Another Reason Martian Settlers May Choose Solar Over Nuclear Power

Posted by on Oct 11, 2011 in Energy, Mars, Science, Technology, Video | 2 comments

Even though having a mini-nuclear reactor nearby is not a bad idea, settlers upon Mars may prefer an option that relies less upon the splitting of the atom and more upon the rays of the Sun.

Scientists in Spain have figured out a way for solar power stations to generate energy after sun set when rays from the Sol star are no where to be found.

Gemasolar, the concentrated solar power plant located in Fuentes de Andalucía (Seville), a property of Torresol Energy (a joint venture between Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s future energy and clean technology company and SENER – the leading Spanish engineering and construction company) has supplied its first uninterrupted day of electricity to the network.

This has been made possible by its innovative technique of storing solar energy in molten salt, a cutting-edge thermal-transfer technology developed by SENER. This system is capable of fifteen hours of electricity production without solar radiation which overcomes fluctuations in the energy supply. [...]

The salt storage system allows the plant to stretch its electrical production hours to beyond sunset, regardless of the cloud cover. Thus, Gemasolar, with its 19.9 MW steam turbine, is able to supply electricity to a population of 25,000 households.

Eventually the plant will be able to supply 24hrs of uninterrupted production per day on most summer days, providing a higher annual capacity factor than most baseload plants such as nuclear power plants. (Torresol Energy

Although Martian settlers will probably need a mini-nuclear plant as a backup energy source (as Martian hurricanes have a habit of blocking out the Sun worldwide), relying upon a solar-thermal hybrid could enable colonies to thrive upon Mars without having to rely upon infrequent shipments of nuclear plants from Earth.

This technology would also benefit asteroid colonies as well, as it would enable settlements within the inner solar system to become less dependent upon Earth (or even Mars) for resources.

Note: Since sunlight intensity tapers off beyond Mars, solar power (of any kind) would be useless for out posts established upon Jupiter’s mega moons (Callisto and Ganymede), who would need to rely upon nuclear energy to avoid freezing to death.

(Image credit: Torresol Energy, Video credit: Tony Seba, Hat Tip: Gizmodo

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Could Urine Power Off World Colonies?

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in Energy | 2 comments

Since water is plentiful throughout the solar system (well at least upon Luna as well as Mars), future settlers may see little value in recycling their “waste water,” when it would be much more desirable to purify the frozen aqua around them.

Instead of burying the dreaded stuff or burning it off into the void, future colonists could instead use it to help keep the lights burning bright upon dark, frozen worlds.

 [S]cientists have begun to crack the code of how bacteria that live without the aid of oxygen convert ammonium — a key chemical in urine — into hydrazine, which is a type of rocket fuel.


“It is a complex of three proteins” that do the trick, Mike Jetten, a microbiologist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, explained to me in an email today.


The urine-to-fuel concept first gained traction in the 1990s when scientists discovered the microbe, called anammox for anaerobic ammonium oxidation, that does this, but the idea stalled out when scientists realized only small quantities of the fuel are produced. (Future of Technology)

Thanks to a greater understanding of how hydrazine works, scientists like Jetten are confident that they will be able to generate a significant amount of fuel, which they envision will be useful as rocket fuel.

Although producing enough hydrazine from urine to satisfy future rocket demand may prove difficult, scientists might be able to produce enough to power a few small settlements or even a decent sized rover.

While residents upon terrestrial worlds may laugh at the idea of powering their homes via recycled pee, it could enable asteroid colonies to survive upon dry rocks without having to rely entirely upon solar power or a mini-nuclear reactors.

(Image via Pregnancy Test)

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Saturn’s Icy Moon Needs A Geothermal Power Plant

Posted by on Mar 10, 2011 in Enceladus, Energy, Saturn | 0 comments

Orbiting a gas giant that is over a billion kilometers away from the Sun, settlers upon Saturn’s moon Enceladus do not have the option of powering future outposts via solar panels (as sunlight is rather faint at that distance).

While future colonists could always break down water ice into hydrogen and oxygen, it might be wiser for residents to establish geothermal power plants upon Enceladus’s surface instead.

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer of Enceladus’ south polar terrain, which is marked by linear fissures, indicate that the internal heat-generated power is about 15.8 gigawatts, approximately 2.6 times the power output of all the hot springs in the Yellowstone region, or comparable to 20 coal-fueled power stations. This is more than an order of magnitude higher than scientists had predicted, according to Carly Howett, the lead author of study, who is a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a composite infrared spectrometer science team member. [...]

It has been known since 2005 that Enceladus’ south polar terrain is geologically active and the activity is centered on four roughly parallel linear trenches, 130 kilometers (80 miles) long and about 2 kilometers (1 mile) wide, informally known as the “tiger stripes.” Cassini also found that these fissures eject great plumes of ice particles and water vapor continually into space. These trenches have elevated temperatures due to heat leaking out of Enceladus’ interior. (Astrobiology Magazine)

Since Enceladus’s orbits within Saturn’s radiation belts, residents will need a way to power their artificial magnetic fields in order to avoid being microwaved by the sixth planet from the Sun.

Establishing several geothermal power plants upon the surface could help a future outpost not only power the technology required for their survival, but help them avoid relying upon non-renewable nuclear reactors (or even frequent methane shipments from Titan).

Image: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, shows how the south polar terrain of Saturn’s moon Enceladus emits much more power than scientists had originally predicted.

Credit: NASA / JPL / SWRI / SSI

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Could Solar Wind Power Martian And Lunar Colonies?

Posted by on Oct 16, 2010 in Energy, Mars, Moon, Solar Essay | 0 comments

When it comes to settling our nearest neighbors, both Mars and Luna (aka the Moon) present unique challenges as far as energy goes.

Although one could always import numerous mini-nuclear reactors upon each respective world from Earth (controversy aside), it may make more sense to rely upon the fiery breathe from our Sol star.

Instead of physically rotating a blade attached to a turbine, the proposed satellite would use a charged copper wire to capture electrons zooming away from the sun at several hundred kilometers per second.

According to the team’s calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

A satellite with a 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cable and a sail 8,400 kilometers (5,220 miles) across, placed at roughly the same orbit, would generate one billion billion gigawatts of power.

That’s approximately 100 billion times the power Earth currently uses. (Discovery News)

Although this idea is being proposed for usage upon our home world, it might be easier (not to mention wiser) to adapt it to power future colonies upon the Moon as well as for Mars.

Even though the first explorers of Mars and Luna will use solar power to help keep the lights on, using our Sun’s solar wind could allow us to power cities without having to rely upon nuclear fuel imports from Earth.

Perfecting this technology would allow Lunar settlements to operate during the 2 weeks of darkness while Martian outposts might be able to transform one of their asteroid moons (preferably Deimos) into a gigantic power station that could help power Martian cities every few days.

While it’s skeptical that something like this would be allowed near Earth (due to the environmental consciousness of our global governments), it would make more sense when used for off world colonies upon Luna, Mars and beyond.

(via MSNBCImage Credit: NASA and the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics)

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Rechargable Batteries (For Off World Settlers)

Posted by on Mar 20, 2009 in Blog, Energy, Technology | 0 comments

Regardless of how humanity decides to power its off world settlements (whether by solar power, geothermal, solar steam, or even algae), they are going to need an efficient and quick way to transfer the energy to not only space habitats, but future rovers as well.

While NASA and Germany have come up with innovative ways at storing energy, respectively, it looks as if researchers from Massachusetts may have developed a way to recharge electrical batteries at lightening speeds.

(Times Online) Scientists in the United States have invented a battery that can charge in seconds, promising a revolution in power storage that could also help green cars and renewable energy.

The advance allows lithium-ion batteries, the standard variety used in consumer electronics and cells for electric or hybrid vehicles, both to charge and discharge stored energy more quickly than at present. [...]

“If you can charge your phone in 30 seconds, that becomes a life changer,” said Gerbrand Ceder, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the research. “It could change the way we think about technology like this: you would literally be able to charge up while you stand and wait.”

This technology could enable future colonists to create fleets of rovers to travel across the surfaces of the Moon, Mars, as well as Jupiter’s lunar children (Ganymede and Callisto to be exact).

Settlers could construct electric charging stations to supply rovers en route to distant destinations, thereby enabling explorers to travel their world without fear of running out of energy.

While this technology has yet to be perfected (not to mention tested on Earth), it may help humanity expand across the various worlds that orbit around our golden star Sol.

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Video: Martian Methane To Power Red Planet Colonies?

Posted by on Jan 27, 2009 in Blog, Energy, Mars, NASA | 2 comments

(Hat Tip: Universe Today)

Although its asteroid moons may play a key role in conquering the solar system, Mars itself was previously lacking in the “resource department.”

Even though the red planet contains an abundance of water, the crimson world has yet another reason to boast with the discovery of methane emitting from its surface.

(NASA) Methane — four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom — is the main component of natural gas on Earth. It’s of interest to astrobiologists because organisms release much of Earth’s methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. [...]

“We observed and mapped multiple plumes of methane on Mars, one of which released about 19,000 metric tons of methane,” said Dr. Geronimo Villanueva of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Villanueva is stationed at NASA Goddard and is co-author of the paper. “The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons — spring and summer — perhaps because the permafrost blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air. Curiously, some plumes had water vapor while others did not,” said Villanueva.

According to the team, the plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or flowing water. For example, plumes appeared over northern hemisphere regions such as east of Arabia Terra, the Nili Fossae region, and the south-east quadrant of Syrtis Major, an ancient volcano 1,200 kilometers (about 745 miles) across.

While NASA scientists debate on whether this methane is biological or geological (note: or would that be areological?), the fact that methane is escaping from the surface is exciting as it could enable future settlers to power their outposts without having to rely upon solar power (which is incredibly weak on Mars) or solar steam (which would be useless at night).

Hopefully NASA is able to send another rover to investigate this, as securing that region could help humanity establish a permanent outpost upon the red deserts of Mars.

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