Dear NASA, Please Don't Rock The Space Boat (Saturn's Titan)

Posted by on Jan 21, 2010 in Blog, NASA, Saturn, Titan | 1 comment

(Image: This side-by-side image shows a Cassini radar image of Ligeia Mare, on the left compared to Lake Superior on the right. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC)

After discovering methane lakes upon Saturn’s Titan, scientists have yet to figure out the chemical makeup of these mini seas (which could be worth billions of dollars–provided that you could actually get there).

One scientist by the name of Dr Ellen Stofan may have a “simple” solution for landing an interplanetary space boat upon the methane lakes–provided she receives the funding.

(Physorg.com) The proposal is to launch the mission, dubbed the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) in January 2016, and to make flybys of Earth and then Jupiter to pick up the required gravitational energy to reach Saturn’s moon. It would arrive on Titan in June 2023. The estimated cost of the mission is less than $425 million, which is quite low in comparison to many space exploration missions, such as the $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission launched in 2004.

The boat would carry a mass spectrometer, sonar, cameras and meteorology instruments. The main objective of the proposed mission is to analyze the lakes to determine their precise chemical composition, but a secondary objective is to study the cycling of methane and other hydrocarbons to work out how these systems operate. Sonar would be carried to check the depths of the lakes and the bottom contours, and the cameras would send images back to Earth.

Stofan wants the “space boat” to land either in the Ligeia Mare or the Kraken Mare (note: she probably would want both, but NASA may not due to budget cuts).

Regardless of where we land, this idea sounds better than the hot air balloon probes proposed earlier (since we could determine whether or not establishing an outpost on Titan is worth it in the distant future).

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo)

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The 7 (Future) Wonders Of The Solar System

Posted by on Nov 20, 2009 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Future, Ganymede, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Pluto, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan, Uranus | 5 comments

solarsytemmontage

Two hundred years after the first man and woman graced the plains of Mars, humanity is still isolated to just one star system.

Despite an intense campaign by the Alpha Centauri Society, humans overall have little desire to travel between stars due to cost and technology.

Although this rowdy species has yet to claim their interstellar inheritence, they have transformed their solar playground around them, producing seven wonders that will go down in galactic history.

The Silver Stripes of Mercury

Originally conceived as a penal colony, industrial corporations decended upon Mecury after discovering large deposits of minerals and metals upon its surface.

While its close proximety to the Sun has made Mercury famous for its Magsail races, it’s the billions of solar panels that encircle the planet on the surface (in “neat” rows varying between 1-10 km wide) that make this world an engineering wonder.

The planets 100,000 residents use the energy produced during the Mecurian day to power the ores and cities on the dark side of the planet when it’s safe to work above ground (due to the Sol Star’s radiation).

The Bio Gardens of Luna Maria

terraformedmoon

(Image Credit: Daein Ballard)

Officially designated Luna Maria after the failed Lunar revolution (condemned by government and religious leaders on Earth), Luna Maria has transformed its appearence from a white barren wasteland into a “second Eden,” which now boasts 60 million residents.

After generating enormous wealth from exporting oxygen throughout the Sol System, Luna Maria has erected hundreds of thousands of enormous, interconnected biospheres upon 87% of its surface, giving Luna Maria the appearence of a miniture Earth from space.

Luna Maria’s artificial planetary magnetic field (the only one in existance due to cost) has allowed the moon to use bees instead of ants to pollinate its crops, producing gardens unrivaled throughout the star system (due to it’s 16.7% Earth norm gravity).

The Phobian Skyhook (Or Martian Space Elevator)

marsspaceelevator

(Image Credit: Steve Bowers)

After failed attempts to construct a space elevator on Earth (due to infrequent yet devestating global wars), humanity was finally able to construct a skyhook on the Martian moon of Phobos.

This engineering feat has enabled Mars to inexpensively export its vast supply of water throughout the asteroid belt and inner Sol System, bringing mixed prosperity to the 8 million residents of Mars.

While the red planet’s globacanes prevent a space elevator touching the ground from ever being built, the Phobian Skyhook is an impressive site to see when orbiting this crimson world.

The Jovian Jewel Callisto

Coruscant_guilpan

(Image Credit: Thomas Guilpain)

Originally established as a way station world during the Helium-3 rush (in which thousands sought to harvest the isotope for profit), Jupiter’s moon Callisto attracted millions of residents after being declared the safest radiation world after Earth.

Using its brother moon Ganymede as an agricultural world (due to it’s natural magnetic field), Callisto developed the means to feed its enormous population of 750 million, who built cities covering 96% of the entire surface.

Using robots to harvest radioactive materials from both Io and Europa to power its cities (as they are too dangerous to be visited by humans), Callisto brilliantly shimmers in the dark whenever it falls underneath Jupiter’s shadow.

The Beacon Towers Of Titan

Often declared as “an astronomer’s hell” due to it’s cloudy covering, Saturn’s moon Titan is considered a musicians heaven due to the richer sound that’s a result of it’s atmospheric presure and composition.

While Titan eventually became wealthy by exporting methane and ethane to the Sol System, the cloudy moon was extremly difficult to navigate as its crust rested upon a methane/ethane mix, causing it to “slightly drift” and rotate due to the worlds strong winds.

Since traditional forms of GPS were utterly useless, numerous 1.5 kilometer tall Beacon towers (beaming out intense radio waves) were constructed thoughout the moon, giving its 4 million residents a faux GPS system (making travel and commerce throughout the world a lot easier for all).

The Floating Cities Of Uranus

cloudcitystarwars

(Image Credit: Star Wars, original artist unknown)

Originally built by various Terrian corporations to harvest methane and helium-3 within the clouds of this ice giant, these floating cities soon became tourist attractions for the more affluent seeking to escape the low gravity life of lunar worlds orbiting gas giants.

These giant orbital space stations boast near Earth gravity, and mimic the daylight cycle on Earth by floating around the enormous ice giant which its residents call home.

While estimates put the total population between 80,000 wealthy souls, these floating cities are known to have hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through their space ports each standard year, many of them heading towards the Neptunian Lagrange asteroid fields.

The Plutonian Ice Bridge (aka Solar Bridge of Pluto And Charon)

Boasting no more than 50,000 brave souls, this world was originally settled upon by government scientists from various Terrian, Martian and Callistian nations seeking to conduct experiments considered too hazardous (and/or controversial) on their respective home worlds.

While the world and its smaller moon hold little value (both visually and economically), one interesting feature of this binary system is the solar bridge connecting both Pluto and Charon together.

This engineering feat was originally built to reduce the cost of travel between both worlds via rockets although conspiracy theorists have their own conclusions for its existence (none of which will be cited here).

What about Earth?

Although the human race has made great strides in establishing colonies throughout the Sol System, most of its 20 billion individuals reside on the birth planet Earth.

While Earth is still home to some of the greatest scientific discoveries known to man (and women), there are no great engineering wonders to speak of, aside from the beautiful beaches, mountains and vast blue oceans that distinguish our home world from every other sphere that orbits our star.

Update (11/24): Corrected grammatical errors. Thanks!

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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.

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One Solar Space Power To Rule Them All?

Posted by on Dec 10, 2008 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Ceres, Mars, Moon, Solar Essay, Titan | 7 comments

Image Credit: Loony Tunes

Note: Article inspired by NASA Watch, The Planetary Society and 21st Century Waves


Warning: This is an extremely long article, so you may want to grab a quick snack as you read through this post.

Anyone who has ever played board games such as Risk and Monopoly knows that the overall purpose of the game is for one player to dominant the board by either taking territory or securing financial resources ahead of their rivals.

The same rule also applies to the final frontier as evidenced by the space race emerging in Asia, as well as between the US and China.

While every nation probably has their own “road map” for conquering the final frontier, there are no less than five critical locations (ranging from asteroids to dwarf planets to even moons) that a space faring nation must secure if they desire to remain (or become) a solar space power in our star system.

First Stop: Luna

Orbiting a mere light second away from Earth, the Moon could easily be described as humanities second home due to its proximity towards our birth world.

Although the lunar surface may lack water (at least in abundance), its white regolith can be “easily” converted into breathable oxygen, allowing our species to survive beyond our earthen cradle without the need to constantly borrow air from our home world.

Often seen as free on planet Earth, oxygen in space will be literally worth its “weight” in gold, and any nation that can find a way to inexpensively produce lunar oxygen will have an advantage later on over its rivals (and may even be able to sell the precious gas for a profit).

While its oxygen rocks could enable humanity to live off world, its reduced gravity may make the tiny sphere appealing to asteroid miners seeking out near earth objects (aka NEO’s).

Since micro-gravity has a way of eroding bones and muscles, destroying immune systems, weakening hearts and strengthening deadly bacteria, asteroid miners may prefer to live lunar side (with frequent trips to mine these NEO’s), than to spend the majority of their time floating next to a space rock in micro-gravity.

Even though a space faring nation (both current and aspiring) could develop a sustainable presence around the Moon (and nearby space rocks) due to its resources and location, it may be wise to travel beyond Earth’s orbit towards more promising worlds (in order maintain its status a future space power).

Next Stop: The dwarf planet Ceres

Although some would consider it “insane” to skip the red planet, heading to Ceres first will ensure that a future space power has the resources to fund its expansion (note: despite the fact that doing so means sacrificing the prestige of sending the first man or woman to Mars).

Ceres strategically orbits within the metal rich region of the asteroid belt, making this dwarf planet prime real estate (at least to asteroid mining corporations).

Any nation establishing a colony on Ceres would be able to send teams of astronauts to secure nearby metallic space rocks as their own, potentially selling them to future allies or harvesting the mineral resources for themselves.

While the dwarf planet lacks any resources of its own, Ceres is suspected of hosting more “fresh water” than Earth itself, which would enable future asteroid minors to potentially grow their own food off world without depending on frequent supplies from Earth.

It would also allow Ceres to act as a interplanetary rest stop between Mars and Jupiter, not to mention a safe haven as well (just in case the asteroid belt becomes infested with space pirates).

Since most of humanities attention will probably be focused on Mars after the Moon, there will probably be very little competition establishing a dominant presence on Ceres (if not conquer it entirely for themselves).

Third Stop: The Martian moon called Phobos

Despite its popularity in science fiction, Mars will probably attract very few visitors due to the extreme difficulty in landing large payloads on the surface of the red planet.

Coupled with the fact that Mars lacks major resources of any kind (note: at least that we know of), the crimson world may only be inhabited by scientists, various cults and individuals disillusioned by Earthen (and Lunar) governments.

Even though the red planet may not be of much economic worth (at least initially), one of its asteroid moons Phobos could be converted into an enormous space station in order to make it easier to process metals harvested from the asteroid belt.

Since the sunlight on Mars is much stronger than in the asteroid belt, a future mining corporation could use the Sun’s rays to melt asteroid metals en mass before exporting them towards Earth (and Luna).

Although working on an asteroid moon may be profitable, living upon one may not due to the side effects of micro-gravity.

Even though a future miner could always counter the effects of micro-gravity with various drugs and electronic shocks, it may be wiser to settle upon the red deserts below as Mars’s gravity is approximately 38% Earth norm.

In order to reduce the cost of transporting personal (and equipment) to and from the Martian surface, a future space power may need to construct an “orbital space elevator” on the near side of Phobos.

While constructing this would ultimately open up Mars to the rest of humanity (which a future space power could charge a fee for rivals to use), it would also allow them to import water from the Martian surface (instead of depending upon either Earth or Ceres for supplies).

Fourth Stop: The Jovian moon Callisto

Often regarded as a dead world, the Jovian moon Callisto may be of high worth to any space faring nation, due to the fact that it is one of the few radiation safe worlds in our star system.

Even though Mars and the Moon may have “celebrity status” throughout our solar system, neither of the worlds has a global magnetic field to protect their spheres from the wrath of the Sun.

Callisto on the other hand is not only protected by Jupiter’s magnetic field, but it orbits just beyond the gas giant’s radiation belt, enabling future colonists to raise families (and pets) upon this world without fear of growing a third eye ball.

While Callisto may not have any immediate value outside of being a midway point between the inner solar system and Saturn, establishing an outpost here would enable a future space power to “easily explore” its brother Ganymede.

Although Ganymede’s orbit takes it into the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belts, a properly shielded colony could use Ganymede’s global magnetic field to raise an abundance of crops with the help of bees (instead of relying upon ants who may not need a magnetic field to pollinate our green friends).

While it would probably be impossible for one space faring nation to conquer both of these worlds for themselves, conquering these moons early on (especially Callisto) could give a rising space power significant influence over the future of the Jupiteran system (not to mention the next gas giant as well).

Last Stop: The methane moon called Titan

Even if humanity finds a way to harvest the helium-3 locked away within Luna’s crust (not to mention the atmosphere of Uranus), the cost of mining it m
ay put it out of reach for most interplanetary commercial spacecraft.

Since supplies of Uranium and Plutonium could easily become unavailable for space travel (as many nations on Earth may need them for energy or defense), finding an inexpensive alternative could determine whether or not a space faring nation thrives or merely survives in the depths of our star system.

One way to guarantee that a future space power has the neccessary fuel to maintain its fleet (at least inexpensively) is to establish outposts near Titan’s methane lakes (which may contain an abundance of methane/ethane within them).

While it would not be surprising to see Titan heavily colonized in the fairly distant future (by various countries), securing this world early on would enable a space faring country to establish tremendous influence throughout the solar system (or at least within the ringed system of Saturn).

What about the other worlds?

Although their are plenty of other interesting worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury to the frozen wasteland of Neptune’s moon Triton, these worlds may not attract that much interest in the future (at least as far as we can tell right now).

Even though everyone probably hopes that humanity would put aside their differences and explore the final frontier in peace, six thousand years of recorded history seems to hold a dim view regarding this viewpoint (as one can glimpse the wars that have raged upon our planet).

Whether or not humanity decides to conquer every sphere and space rock within our solar system only time will tell.

But either way, these four worlds (plus one asteroid moon) may be the key that determines which space faring nation not only dominates our solar system, but perhaps guides us unto the next one as well.

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Saturn's Titan: Where Rovers Fail, Hot Air Balloons May Prevail

Posted by on Nov 10, 2008 in Blog, Technology, Titan | 0 comments



(Hat Tip: Centauri Dreams, Image Credit: NASA)

To say one could easily explore the surface of Titan without descending below the clouds would be as silly as trying to fathom Earth’s oceanic depths without using machines to probe the deep.

If Titan is destined to be a future home for humanity, then we are going to have to find a way to accurately explore its surface.

Since exploring its surface via satellite may be useless due to the methane moon’s “jelly insides,” we may have to explore it via hot air balloon in order to map out this orange hazy moon.

(Titan and Saturn Future Exploration) We are now in the phase of describing our study of the past year for a return to Titan and the Saturnian System in extensive reports that will allow the science committees appointed by the agencies to evaluate the interest and feasibility of the mission. The JSDT, and the NASA, JPL and ESA engineers have been working hard on putting together these reports and on defining the science, as well as the measurement requirements related to our ambitious mission, which comprises a dedicated Titan orbiter, and two in situ elements : a hot-air (Montgolfière) balloon and a lander. The balloon is to fly over Titan’s mid latitudes at 10 km altitude for about 6 months, while a short-lived probe will land in a north-polar lake. The CNES French Agency has committed to supplying a large part of the balloon, and is actively studying the Montgolfière. For the lander, the flourishing heritage from Huygens is putting us in a strong, comfortable position.

Although some may suggest that we simply deploy another rover (as that will give us a ground view of things), and future machine with wheels my find itself getting stuck due to the chemical nature of Titan’s sand grains.

A hot air balloon would probably be a better alternative, as it would not only give us a birds eye view of the region, but enable us to measure what Titan weather is like in the sky (as future colonists will probably construct “nitrogen planes” in order to transport goods across the surface).

Update: Corrected random link color error in blockquote.

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Saturn: Titan Colonists May Loathe The Moon's Sand

Posted by on May 5, 2008 in Blog, Saturn, Titan | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: The Space Fellowship, Image Credit: NASA)

Located approximately 1.5 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Saturn’s Titan may prove to be one of the more interesting worlds to live upon in our solar system.

While it would not be surprising to see cites constructed upon the moon due to its methane lakes, future colonists may find its sand to be “slightly irritating.”

(NASA) On Earth, sand grains form by breaking things down, but on Titan, the opposite may be true – with much of the sand a product of building things up.

That’s one theory Cassini scientists are considering after studying Titan’s massive sand dunes with the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer on the Cassini Saturn orbiter. The new observations raise the possibility that much of the sand grows from hydrocarbon particulates fallen from the sky that, once on the ground, join together and become sand grain-size particles. […]

In the May 2008 issue of the journal Icarus Cassini scientists report that dunes contain less water ice than the rest of Titan. The dark brown sands appear to be made up of the same kind of complex organic chemicals that dominate Titan’s smoggy atmosphere. If the dunes are made up of the same dark material on the inside as they have on the outside, then there’s simply too much organic sand to have come from erosion alone.

The new findings may help explain how, once on the ground, hydrocarbon particulates the size of smoke particles might grow into sand grains through a process called “sintering” – a slight melting that welds particles together. It may be that sintering produces particles that are just the right size for sand grains – between 0.18-0.25 millimeters and no larger, perfect for blowing in the wind and drifting into dunes.

If humanity desires to ever live upon this world, they may have to find a way to counteract this sintering effect, as the last thing colonists need is to have these particles building up upon future spaceports, buildings and homes (not to mention rocket ships).

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