Cheap Interplanetary Travel Via Water Powered Rockets?

Posted by on Mar 25, 2011 in Rockets, Technology | 3 comments

If you think gas prices on Earth are out of this world, wait until you see the cost of flying to another planet.

Regardless of whether you use chemical rockets, nuclear rockets or even VASIMR (the latter which is still a long shot), traveling throughout our sol system will set you back billions of dollars.

While such prices are currently only affordable for wealthy nations, a new type of rocket could make traveling throughout the star system affordable for the affluent masses.

The space coach concept vehicle is water-driven and water-centric, starting with its solar-powered electrothermal engines. These engines would super-heat water, and the resulting steam would then be vented out of a nozzle, producing the necessary amount of thrust.

Electrothermal engines are very efficient, and they’re well-suited for sustained, low-thrust travel, researchers said. This mode of propulsion would do the lion’s share of the work, pushing the space coach from Earth orbit to Mars.

Smaller chemical rockets could be called into service from time to time when a rapid change in velocity is needed, McConnell said. (Space.com)

Brian McConnell (the mind behind this idea) envisions passengers residing within Bigelow Aerospace like modules, with water surrounding the walls of the space craft in order to shield passengers from deadly radiation.

While the concept itself is potentially feasible, the craft’s range would be limited by the power of the Sun (which means that this craft probably will not be traveling beyond Jupiter in the semi-distant future).

Although craft’s design only exists on paper (or rather upon a computer), McConnell might be able to convert his dream into a reality if he can convince a billionaire to fund the project (or perhaps a space hungry country).

Image Credit: Robert Becker

Read More

Russia Going Nuclear (Space Rockets That Is)

Posted by on Dec 1, 2010 in Rockets, Russia | 0 comments

Once again “Mother Russia” is contemplating using nuclear rockets in its quest to conquer the final frontier.

Only this time instead of laying out wishful thoughts, the country seems to be settling upon not only a time frame, but also an estimated cost as well.

Russia’s Energia space corporation said on Tuesday it is planning to start working on standardized space modules with nuclear-powered propulsion systems next year.

Energia director Vitaly Lopota said the first launches with a capacity of 150 to 500 KW could be made some time in 2020. […]

The project will require an estimated 17 billion rubles (over $580 million) in funding. (RIA Novosti)

Going nuclear could help Russia not only land a man (or woman) upon the Moon, but also help them beat America to Mars (not to mention the Galilean moons of Jupiter as well).

Ironically NASA previously pondered nuclear rockets as well, but it’s doubtful the government agency could launch a nuclear rocket into space without encountering half a dozen lawsuits (and hundreds of protesters).

While nuclear rockets are a critical factor if humanity desires to expand beyond his cozy home world, we may need something faster if we want to conquer our star system within the next few centuries (and no, VASIMR engines are no longer a viable option).

(Image and Hat Tip via Space Travel)

Read More

Video: Will Nuclear Rockets Help Russia Beat America And China To The Stars?

Posted by on Feb 23, 2010 in Blog, Rockets, Russia, Technology, Video | 2 comments

Russia, a nation nation known for putting the first satellite, man, woman, dog, etc. into space (not to mention being the first to pioneer space tourism with Space Adventures) may embrace nuclear rockets to help them reach the stars (and perhaps even Mars as well).

While a nuclear rocket from a practical stand point makes sense (as they can lift heavier objects to orbit compared to their chemical cousins), it would probably also isolate Russia (since anything nuclear is often frowned upon–at least in the west).

It may also help Russia catch up to America (or rather the private sector) as well as maintain their lead against China, whose presence is motivating everyone to claim a piece of Luna for their own.

(via Spaceports)

Read More

Russia To Mars: Lets Go Nuclear!

Posted by on Oct 29, 2009 in Blog, Mars, Rockets, Russia, Space Race | 1 comment

It looks like the nation that pioneered the path the final frontier may help push humanity forward once again–plus or minus a “little” risk.

(Mars Daily) Since current rocket technologies are not sufficient for the future exploration of Mars and the whole Solar system, and since no alternative energy resources have been found as of now, the only possible way to implement those projects would be by using nuclear energy, [Vitaly] Lopota[, President and Chief Designer of Russia’s Energia Aerospace Corporation] said at an academic conference on aerospace.

While nuclear rockets may be the most practical way to reach Mars, it may also set off a dangerous precedent as unstable nations (like Iran) may seek nuclear options as a way to transport their astronauts to Mars (and beyond).

Either way it may be the necessary step to help humanity embrace the heavens above, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Russia choose this path (despite the controversy).

Read More

Video: Water Ice Plus Aluminum Equals Rocket Fuel. Huh?

Posted by on Sep 22, 2009 in Blog, Rockets, Technology | 0 comments

Aluminum Water Rocket

(Hat Tip: Hobby Space)

When it comes to space travel, choosing the right fuel could mean life or death for those watching the rocket blast off into glory.

While the hydrogen/oxygen mix has been popular with governments and corporations alike, scientists from Purdue and Pennsylvania State are trying to come up with safer alternatives such as aluminum and water ice.

(Defense News) In August, the Air Force, NASA and scientists from Purdue and Pennsylvania State universities launched a 9-foot rocket 1,300 feet into the air during an initial test flight of the propellant ALICE – so named for its ingredients, aluminum and ice.

The rocket accelerated to 200 miles per hour in 0.8 seconds, said Timothee Pourpoint, an aeronautics and astronautics professor at Purdue.

That’s a promising start, but not better than current propellants, he said. ALICE developers are convinced they can do better. “We have a lot of ideas on how to improve performance,” Pourpoint said.

While its doubtful that NASA would replace the hydrogen/oxygen mix that they have come to know and love, it may be worth looking into for the space agency as it would enable astronauts to refuel from the moon (since there is plenty of aluminum within its soil).

If NASA is able to confirm the presence of water within the lunar surface, then humanity may have the means to power rockets to and from LEO from lunar orbit.

Read More

Nitrogen Powered Rockets (For Titan, Triton And Pluto?)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2009 in Blog, Neptune, Pluto, Rockets, Saturn, Technology, Titan, Triton | 2 comments

(Image: A prototype of the Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster. Credit: Donna Coveney / MIT)

Out “in the black” where the suns rays are much dimmer, future explorers will have to come up with innovative ways to travel to and from the gas giants, dwarf planets and the various moons that dance around their parent worlds.

While solar sails, magnetic sails and nuclear rockets could provide some measure of transport, they will probably be too expensive for the average star ship.

Since mining hydrogen directly from gas giants is suicidal due to their deep gravity wells and very fierce winds (with the only exception being Uranus), colonists beyond Jupiter may look towards nitrogen to solve their space transport needs.

(Space Travel) Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say their new rocket — called the Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster — is much smaller than other rockets of its kind and could consume just one-tenth the fuel used by conventional systems. […]

The scientists said the Mini-Helicon is the first rocket to run on nitrogen, the most abundant gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Batishchev noted, however, it could be years before the technology can be used commercially.

While this technology will have some value on our home world, these nitrogen powered rockets may prove invaluable to worlds like Titan, Triton and Pluto who seem to be blessed with an abundance of nitrogen, respectively.

If future settlers could find ways to harvest this element from these worlds, then humanity may discover a means to travel not only throughout the outer planets, but perhaps beyond the Kuiper belt as well.

Read More