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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Experience Martian Gravity Without Leaving Earth?

Posted by on Oct 3, 2011 in Mars, NASA, Video | 0 comments

For those of you who are Mars-bound, Adam Norton has developed a clever way of simulating reduced gravity without having to visit the red planet.

Mars Gravity Simulator is a fully functioning experiment adapted from the design of Apollo- era lunar gravity simulators, but made for Martian conditions. It can be used to assess maneuverability of Astronauts at a gravity approximately 40% Earth gravity, as well as to study gait changes for those conditions. Lunar locomotion styles from the Apollo landings were tested for speed and efficiency as well as to establish a figure for the approximate change in the walk/run transition speed at Mars gravity. (Adam Norton / Performance Space)

As you can see from the video above, this is actually an ingenious way to train future explorers intent upon settling Mars on how to “trot” upon the crimson world’s surface.

Norton’s adapted design is inexpensive enough (at least relatively speaking) to be adapted by the public as well as the private sector, not to mention private citizens seeking to envision themselves living off world.

Note: Since Martian gravity is almost 2/5 Earth norm, future residents could probably forsake wearing gravity suits (unless they plan on making a return trip to Earth in near future).

(via New Scientist, Video Credit: Adam Norton and Performance Space, Image Credit: NASA and Craig Bender)

 

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Russia Ignores Fears, Reaches Out Towards Phobos (Mars)

Posted by on Sep 27, 2011 in Asteroids, Mars, Russia | 1 comment

Despite being inactive in the whole “deep space exploration” hobby (at least with humans), Russia is determined to once again reclaim their place among the stars by planning a trip towards the Martian moon of Phobos.

Although the purpose of the expedition is to collect soil samples from Phobos (not an easy task as the Japanese can tell you), Russia is apparently visiting the asteroid moon to potentially solve another mystery.

“Our country is about to return to planets and stars. We must learn how to fly to deep space, to Mars, after a 20-year break,” Khartov told the Interfax news agency.

 

He admitted the Phobos mission would be “very risky”, but said “the first step must be made”.

 

Russia had spent about 5 billion rubles (161 million U.S. dollars) preparaing for the three-year mission, which would include drilling Phobos’ surface and returning 200 grams of soil back to Earth in 2014, he said.

 

The mission would also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one U.S. biological experiments. (Xinhua News Agency)

Thanks to a steady diet of cosmic (as well as solar) radiation, scientists will probably find microbes to be in short supply (although a find upon the surface would be extraordinary).

While drilling for life may yield zero results, understanding the soil upon Phobos is valuable as the lunar space rock might be humanities key towards conquering the red planet.

Russia will probably need the assistance of NASA and Japan to successfully extract soil from the lunar asteroid (especially when it comes to funding the mission), but despite the challenge it’s great to see the nation that introduced humanity to the stars regain their passion for the cosmos.

(Image Credit: European Space Agency, hat tip: Mars Daily)

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Obama To China: Lets Go To Mars

Posted by on May 10, 2011 in China, Mars | 0 comments

Right after the heels of making one gutsy call, the President is now asking Congress to partner with their beloved frenemy to help conquer the red planet.

“[What] the president has deemed worth discussing with the Chinese and others is that when the time comes for humans to visit Mars, it’s going to be an extremely expensive proposition and the question is whether it will really make sense — at the time that we’re ready to do that — to do it as one nation rather than to do it in concert,” [White House science adviser John] Holdren said in response to a question from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a staunch China critic who chairs the powerful subcommittee that oversees NASA spending. (Space.com)

 

Note: Italicized text inserted by me for clarification.

While the idea of landing a man (or woman) on Mars appeals to many people, a few prominent voices would rather visit the crimson world minus help from the Chinese despite the latter’s thriving economy.

“When you say you want to work in concert, it’s almost like you’re talking about Norway or England or something like that,” an irate Wolf told Holdren, repeatedly pounding a hand against the table top in front of him. “As long as I have breath in me, we will talk about this, we will deal with this issue, whether it be a Republican administration or a Democrat administration, it is fundamentally immoral.” (Space.com)

Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va.) isn’t exactly fond of China’s human rights record, and views the Chinese government as “fundamentally evil” (a view shared by many Congressmen and women).

Despite the cost of a Martian expedition, NASA may not need help from the Asian giant as SpaceX could light the way for a Martian expedition by 2031 (if not sooner), especially considering that rocket prices from SpaceX are a lot less expensive than America’s eastern rival.

Regardless whether NASA partners with China or not, the space agency needs to first prove that they can safely reach the red planet without being irradiated en route (not to mention set up an outpost upon Deimos which could be the key towards conquering the red planet).

Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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Can SpaceX Put A Man On Mars By 2031?

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 in Mars, Solar Essay, Space Industry | 4 comments

SpaceX (which is short for Space Exploration Technologies) is either the most brazen company ever formed by man or America’s last great hope for expanding free civilization across the star system.

Either way the company has announced plans to conquer the red planet before 2031, which is about six years before NASA’s original plan and four years before Russia’s.

The only question is, “do they have the right stuff?”

Note: Fast forward to 13:05

“We’ll probably put a first man in space in about three years,” Elon Musk told the Wall Street Journal Saturday. “We’re going all the way to Mars, I think… best case 10 years, worst case 15 to 20 years.” [...]

“Our goal is to facilitate the transfer of people and cargo to other planets, and then it will be up to people if they want to go,” said Musk, who also runs the Tesla company which develops electric cars. (Physorg.com)

With NASA nervous about landing anything over a ton upon Mars (let alone dealing with the side effects of cosmic radiation), one has to wonder how SpaceX plans on achieving this goal when the US government themselves are hesitant about the idea.

While SpaceX does have the fortitude to encounter Mars within our lifetime, there are at least a few problems the company will have to address if they want to see someone survive the trip towards Mars (let alone return home from it).

Exiting The Home World

Truthfully this should be SpaceX’s least difficult task, as their upcoming rocket (the Falcon Heavy) not only out performs their rivals, but their rocket is even less expensive than China’s (who usually have the cheapest price around).

While Falcon Heavy lacks the lift to help humanity break Earth orbit (let alone land on the Moon), it wouldn’t be surprising to see the company develop a Mars bound rocket within a decade (or even 15 years).

Into The (Radioactive) Black

Despite the celestial heaven’s serene appearance, the blackness of space harbors deadly cosmic radiation that can reduce an astronauts IQ to the level of a vegetable (not to mention wreak havoc upon the heart as well).

If SpaceX aspires to trek the vastness of space in order to help humanity migrate upon Mars, they will need adequate shielding to protect them from being microwaved by the universe.

Although layers of lead around the craft would suffice, it might be wiser to use magnetic shields instead which would help reduce the amount of weight SpaceX has to launch into orbit.

The private space firm might also want to ponder patients using anti-radiation drugs too, although building a radiation safe cabin (surround by lead) would be advisable.

Micro Gravity Blues

Despite the joys of weightlessness, the fact is that humans were not designed to thrive in micro gravity.

The lack of gravity can not only cause our muscles to waste away, but also weaken our bones as well. Worse, our immune system tends to slack off while at the same time provoking dangerous bacteria to become even more lethal.

While electrical shocks and omega-3 seafood could save future explorers muscles and bones (as exercise is not enough), SpaceX will need to figure out a sensible way of mimicking gravity upon their rocket lest future explorers skip landing upon Mars due to being too weak to survive Martian gravity.

Note: Do any readers have any ideas on tackling the gravity problem? Aside from spinning techniques that is.

Final Destination: Crimson Soil

Even if SpaceX finds a way to cheaply exit our homeworld and avoids succumbing to the effects of radiation and micro gravity, finding a way to safely land upon Mars will prove to be a daunting challenge.

It might be wiser for SpaceX to simply land their larger craft upon the Martian moon known as Deimos instead, and ferry astronauts to the surface using smaller space craft.

Since the red planet lacks an abundance of water in liquid form, SpaceX could use Ballutes to slow the craft down, enabling a human vessel to gently touch down upon the red planet instead of smashing into its surface.

Note: Future red planet residents might want to consider building a Skyhook (aka space elevator) upon Phobos, which could reduce the cost of landing upon Mars, as well as launching off of the crimson world.

Can SpaceX Put A Man On Mars?

Truthfully only time will reveal whether SpaceX can send a man (or woman) to Mars within the next two decades.

However if SpaceX is successful we could witness a new age for humanity, one that envisions us leaving our Earthen cradle in order to explore the solar playground around us.

Image Credits: NASA, ADAM

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The Key Towards Mars Is Deimos?

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 in Asteroids, Mars | 0 comments

Orbiting under 24,000 kilometers from the crimson world’s surface, the Martian moon Deimos isn’t exactly a beauty to behold up close in the celestial sky.

Despite it’s eyesore appearance (a common theme among asteroids), this ugly space rock could be the key towards humanities quest to conquer the red planet in the semi-distant future.

A site near the “arctic circle” on Deimos offers 10 months of continuous sunlight during Martian summer, enabling the use of simple solar power systems.

Astronauts also would have direct line-of-sight to Earth and to rovers on the surface of Mars, simplifying communication, according to the Lockheed Martin fact sheet.

During Martian winter, a similar site in the southern hemisphere is continuously sunlit. A cryogenic propulsion stage for Earth return could be stored in the cold shadows of a large south pole crater on Deimos. (Space.com)

Although similar outposts could be developed upon Deimos’s larger sibling Phobos, the latter resides much deeper within Mar’s gravity well, which may not appeal to space faring nations strapped for cash (due to fuel costs).

Deimos could also serve as a haven for future explorers seeking shelter from the wrath of Mars via global dust storms.

While Phobos will play a critical role in helping humanity settle the surface of Mars, the asteroid moon of Deimos will enable us to establish a stronghold in the planetary system (without having to immediately land upon the red planet).

Note: Promo video from Lockheed Martin (and a trip down memory lane of what was).

Image and Video Credit: Lockheed Martin

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