Video: Hope Or Hype? Travel To Mars In Just 3 Days?

Posted by on Jan 19, 2009 in Blog, Energy, Mars, Technology, Video | 4 comments

(Hat Tip: Spaceports)

Although our species has mastered the art of landing rovers upon the Martian surface, we have yet to develop a fast way to transport astronauts from Earth to Mars (assuming we can figure out how to safely land humans upon the crimson soil).

While some “feasible” technology may be able to shorten the overall trip to under 40 days, Moacir L. Ferreira Jr. is proposing that a rocket could potentially do it within 72 hours with the help of his CrossFire Fusor reactor.

(CrossFire Fusor) The CrossFire Fusor relies on magnetic fields for confining radially charged particles and relies on electric fields for trapping longitudinally them. It also relies on electric fields for accelerating the charged particles for reaching great kinetic energy of about 600KeV (7 billion°C) at inexpressive energy consumption.

The CrossFire Fusor is the first nuclear fusion reactor designed for achieving a true three-dimensional confinement plus a three-dimensional charged particles injection, and for having an adequate escape mechanism for the charged products of nuclear fusion thrusting a spacecraft. It also is the first, among the non-neutral plasma reactors, that can confine a plasma in a quasi-neutral state solving the saturation problem.

The CrossFire Fusor also is the first designed for having great flexibility for confining and fusing charged particles comprising positive and negative ions from neutronic and aneutronic fuels. The nuclear fusion fuel can be composed of several light atomic nuclei like hydrogen, deuterium, tritium, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, in special boron hydrides and helium-3.

The CrossFire Fusor also is the first providing a method for converting energy of charged products from aneutronic nuclear fusion directly to electricity by neutralization process, that can reach an efficiency exceeding 95%, and it is the first to present a power supply system with a concept of multidirectional energy flow.

While the technology itself looks promising, we may not see this type of rocket available until 2020 (as nuclear fusion has yet to be perfected).

Either way, if Ferreira’s reactor is not used for interplanetary travel to Mars, it may have a future in keeping the lights on for future settlers of Ganymede, Callisto and beyond.

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Uranus: One Planetary System To Fuel Them All?

Posted by on Nov 26, 2008 in Blog, Energy, Solar Essay, Uranus | 0 comments

Orbiting almost 3 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Uranus is an ice giant that gathers little attention from the creatures that currently rule Earth.

Except for being used as the butt of astronomy jokes, the lopsided wonder gathers little press (if any at all), often being overlooked by both Saturn and Neptune.

Although the blueish-green giant may lack large lunar children like Titan and Triton (not to mention a set of dazzling rings), Uranus may be the key that enables humanity to not only conquer the outer limits of our own solar system, but perhaps enable us to reach the next one as well.

Even though Uranus contains a considerable amount of methane (located in the stratosphere), many scientists suspect that the cold ice giant may contain up to 16 trillion tons within its atmosphere, which may make it a prime target energy corporations (not to mention space faring nations of the future).

Often seen as the future of fusion power, Helium-3 could be the fuel that allows interstellar ships to trek through the dark void in between the star systems.

While scientists suspect an abundance of Helium-3 on the Moon, sifting through millions of tons of lunar regolith may not appeal to many people–especially as one would have to compete with other lunar businesses (like tourism) who may have other uses for the white “soil” beneath their feet.

Since claiming land (or atmosphere) on Uranus would be nearly impossible (unless one is able to set foot on the Uranian core), an orbiting space station would be free to collect the precious element, without the need to haggle neighbors with lawyers (or petition the government to take away property via eminent domain).

Despite its massive size when compared to Earth, Uranus’s gravity is only 89% Earth norm (at least at the top of the atmosphere) which means that humans may be able to create floating space stations within the atmosphere of Uranus, without the fear of being crushed by its gravitational forces.

Although other gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn also have an abundance of helium-3, respectively, their deep gravity wells and strong winds would make mining the resource from the atmospheres incredibly dangerous (if not suicidal).

While Uranus’s heftier brother, Neptune would also be a potential source for helium-3, its violent winds may also dissuade would be helium minors from sending robotic probes beneath its icy blue clouds.

Uranus’s wind speeds on the other hand are a lot more tolerable, which may enable robotic probes (as well as future explorers) to travel beneath its clouds without the fear of being torn apart by Earth sized hurricanes.

Although it may be a century (or two) before we see humanity develop the technology (as well as the political will) to eventually reach this distant ice giant, it may not be surprising to see Uranus become the OPEC of the solar system, providing enough energy to not only keep lights on, but also to propel our species towards the next star system.

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Belated: Solar Rods For Mars?

Posted by on Oct 24, 2008 in Blog, Energy, Mars, Technology | 2 comments

(Hat Tip: Engadget and Make)

(Image Credit: Solyndra)

Whether or not you believe the future of humanity lies upon the red planet one thing is clear–traditional solar panels are not a practical option for energy.

Since Mars receives approximately half of the solar energy that Earth does, future outposts will probably require a lot more panels than a regular outpost on the Moon. Worse, Martian winds could easily rip solar panels off of future outposts, a common problem on Earth.

Instead of relying upon expensive, silicon solar panels that may become easily damaged, future colonists may opt for something a little bit rounder (and less expensive).

(Solyndra) Solyndra’s panels employ cylindrical modules which capture sunlight across a 360-degree photovoltaic surface capable of converting direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight into electricity. Solyndra’s panels perform optimally when mounted horizontally and packed closely together, thereby covering significantly more of the typically available roof area and producing more electricity per rooftop on an annual basis than a conventional panel installation. The result is significantly more solar electricity per rooftop per year.

The Solyndra system is lightweight and the panels allow wind to blow through them. These factors enable the installation of PV on a broader range of rooftops without anchoring or ballast, which are inherently problematic. The horizontal mounting and unique “air-flow” properties of Solyndra’s solar panel design substantially simplify the installation process for Solyndra’s PV systems. The ease of installation and simpler mounting hardware of the Solyndra system enables its customers to realize significant savings on installation costs.

While larger colonies will probably eventually rely upon solar thermal plants for energy (as the output is probably greater), smaller outposts may choose to rely upon these less expensive solar rods instead (as it will help drop the price tag of sending the first man and woman to the red planet).

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Good News! NASA Ponders A Nuclear Reactor On The Moon

Posted by on Sep 12, 2008 in Blog, Energy, Moon, NASA | 0 comments

(Image: An artist’s concept of a fission surface power system on the surface of the moon. The nuclear reactor has been buried below the lunar surface to make use of lunar soil as additional radiation shielding. The engines that convert heat energy to electricity are in the tower above the reactor, and radiators extend out from the tower to radiate into space any leftover heat energy that has not been converted to electricity. Credit: NASA)

With America’s favorite (and only) space agency drawing up plans for lunar habitats, NASA is now turning its attention on how to power the lunar outposts.

Despite the fact that other space agencies and companies are working on innovative ways to keep the lights on via green technology, NASA is looking at something that has been tried and tested–nuclear power.

(NASA) NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power and taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system.

A fission surface power system on the moon has the potential to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, enough for about eight houses on Earth. It works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power. The fission surface power system can produce large amounts of power in harsh environments, like those on the surface of the moon or Mars, because it does not rely on sunlight. The primary components of fission surface power systems are a heat source, power conversion, heat rejection and power conditioning, and distribution.

“Our goal is to build a technology demonstration unit with all the major components of a fission surface power system and conduct non-nuclear, integrated system testing in a ground-based space simulation facility,” said Lee Mason, principal investigator for the test at NASA’s Glenn Center in Cleveland. “Our long-term goal is to demonstrate technical readiness early in the next decade, when NASA is expected to decide on the type of power system to be used on the lunar surface.”

According to NASA, the nuclear reactor would be very different then the ones built on Earth, with the reactor size being “about the size of an office trash can.”

Even though this would be about a decade away from becoming a reality, NASA may have a tough fight on their hands from activist groups who may not be comfortable with a rocket launching a nuclear reactor into space (even for peaceful purposes).

Building a nuclear reactor on the Moon is probably inevitable–especially when one considers how much helium-3 is on the lunar surface.

(Hat Tip: Physorg.com)

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Will Geothermal Energy Power Our Solar System?

Posted by on Sep 3, 2008 in Blog, Charon, Dione, Enceladus, Energy, Mars, Solar Essay, Tethys, Triton, Video | 4 comments

Image Credit: Apogee.net

Regardless whether one intends to dwell upon a dusty world, or an icy one, living on another planet, moon, or dwarf planet is going to require energy. Without a dependable power source, off world settlements will become nothing but fantasy, regulated to the imaginations of Star Wars, Star Trek and Serenity.

While a few worlds such as Mercury, Luna (aka the Moon) and Saturn’s Titan are blessed with an abundance of energy in the form of solar energy, helium-3 and methane-ethane lakes, respectively, most of the other spheres that dance around the sun (or their respective planets) seem to lack an ample supply of energy.

Without an lush supply of energy nearby, colonists living on other worlds will be forced to import energy from abroad, making these outposts not only expensive, but also small (as increased energy demand may make large cities unreasonable).

In order for our species to truly create independent colonies elsewhere, we may have to drill down beneath the soil in order to acquire the neccessary energy to power our future interplanetary cities.

Despite the fact that this technology is a little over a century old, geothermal energy has the potential to not only power our own home world, but the other globes that “roam” the vacuum of space as well.

For those unfamiliar with the technology, a geothermal power plant basically uses heat from the Earth’s core to turn water (or a “watery mix”) pumped from above into steam. This steam in turn spins the turbine engines, creating electricity for nearby communities to use.

A geothermal power plant can also pump up hot water trapped below, as in the case of the Calpine Corporation’s geyser power plant.

While the technology may not be as glamorous as solar power satellites, it does have the potential of fueling our energy dependent world.



(Video: Scientists explaining how geothermal energy works, as well as its potential. Credit: Google.org)

While this technology is promising, one may wonder whether or not this technology would be feasible off world. After all, in order for geothermal power to have any relevance, it would have to reside on a world that is not only somewhat geologically active, but also contains water (or another liquid substitute) to turn the turbine engines.

Fortunately for our species, it seems that most of the worlds in our solar system seem to be blessed with both.

Mars

Upon first glance, the surface of the red planet appears to be (for lack of a better word) dead. While boasting the largest volcanoes in our solar system, the crimson globe apparently changes little, aside from a “global-cane” that covers the surface every six (earthen) years.

Despite its passive appearance, the Martian depths may be more active than we think beneath the surface, as evidenced by its semi-active core that seems to be generating a “lumpy magnetic field” that barely pops up above the surface (in some spots).


(Image: Artistic drawing of Martian geysers, Credit: Arizona State University / Ron Miller)

Mars also is known to host geysers in its southern pole, which may indicate that the red planet may a lot warmer underneath than we can imagine. Combined with the abundance of water, Mars may become fertile ground for future geothermal power plants.

Ganymede

With its parent world orbiting almost
780 million kilometers
away from the Sun, solar power is not an option for any future colony settling on Jupiter’s largest moon.

Boasting a global magnetic field which is ironically three times larger than the planet Mercury, a future outpost on Ganymede may be a prime candidate for a geothermal plant.

While future “Jupiterans” would have to live within “aquarium houses” in order to survive the intense radiation surrounding the moon, their ability to “tap” into the Jovian moons center, providing enough energy to turn this frozen globe into a second Earth.

Saturn’s Icy Moons


Despite its size, the tiny ice world of Enceladus contains geysers that are spewing icy crystals above its surface.

While scientists remain baffled on how such a tiny world can contain a core warm enough to produce geysers on top, this tiny world could become a prime candidate for a geothermal power plant (by tapping into the “warm crevices” beneath).



(Video: NASA highlighting geysers discovered on Enceladus, Credit: NASA, via Windows to the Universe)



But Enceladus is not the only ice world orbiting Saturn with geysers. Last year scientists discovered that both Tethys and Dione are also spewing ice particles into space, which may hint toward a warmer than anticipated core underneath.

Triton

Often known for its retrograde orbit around Neptune, Triton may become a major settlement in the future by harvesting helium-3 from the atmosphere of its paternal planet.

But before colonists can exploit the blue gas giant for profit, they will need to find a way to acquire energy upon that frozen world. Fortunately, Neptune’s “favorite son” does boast nitrogen geysers, whose erupting pressure may help keep an advance turbine engine spinning (thus keeping “the lights on” for a future colony.

Charon

While the debate rages on whether or not its “bigger brother” can join the planet club, scientists suspect that Pluto’s moon Charon may also have geysers on its surface, which could point towards a warmer core underneath.

___________________

Even though off world colonies will probably have to adjust their technology in order to make geothermal power plants feasible (perhaps by using the geyser pressure from the worlds to turn the turbine engines instead of simply using steam heat), future settlements may consider it more reasonable to power their cities from energy below, rather than importing it from afar.

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Moon Base Plus Amor Asteroids Equals Solar Powered Satellites?

Posted by on Aug 6, 2008 in Asteroids, Blog, Energy, Moon, Satellite, Solar Essay | 0 comments

(Note: Inspired by Ken Murphy of Out of the Cradle)

If extraterrestrials were (un)fortunate enough to visit our rowdy planet, they would realize that our civilization is powered by death. For our civilization to survive, to expand, and to literally keep the lights on our species must harvest the compressed liquid of billions of dead things–also known as fossil fuels.

While alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and “bio-fuel” do exist, they may not be enough to keep up with the future energy demand (hat tip: Life After the Oil Crash) of our ever growing population.

With energy supplies on Earth finite at best, some individuals have looked beyond the heavens above in order to satisfy our “energy cravings” below.

By simply constructing solar powered satellites (aka SPS) above our blue world, proponents argue that we would be able to not only meet energy demand, but hopefully create a greener environment at the same time.



(Video: A presentation to both Presidential Candidates of 2008 about the need to develop SPS for our planet).

Unfortunately one of the major obstacles to constructing an SPS is the cost of launching material into space, which may make an SPS unreasonable unless a space elevator is constructed (although by the time one is built, it may already be too late).

Since launching building material from Earth may be too expensive, our species may have to hunt for (and utilize) precious metals off world in order to reduce the cost of constructing these massive behemoths–which means future colonists may have to harvest not only lunar soil, but nearby asteroids as well.

Even though the Moon’s surface is composed of mostly oxygen, it also contains silicon, a key ingredient for producing solar cells.

While the Moon also contains other elements such as iron and aluminum (which could provide extra resources for constructing these massive solar panels), lunar colonists may prefer to harvest these elements elsewhere as both of these elements would have practical uses “lunar side” (iron for construction and aluminum for radiation shielding).

Instead of scouring the lunar surface in search of extra building material, humanity instead may choose to harvest nearby space rocks orbiting between our homeworld and the red planet–also known as Amor asteroids.

Unlike the asteroids located in the main belt, Amor asteroids orbit much closer towards Earth, with many of them traveling around in stable orbits.

While their proximity towards our Earthen cradle may make them attractive for scientists, its their abundance of minerals and metals that may make them priceless for space minors.

One Amor asteroid in particular,  433 Eros may have enough precious metals within its tiny frame to be worth trillions of dollars (which should provide more than enough material to construct several SPS’s in space–with cash to spare for financing the project as well).

Even though there are still many challenges to building an SPS (not to mention where to locate the rectenna), our species may have to wait until we begin to harvest our “local neighborhood” before we have enough funds to actually create these energy wonders (without bankrupting our civilization).

Note: Due to lack of time, images will be inserted later on.

Update: Images inserted (with credits given).

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