Artificial Kidneys For Off World Settlers

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Health, Technology | 0 comments

Unlike Earth with its vast population of kidney donors (that is if one is lucky), future space settlers will likely be on their own if any of them experience kidney failure.

While future scientists on Mars, Callisto, Ganymede, etc. could always grow organs from pigs, off world inhabitants may prefer an artificial solution instead.

The device, which would include thousands of microscopic filters as well as a bioreactor to mimic the metabolic and water-balancing roles of a real kidney, is being developed in a collaborative effort by engineers, biologists and physicians nationwide, led by Shuvo Roy, PhD, in the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.

The treatment has been proven to work for the sickest patients using a room-sized external model developed by a team member in Michigan. Roy’s goal is to apply silicon fabrication technology, along with specially engineered compartments for live kidney cells, to shrink that large-scale technology into a device the size of a coffee cup. The device would then be implanted in the body without the need for immune suppressant medications, allowing the patient to live a more normal life. (Science Daily)

While one would hope in the future that kidney failure would become an issue of the past, having one’s kidney’s fail hundreds a millions of kilometers from the nearest donor does not bring too many pleasant thoughts to mind.

By using artificial kidney’s, doctors can focus more on the replacing the dead kidney rather than on finding a suitable donor (not to mention the dialysis which would take an astronaut out of commission).

Although this technology was developed for the intention of serving residents upon the home world, it can potentially benefit hundreds (if not millions) of off world settlers in the future by giving them one less problem to worry about just in case something goes wrong.

(via Gizmodo)

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If VASIMR Is Vapor Ware, Is A Martian Mission Doomed?

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Mars, Technology | 3 comments

(Image: A concept of a VASIMR-powered space craft. Credit: Ad Astra Rocket Company)

Seen by many to be the “great red hope,” VASIMR has the potential to shorten a six month journey to the red planet to about 40 days.

Unfortunately it looks like brighter minds have weighed in on the realities of VASIMR, and have concluded that the technology has more in common with Star Trek than reality.

Another concern is that for a Mars mission, VASIMR would have to use a nuclear power system that doesn’t exist yet. Mars Society president Robert Zubrin warned that mission designs that used VASIMR had unrealistic expectations about the mass of such reactors. The largest space nuclear power systems, the Topaz nuclear reactors developed by the former Soviet Union, generated 10 kilowatts and had a specific power, or alpha, of 100 kilograms per kilowatt. NASA had hoped to get alpha down to 65 kg/kW with its now-cancelled Prometheus program, and Zubrin said that if one is “quite optimistic” an alpha of 20 kg/kW was possible. The VASIMR-based Mars mission concepts, he said, assume an alpha of 1 kg/kW. “That’s like steel with the weight of Styrofoam,” Zubrin said. “It has no relationship with reality.”

Assuming an alpha of 20 kg/kW, Zubrin said, means that a reactor that generates 200 megawatts would weigh 4,000 tons. (By contrast, the VASIMR mission architectures with the 39-day travel times had assumed an overall mission mass of approximately 600 tons.) Moreover, the best travel time you could get with this much more massive system is six to eight months, comparable with conventional chemical propulsion systems, Zubrin claimed. “The numbers don’t add up,” he said. (The Space Review)

If humanity can not find a way to shorten the trip to Mars, then future explorers face the risk of being too weak to walk the crimson soil due to the effects of micro gravity.

Worse, a long journey can expose astronauts to excessive amounts of radiation which can not only damage equipment, but our fragile brains as well.

While humanity could always resort to portable magnetic fields, heavy shielding and a steady diet of fish (as omega-3 can keep bones strong in micro gravity), finding ways to shorten the trip is probably wiser if we want to see Mars colonized within our life times.

Hopefully someone else can come up with a reasonable solution that doesn’t include our grandkids earning their grey hairs wondering why we never set foot on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor (after Venus that is).

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Video: Inflatable "Tents" For Off World Settlers?

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in NASA, Technology, Video | 0 comments

(Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

For those of you who envisioned outposts made out of metal, plastic and off world dirt, you may soon be disappointed that NASA and ESA have a different vision for conquering the final frontier, one filled with lots of hot air.

Gary Spexarth, manager of lunar surface systems design at NASA, believes that, despite their appearance, current inflatable habitats are far better suited than metal structures to the harsh environments of space. ’You could think of these inflatable modules as a big spacesuit,’ he said. ’The fabric is extremely tough and durable, but also designed to be as lightweight as possible. Unlike rigid metallic structures that can shatter or bend if hit by a micrometeorite, flexible material is able to recover to a certain extent.’ […]

A promising candidate is US company Bigelow Aerospace, which was founded by real-estate tycoon Bob Bigelow to develop inflatable extensions for the ISS. In 2004, Bigelow acquired the licences to NASA’s Transhab programme and has since successfully launched the Genesis I and II inflatable test craft. It now hopes to launch an 180m3 spacecraft called the Sundancer while looking at the possibilities of creating an inflatable Moon base. Bigelow’s work has far exceeded what others have been able to achieve in the field, largely thanks to the massive amounts of private funding. The company also recently announced that it is working with Boeing on the development of a commercial space-station system. (The Engineer)

Although inflatable structures have their own challenges (mainly dealing with the issue of folding them properly), deploying them upon the surface of the Moon, Mars, etc. is wiser than attempting to build settlements directly from extraterrestrial soil.

NASA has previously announced their intentions on using inflatable outposts for space as well as on the Moon, although they have yet to materialize thanks to the political makeup of Congress.

Currently Bigelow Aerospace is leading the front with its inflatable space stations, and with NASA stuck in budget limbo (due to Congress’s opposition to Obama’s first vision for space) we may have to rely upon Bigelow to establish beachheads upon the Moon.

(via Spaceports)

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Creating Gas On Mars

Posted by on Aug 16, 2010 in Mars, Science, Technology | 2 comments

While we often envision future Martian colonies powered by solar, steam or nuclear power, one aspect we often neglect is the human rated rovers that will be criss crossing the planet.

Fortunately it looks like technology developed on Earth may aid rover ranging explorers on Mars.

The idea is to use the sun to power chemical plants able to split carbon dioxide. Combine the resulting carbon monoxide with hydrogen and you have the beginnings of a solar fuel that could one day replace oil. […] Now, Konstandopoulos and colleagues have successfully used the same reactor technology and process to split carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide in the lab. Two reactors running simultaneously could generate hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which could be combined into synthetic fuel using one of two established chemical processes, says Konstandopoulos. In the Sabatier process the two gases are heated at high pressure in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane or methanol, while in theFischer-Tropsch process an iron-based catalyst is used to generate liquid hydrocarbon fuels. (New Scientist)

Although scientists have already explored technology that could turn Martian air into fuel, it’s good to see others pursuing this idea on our home planet.

While the first Martian rovers carrying humans will probably be fully electric, over time we may see settlers transition to fuel based rovers (provided the economics converting Martian air support it).

Even though this technology would probably not replace fossil fuels on Earth (due to the cost and “ease” of extracting oil), it may help our fuel our descendants travels on our neighboring planet. (via Gizmodo)

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t/Space Launch Concept: For Earth And Mars?

Posted by on Aug 13, 2010 in Space Industry, Technology | 0 comments

Borrowing off of its siblings design, t/Space (or Transformational Space for you non-space geeks) presents a unique concept on how to launch humans safely from Earth to the International Space Station.

While t/Space’s flight approach would benefit companies like Bigelow Aerospace (as one can see in the video below), it could also help out future explorers on Mars.

Although engineers are still working out the kinks when it comes to landing on Mars (at least anything over a ton), finding an inexpensive way to leave the Red Planet will be critical if humans ever settle there en mass.

Since land rockets would probably be expensive (regardless of where you’re launching them from), t/Space could provide an inexpensive alternative, especially when one considers that Mars has 38% of Earth’s gravity.

A small craft might be able to reach the asteroid moon Phobos, where passengers could then transfer to a larger space craft.

Either way t/Space’s design should give SpaceX some friendly competition, although hopefully t/Space will be able to demonstrate its feasibility in the wild soon as their technology could make traveling beyond the heavens not only cheaper, but safer as well.

(via Spaceports)

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Making Space Junk Extinct

Posted by on Aug 6, 2010 in Space Junk, Technology | 1 comment

Someday future generations are going to curse their grandparents for preventing them from leaving Earth due to space junk.

Fortunately it looks like one company is working on a solution to reduce future space junk, which may help us keep terrestrial and Martian skies clean.

Under government funding, Global Aerospace Corporation has begun developing a LEO satellite de-orbit system that uses a lightweight, inflated envelope to increase the drag area that can increase natural orbit decay by orders of magnitude. The Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device (GOLD) concept increases the cross-section area of a satellite to increase atmospheric drag, or momentum exchange with atmospheric molecules, that results in a reduction of satellite energy and subsequent orbit lowering.  […]

It has been determined that if GOLD were to be used by all satellites under US regulatory influence over the period from 2010 to 2025, its use would reduce the probability of collisions to most LEO satellites by up to ~40%. (Global Aerospace)

While GOLD will not by itself rid our skies of space junk, it can help reduce how much future garbage we leave in the heavens above (which will aid us later after someone figures out how to safely remove the space debris).

Even if it were too late to keep our terrestrial skies clear of space junk, Global Aerospace’s technology could help us keep other worlds like Mars and Saturn’s Titan free of debris, helping us from repeating the environmental sins of our fathers.

(via SpaceMart, Image Credit: Global Aerospace)

Update: Removed lunar reference (since the Moon has not atmosphere) and inserted Mars and Titan. Thanks Remco!

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