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 | 1 comment

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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Heartache: Cosmic Radiation May Crimp Off World Adventures

Posted by on Apr 11, 2011 in Health, Video | 0 comments

Space travel could be bad for astronauts’ arteries from uabnews on Vimeo.

As glorious as it would be to embrace the heavens above and set foot upon extra terrestrial soils, we need to face the reality that space is not for the faint of heart–this time quite literally.

A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (or UAB for short) has presented another danger regarding space radiation which may cause a few people to scratch themselves off the list.

Using an animal model, researchers assessed the affect of iron ion radiation commonly found in outer space to see if exposures promoted the development of atherosclerosis, as terrestrial sources of radiation are known to do. They observed that cosmic radiation accelerated the development of atherosclerosis, independent of the cholesterol levels or circulating white blood cells of the mice. It also worsened existing atherosclerotic lesions. […]

[…] Kucik and his colleagues examined atherosclerosis development in mice following targeted exposure to a particle beam of high-velocity iron ions — similar to those found in space — produced by scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. […]

“At 13 weeks it was surprising and quite remarkable that we already could see permanent damage — an irreversible thickening of the artery wall where it had been exposed to radiation,” said co-author Janusz Kabarowski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Microbiology. “The irradiation had no significant effect on the frequency of circulating immune and inflammatory white blood cells or plasma lipid profile.” (UAB News)

Although this isn’t a show stopper for future space travelers, it does mean that until we can develop artificial magnetic fields strong enough to repel cosmic radiation if we want to see our species survive off world (at least upon the surface).

Since space colonists will inevitably be exposed to cosmic radiation at some point in their lives (especially if they are traversing between the planets), it might also be a good idea to clone a few extra hearts (or harvest them from pigs) just in case the originals become damaged beyond repair.

Celestial Tip: Astrobiology Magazine

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Extraterrestrial Farmers To Raise Grain Without Soil? (Aeroponics)

Posted by on Dec 7, 2010 in NASA, Space Food, Video | 2 comments

If you were to attempt to raise a garden utilizing only lunar or Martian soil, chances are that your precious plants would either die a horrible death or survive albeit malnourished.

While there are probably exceptions to this rule (i.e. asparagus might be able to thrive within Martian dirt), the vast majority of terrestrial plants will need terrestrial soil in order to thrive, which poses a huge problem for humanity (as people need to eat off world, let alone find employment).

Instead of importing tons of terrestrial soil from the homeworld or manufacturing large quantities from humans, it’s probably wiser to raise them without soil thanks to aeroponics.

Growing plants without any soil may conjure up images from a Star Trek movie, but it’s hardly science fiction. Aeroponics, as one soilless cultivation process is called, grows plants in an air or mist environment with no soil and very little water. Scientists have been experimenting with the method since the early 1940s, and aeroponics systems have been in use on a commercial basis since 1983.

“Who says that soil is a precondition for agriculture?” asked Graber. “There are two major preconditions for agriculture, the first being water and the second being plant nutrients. Modern agriculture makes extensive use of ‘soilless growing media,’ which can include many varied solid substrates.”

In 1997, NASA teamed up with AgriHouse and BioServe Space Technologies to design an experiment to test a soilless plant-growth system on board the Mir Space Station. NASA was particularly interested in this technology because of its low water requirement. Using this method to grow plants in space would reduce the amount of water that needs to be carried during a flight, which in turn decreases the payload. Aeroponically-grown crops also can be a source of oxygen and drinking water for space crews. (Astrobiology Magazine)

Using Aeroponics would not only reduce the overall cost of raising grain, but enable us to establish “self sustaining” colonies beyond the Jovain lunar worlds (such as Callisto, Ganymede and Saturn’s Titan), but also upon asteroids and Centaurs (aka giant comets like Chiron) as well.

While aeroponics would not be feasible for every time of plant available (i.e. raising forests would require tons of soil), it would make it easier to settle upon the worlds that dance around our yellow sun which would aid humanities quest to conquer the final frontier.

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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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Video: Humanity Vs Space Radiation

Posted by on Sep 6, 2010 in Health, Video | 0 comments

(Image Credit: NASA (assumed), via ITECS Insider)

Aside from government politics, space radiation is one of the biggest threats to humans seeking to leave our home world.

Unless we find a way to protect ourselves, humanity will only be able to settle upon only a few worlds within our star system.

As shown in the video below, scientists are attempting to find innovative ways to counteract radiation’s effects, as failure to do so can result in a few dead astronauts.

Scientists are currently working on ways to deal with radiation via medicine, nano particles and portable magnetic fields, as well as mapping out “safe havens” (i.e. off world caves on the Moon and Mars).

Thus far our closest neighbor has some temporary protection thanks to Earth’s magnetic field, although hopefully we can come up with a more permanent solution aside from just settling Jupiter’s Callisto and Saturn’s Titan.

(Hat Tip:  Spaceports)

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