eyes open for ETI technology, just in case.

Jan 15, 2012

Access to Space: It’s as Cheap and Easy as it will get for a Long Time

Posted by in categories: habitats, space

Throughout most of our lifetimes, there has been a lot of talk and speculation about Human colonies beyond Earth. I personally grew up reading about how we would send people back to the Moon, then to Mars and beyond. We would establish settlements and on other planets and build spacious habitats out of metals mined in the asteroid belt. We would send our grandchildren to the outer planets on nuclear powered rockets and reap the bounty of the Solar System!

All we need is cheap and reliable access to space. The Space Shuttle was going to launch every week and only cost $20 million per launch. It would ride atop a carrier craft above the atmosphere where it would blast into orbit, deliver it’s payload and any passengers, and glide back to earth, to be refit, refueled and mated to it’s carrier plane for it’s next trip a few weeks later. It just had to be approved by Congress, which they did: after making it one of the biggest jobs programs since the New Deal. The Space Shuttle had been repurposed from a space transport system to a massively expensive vote buying scheme. The extreme decentralization and patronage, to the point of leaving a Krushchev era Soviet planner in shocked amazement, drove the per launch cost close to a billion dollars by the time the program was finally shut down.

At least we have cheap and reliable Russian Protons now that the Soviet Union has fallen and the Russians are desperate for hard currency, except that they aren’t really that cheap or reliable. Well, we have some startup companies who are going to get us into space on the cheap using old NASA surplus hardware (Huh?). Only in the past decade are we seeing any real practical alternatives, in the form of Dot Com billionaires putting their own money into spacecraft development. The most promising is SpaceX founded by Elon Musk. He has had his eye on Mars for a long time and finally developed a cheap rocket that will soon carry humans into space. He did so by using the same technology that has been available for the past three decades, only without the political interference, and shown how cheap space travel can be. The base price: $53 million for a cargo capacity comparable to the Space Shuttle. Interestingly, this amounts to around $20 million in 1980 dollars. We are finally at the point we were supposed to be 30 years ago!

Unfortunately, it looks like this is about as good as it will get any time soon. The Space Elevator is going nowhere, with the laws of physics getting in the way and all, not to mention the problems posed by micrometeorites, space junk, and monatomic oxygen if it does get built with some as yet undiscovered wonder material. Theoretically, carbon nanotubes have the strength needed. Maybe. With no significant safety margin. Other alternatives such as space guns and space piers have the same problems of prohibitively massive initial costs, fragility, and they are still useless for carrying people into space due to either long travel times (= high radiation exposure) or high acceleration.

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Jan 13, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 2

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, biotech/medical, business, defense, economics, education, engineering, ethics, events, evolution, existential risks, futurism, life extension, lifeboat, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, space

I am taking the advice of a reader of this blog and devoting part 2 to examples of old school and modern movies and the visionary science they portray.

Things to Come 1936 — Event Horizon 1997
Things to Come was a disappointment to Wells and Event Horizon was no less a disappointment to audiences. I found them both very interesting as a showcase for some technology and social challenges.… to come- but a little off the mark in regards to the exact technology and explicit social issues. In the final scene of Things to Come, Raymond Massey asks if mankind will choose the stars. What will we choose? I find this moment very powerful- perhaps the example; the most eloguent expression of the whole genre of science fiction. Event Horizon was a complete counterpoint; a horror movie set in space with a starship modeled after a gothic cathedral. Event Horizon had a rescue crew put in stasis for a high G several month journey to Neptune on a fusion powered spaceship. High accelleration and fusion brings H-bombs to mind, and though not portrayed, this propulsion system is in fact a most probable future. Fusion “engines” are old hat in sci-fi despite the near certainty the only places fusion will ever work as advertised are in a bomb or a star. The Event Horizon, haunted and consigned to hell, used a “gravity drive” to achieve star travel by “folding space.” Interestingly, a recent concept for a black hole powered starship is probably the most accurate forecast of the technology that will be used for interstellar travel in the next century. While ripping a hole in the fabric of space time may be strictly science fantasy, for the next thousand years at least, small singularity propulsion using Hawking radiation to achieve a high fraction of the speed of light is mathematically sound and the most obvious future.

That is, if humanity avoids an outbreak of engineered pathogens or any one of several other threats to our existence in that time frame.

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Jan 10, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 1

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, business, education, engineering, ethics, events, existential risks, finance, fun, futurism, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, robotics/AI, space, transparency

Steamships, locomotives, electricity; these marvels of the industrial age sparked the imagination of futurists such as Jules Verne. Perhaps no other writer or work inspired so many to reach the stars as did this Frenchman’s famous tale of space travel. Later developments in microbiology, chemistry, and astronomy would inspire H.G. Wells and the notable science fiction authors of the early 20th century.

The submarine, aircraft, the spaceship, time travel, nuclear weapons, and even stealth technology were all predicted in some form by science fiction writers many decades before they were realized. The writers were not simply making up such wonders from fanciful thought or childrens ryhmes. As science advanced in the mid 19th and early 20th century, the probable future developments this new knowledge would bring about were in some cases quite obvious. Though powered flight seems a recent miracle, it was long expected as hydrogen balloons and parachutes had been around for over a century and steam propulsion went through a long gestation before ships and trains were driven by the new engines. Solid rockets were ancient and even multiple stages to increase altitude had been in use by fireworks makers for a very long time before the space age.

Some predictions were seen to come about in ways far removed yet still connected to their fictional counterparts. The U.S. Navy flagged steam driven Nautilus swam the ocean blue under nuclear power not long before rockets took men to the moon. While Verne predicted an electric submarine, his notional Florida space gun never did take three men into space. However there was a Canadian weapons designer named Gerald Bull who met his end while trying to build such a gun for Saddam Hussien. The insane Invisible Man of Wells took the form of invisible aircraft playing a less than human role in the insane game of mutually assured destruction. And a true time machine was found easily enough in the mathematics of Einstein. Simply going fast enough through space will take a human being millions of years into the future. However, traveling back in time is still as much an impossibillity as the anti-gravity Cavorite from the First Men in the Moon. Wells missed on occasion but was not far off with his story of alien invaders defeated by germs- except we are the aliens invading the natural world’s ecosystem with our genetically modified creations and could very well soon meet our end as a result.

While Verne’s Captain Nemo made war on the death merchants of his world with a submarine ram, our own more modern anti-war device was found in the hydrogen bomb. So destructive an agent that no new world war has been possible since nuclear weapons were stockpiled in the second half of the last century. Neither Verne or Wells imagined the destructive power of a single missile submarine able to incinerate all the major cities of earth. The dozens of such superdreadnoughts even now cruising in the icy darkness of the deep ocean proves that truth is more often stranger than fiction. It may seem the golden age of predictive fiction has passed as exceptions to the laws of physics prove impossible despite advertisments to the contrary. Science fiction has given way to science fantasy and the suspension of disbelief possible in the last century has turned to disappointment and the distractions of whimsical technological fairy tales. “Beam me up” was simply a way to cut production costs for special effects and warp drive the only trick that would make a one hour episode work. Unobtainium and wishalloy, handwavium and technobabble- it has watered down what our future could be into childish wish fulfillment and escapism.

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Nov 13, 2011

D’Nile aint just a river in Egypt…

Posted by in categories: business, complex systems, cosmology, economics, education, ethics, existential risks, finance, futurism, geopolitics, human trajectories, humor, life extension, lifeboat, media & arts, neuroscience, open access, open source, philosophy, policy, rants, robotics/AI, space, sustainability

Greetings fellow travelers, please allow me to introduce myself; I’m Mike ‘Cyber Shaman’ Kawitzky, independent film maker and writer from Cape Town, South Africa, one of your media/art contributors/co-conspirators.

It’s a bit daunting posting to such an illustrious board, so let me try to imagine, with you; how to regard the present with nostalgia while looking look forward to the past, knowing that a millisecond away in the future exists thoughts to think; it’s the mode of neural text, reverse causality, non-locality and quantum entanglement, where the traveller is the journey into a world in transition; after 9/11, after the economic meltdown, after the oil spill, after the tsunami, after Fukushima, after 21st Century melancholia upholstered by anti-psychotic drugs help us forget ‘the good old days’; because it’s business as usual for the 1%; the rest continue downhill with no brakes. Can’t wait to see how it all works out.

Please excuse me, my time machine is waiting…
Post cyberpunk and into Transhumanism

Oct 25, 2011

Don Quijote — the podcast

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, space

The Don Quijote mission — so we don’t go the same way as the dinosaurs.

With some help from colleagues, I recently produced a report on the planned European Space Agency Don Quijote mission to divert an asteroid’s trajectory (kind of a test-run for the real thing that may happen some time in the future) as a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.

It is reassuring to see humanity beginning to deal with this genuine risk to Earth’s survival — just in case we don’t all get swallowed up in a 2cm black hole in the next five years wink

The transcript is also available for reading on the 365 Days site if you are not a podcast fan.

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Oct 22, 2011

ISDHuB – Supporting for 100 years

Posted by in categories: futurism, space

ISDHuB — International Space Development Hub — Hangar One/Nasa Ames Research Park

An aspect of support for the 100 year star ship program
A.H.Sinclair 11/11/11

For the formulation of a 100 year star ship prospectus and for a comprehensive and compatible100 year world view which will advance both the sciences of space exploration and the issues of a planetary sustainability we suggest the following discussion as being alternative to the more isolate modes of inquiry:

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Oct 15, 2011

Space Renaissance: Dawn of a New Age of Civilization

Posted by in category: space

A little more than 40 years ago – 42 years in July, to be exact – men walked on the moon for the first time. This achievement was a landmark for humanity – not only in that it demonstrated a vast technological ability but also because it was that “giant leap for mankind” – as Neil Armstrong so eloquently put it – in an eternal quest for the stars.

Most of us grew up watching the space program – the first orbiting satellites, the Apollo program, the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. We became accustomed to constant “leaps for mankind” in technological achievement. We shared in the sorrows – the Challenger explosion, the loss of Columbia high over Texas – and we shared in the numerous heroic successes of our astronauts and the scientists and engineers who formed NASA.

With the ending of the Shuttle program, many Americans are now beginning to feel that all those glory days are behind us. I’ve heard people lament the changes in direction of our policy of space exploration as though the adventure of discovery beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity is all but over.

I would like to remind you that we are not at the END of the Space Age. We are still merely at the beginning. Current circumstances – mainly economic ones – might make it seem that we are unable to advance – or that major advancements might not come in our lifetime. But there are still a lot of things going on that make me believe we are rapidly entering a new age of civilization that ultimately will take us beyond Earth and to the stars. All things considered, this new age is likely to be the kind of pivotal movement in history that occurred as Western civilization emerged from a state of decline through what became known as the Renaissance – literally the REBIRTH of civilization.

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Oct 4, 2011

Astronomers Win 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

Posted by in categories: physics, space

Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess will share the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 has been awarded “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae” acknowledging the amazing discovery announced in 1998 that — based on the measured velocities of Type 1a supernovae — the rate of the universe’s expansion is increasing over time. The prize will be shared by three astronomers, now officially ‘outstanding in their field’, Saul Perlmutter of UC Berkeley, Brian P. Schmidt of the Australian National University and Adam G. Riess of Johns Hopkins University. (more…)

Sep 27, 2011

Solution In Search Of A Problem — Nationalism, Environmentalism, and Space’s struggle for cultural relevance.

Posted by in categories: business, futurism, space, sustainability

Space is a hard sell these days. Aside from the persistent small community of die-hard space advocates and New Space entrepreneurs, the relevance of space to the society at large has generally declined since the grand achievements of the Space Race and even such great feats as the building of the ISS have garnered rather modest public attention. In recent years we have had more active astronauts than ever in history, yet few among the general public can name a single one. An appreciation of space science seems to have improved in recent years by virtue of the impressive visuals offered by orbital telescopes, space probes, and rovers. But the general public commitment to space development still dwindles in the face of mounting domestic issues. Most recently we have seen a drastic contraction of national space agencies in response to the current global economic turmoil. Programs are reduced, cut, or under looming threat. We hear pronouncements of deemphasis of costly manned space activity by the major national players in space development. The world leader in space, NASA, now drifts aimlessly, its premier launch system–controversial from the start, often dismissed as a boondoggle, and dragged along for far too long–finally succumbing to obsolescence without a replacement at-hand, leaving the agency dependent upon foreign nations and struggling for a semblance of direction and purpose. In this past few years, finding itself abandoned on both right and left sides of the political fence, it faced the very real possibility of being shut down altogether and now its partner DARPA talks of century-long space programs with no government involvement at all because the very idea of the US government having the coherence to accomplish anything that takes more than one electoral cycle to do has become implausible.

Overconfident to the extreme after recent very significant, yet still modest in the broad perspective, successes, the newest faction of the commercial space community, the New Space entrepreneurs, boast their readiness to pick up the slack, not quite cluing into the fact that the rope isn’t just dropped, it may be cut! Space industry has never been a very big industry despite the seemingly gigantic sticker prices of its hardware. The global space industry accounts for around 160 billion dollars annually. Soft drinks account for 350 billion. Coca Cola is bigger than NASA. Meanwhile, the lion’s share of commercial space service has always been for governments and the remaining largely telecommunications applications –after 50 years still the only proven way to make money in space- face slow decline as latency becomes increasingly critical to mainstream communications. The ‘grand convergence’ long anticipated in computing has now focused on the Internet which is steadily assimilating all forms of mainstream communication and media distribution. Despite a few service providers of last resort, satellites simply don’t work as a host for conventional Internet and physics precludes any solution to that. We owe recent surges in launch service demand more to war than anything else. Ultimately, we’re not looking at a privatization of national space systems. We’re looking at their outright obsolescence and an overall decline in the relevance of space activity of any sort short of science applications, which have no more need of astronauts than for manned submersibles and for the same reasons. The need for space services will not disappear but, as it stands now, has little likelihood of growth either–except on the back of war. Logically, what commercial space desperately needs is a program for the systematic cultivation of new applications the space agencies have never seriously pursued–new ways to make money there, particularly in an industrial context. And what do the mavericks of New Space have on offer in that context? Space tourism for the rich, during a time of global recession…

There is a great misconception today that the challenges of commercial space are merely technological problems waiting to be solved by that one new breakthrough propulsion technology that never materializes. But commercial air travel did not become ubiquitous by virtue of flight technology becoming miraculously cheap and powerful like microprocessors. It became ubiquitous by realizing markets of scale that supported aircraft of enormous size needing very large minimum operation economies of scale, where populations of millions in communities with well-heeled comfortable middle-classes are necessary to generate sufficient traffic to justify the existence of a single airport. A single A380 airliner costs almost as much as the development of a typical unmanned launch system. Air travel was never particularly successful in an industrial sense. Most stuff still moves around the world at the 20mph speed of ships. The New Deal and the remnant air support infrastructure of WWII were together probably more responsible for the modern airline industry than any engine or aircraft design–because they created the market. If it takes a population of millions to justify the existence of a single conventional airport for conventional airliners, what then a Pan-Am Orion?

For those who look to space as an insurance policy for life and the human civilization, this situation should be of much concern. Whether it be for averting the potential disasters of asteroid strikes or as a redoubt for some fraction of civilization in the event of any terrestrial disaster, a vast space-based infrastructure must be continually at-hand for such capability. Yet these kinds of threats do not themselves seem to have ever inspired sufficient concern in the general public or political leaders to demand such capability be established and maintained for its own sake. You cannot talk in public about such space contingencies and be taken remotely seriously. One could say we have been a bit too lucky as a civilization. There have been no small asteroid impacts in historic memory and few global existentially threatening events beyond those we human beings have created –and we’re very good at systematic denial of those. So this contingency capability relies on being incidental to other space development. That development has been inadequate for that to date, counting on future expansion that has never materialized. What then as we watch that development fizzle-out altogether? The essential cultural relevance of space development can be seen as crucial to the long-term survival of our species, and that’s in marked decline.

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