Bending Radiation Around Future Starships And Space Colonies?

Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Science, Technology | 1 comment

As many of you already know space radiation is a huge problem. Aside from the fact that it can melt your brains faster than a mini-series upon Hulu, space radiation (whether from stars, black holes or planets) can limit the number of terrestrial worlds we can settle within our solar system.

While artificial magnetic shields could enable humanity to set foot upon the spheres that orbit Sol Star, it might be wiser to bend radiation around our future homes and ships instead.

Theory says that gamma rays, being even more energetic than x-rays, ought to bypass orbiting electrons altogether; materials should not bend them at all and the refractive index for gamma rays should be almost equal to one. Yet this is not what a team of physicists led by Dietrich Habs at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany and Michael Jentschel at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France, has discovered.

 

ILL is a research reactor that produces intense beams of neutrons. Habs, Jentschel, and colleagues used one of its beams to bombard samples of radioactive chlorine and gadolinium to produce gamma rays. They directed these down a 20-meter-long tube to a device known as a crystal spectrometer, which funneled the gamma rays into a specific direction. They then passed half of the gamma rays through a silicon prism and into another spectrometer to measure their final direction, while they directed the other half straight to the spectrometer unimpeded. To the researchers’ surprise, as they report in a paper due to be published this month in Physical Review Lettersgamma rays with an energy above 700 kiloelectronvolts are slightly bent by the silicon prism. (ScienceNOW)

Even though developing, perfecting and applying the technology upon a future outpost is probably over half a century away at best, finding a way to bend deadly radiation around a future space  settlement could enable colonists to live upon the surface of  “moderately” radioactive worlds like (Luna, Mars and Ganymede) instead of underground.

It could also enable starships to travel throughout our Sol System without fear of encountering a deadly solar storm or random radiation via a black hole.

Although future space settlers in the near term will probably adopt heavy shielding and magnetic shields as their new best friends, bending radiation around settlements, starships and (one day in the distant future) space suits could allow us to visit deadly worlds such as Europa in person (instead of via our robotic friends).

(Hat tip: Engadget)

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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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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

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Conquering Mars Via Bouncing, Rolling Robots

Posted by on Mar 23, 2011 in Mars, Technology | 0 comments

Despite the fact that humanity already has one active rover (note: we had two), a planetary orbiter and a super rover being built to unlock more Martian mysteries, the truth is that we still understand very little about the red planet’s surface.

While sending flesh and blood to explore the red planet would go a long ways to demystifying Mars, due to the tight budget it might be wiser to instead send cheap bouncing robots.

It has been suggested during the Mars cave exploration programme, that an effective way to explore a larger surface area would be the use of many, small and fully autonomous robots. [...]

The simulation results show that 50 swarm robots can cover an area of over 300 meters square completely in 5 sols while they are searching for cave entrances and returning results to the Lander which is a major performance improvement on any previous mission. Furthermore areas of interests found by the explorers are sorted in order of importance automatically and without the need of computational analysis, hence larger quantities of data were collected from the more important areas. Therefore the system – just like a hive of bees – can make a complex decision easily and quickly to find the place which matches the required criteria best. (Science Direct)

As seen in the video above, the bouncing, rolling robots would have yet another advantage over their rover brethren as they would not only be able to bounce their way around rocks, but could also be sent to explore craters as well (instead of merely gazing into them).

The only “flaw” with the robot swarm idea is the fact that the swarm has to report back to the Lander, which may prove difficult if a high number become lost while exploring the crimson world.

It might be wiser for the roving red warriors to instead transmit data on site to the lander via radio waves (or to a satellite orbiting above), which would relieve the robots from having to double back after making a long journey.

(Hat Tip: Physorg.com)

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Bigelow Aerospace To Make The ISS Irrelevant

Posted by on Oct 21, 2010 in Space Stations, Technology | 4 comments

It looks like China won’t be the only entity making the $100 billion International  Space Station worthless over the next decade.

After successfully launching 2 inflatable space stations, Bigelow Aerospace is now adding international governments to its client list, which might seal the fate of the ISS.

Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, chief of Bigelow Aerospace, has been busy marketing his private space modules, an outreach effort leading to six deals being signed with clients this year.

The deals, in the form of memorandums of understanding, involve Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom. [...]

“That is what this new leasing guide is going to expose,” Bigelow said. “It’s encouraging to see the enthusiasm. They all have different reasons, different ways in which they see using our facilities — what I call ‘dynamic assets’ in the new leasing guide — to benefit them. It can change the face of a nation.” (Space.com)

Despite being built by Russia and NASA, the ISS overall has been a failure as very few nations can access its facilities and (more importantly) there isn’t much science that can be performed outside of a few notable experiments.

Renting an entire station from Bigelow will not only give countries guaranteed access to a heavenly way station, but also allow them to perform experiments that can benefit each countries respective interests (as opposed sharing everything with the rest of humanity).

Bigelow may also extend its services lunar side, which could help nations with smaller budgets to establish outposts upon the lunar surface without having to create their own facilities from scratch.

Either way the ISS is looking more and more irrelevant, and once Bigelow space stations start becoming a common sight throughout the heavens, it won’t be surprising to see the ISS abandoned to a fiery death through the atmosphere below.

(Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

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Fingernails And Space Gloves Just Don’t Mix

Posted by on Oct 16, 2010 in Health, Technology | 0 comments

Despite developing innovative ways of combating radiation, micro gravity and how to go to the bathroom in space, we still have yet to solve the space glove dilemma which can cause an unlucky astronaut to lose their fingernails.

Fortunately researchers are working on a solution, although it looks like Dava Newman (who is a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems) may actually have a solution for us.

As part of her ongoing research on EVA performance, Newman is exploring how robotic technology can work in parallel with gas-pressurized suits, including ways to use actuators to help hand muscles fight against pressurized gloves.

She has also spent several years developing technology for the MIT BioSuit, a spacesuit that relies on mechanical counterpressure to enhance astronaut performance. Instead of pressurizing the air inside a bulky spacesuit, the BioSuit applies pressure directly to the skin through tightly wrapped layers of flexible material that function like a “second skin” and enable enhanced mobility and flexibility. Using mechanical counterpressure would get around the hand problem that results from traditional spacesuits, Newman said. (MIT News)

This is great news to hear as it means future explorers will be able to comfortably explore the final frontier in person instead of using robots to perform the most basic tasks such as picking up rocks, digging small holes, etc.

It will also help encourage people to explore off world themselves as fears of damaged nails could severely deter the masses from wearing space gloves (let alone space suits).

While Newman’s approach has yet to provide a solution to the nail drama, it hopefully is a step in the right direction.

(via Physorg.com, Image Credit: Patrick Gillooly)

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