Carnival of Space 287

1. Meridiani Journal – Astronomers redefine the habitable zone for exoplanets. Astronomers, from Penn State and also collaborators with the Planetary Habitability Laboratory, have concluded that, overall, the habitable zones are a bit farther out from their stars than previously thought. “This has implications for finding other planets with life on them,” according to Ravi Kumar Kopparapu, a lead investigator with the new study.

2. The Planetary Society – Just like on Earth, clouds and storms often ripple through the Martian atmosphere. You can even check the daily weather report.

3. Urban Astronomer -Water ice found on Mercury, and how this can even be possible. Mercury is pockmarked with large craters, just like the Moon, and it’s axis of rotation is aligned almost perfectly with it’s orbit around the Sun. Together, these two factors mean that the craters near the North and South poles of Mercury are in permanent shadow and are never exposed to the fierce heat of the nearby Sun. Throw in several million years worth of space-dust to make a nice insulating blanket, and it turns out that the accumulated water from all those ancient comets manages to freeze into quite a thick crust of ice

Shown in red are areas of Mercury’s north polar region that are in shadow in all images acquired by MESSENGER to date. Image coverage, and mapping of shadows, is incomplete near the pole.

4. At Here. There. Everywhere. Quarterback Throws and a Pulsar goes. Superbowl Sunday is a good excuse to mull over the science behind the game. The same physics is in play on a much bigger scale elsewhere in the Universe.

5. Astroblogger – Initial orbit values for comet C/2013 A1 suggests it may come very close to Mars, with a slight chance it could actually hit

6. Nextbigfuture – NASA has developed a water and ice mining robot for the moon and it is called RASSOR. RASSOR, for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot and pronounced “razor,” the autonomous machine is far from space-ready, but the earliest design has shown engineers the broad strokes of what their lunar soil excavator needs in order to operate reliably. A concept mission for RASSOR would have a 2000 pound payload in addition to the lander, which would be about the size of the Phoenix lander NASA sent to Mars. The RASSOR is expected to weigh about 100 pounds. The remaining payload would be used to process the lunar soil delivered by RASSOR.

7. Nextbigfuture – The Wang Bullet is a single pulse nuclear external pulse propulsion system. Freeman Dyson and Ted Taylor and others worked on the project Orion nuclear pulse propulsion system. The designs involved about 200 pulses to get out of the earth’s gravity and 600 more pulses to go to Mars or Saturn’s moon Titan. The single pulse propulsion system is to dig a large hole and use one pulse which is a nuclear cannon that could launch thousands of tons in one shot. In this article, the reports from past nuclear tests is used to consider if the blast size and the projectile could not be configured for a successful launch. They also consider nuclear blasts for excavation.

8. Nextbigfuture has a follow up examination of the Friedlander Cold Crown and managing large scale lunar industry. The purpose of the Friedlander Cold Crown is to capture runaway gas escapes that otherwise would ruin the wonderful Lunar ambient vacuum during a period of massive industrial bootup. For current lunar atmosphere, Landis gives ten million molecules/cubic centimeter (half nanotorr) during the lunar day 100,000 molecules/cubic centimeter during the lunar night, This corresponds to pressures from 0.001 nanotorr This is good enough to use vacuum tubes without the tube, a vacuum technician’s paradise easily spoiled by large scale outgassing.

9. Nextbigfuture – Culham Science Centre’s Reaction Engines Ltd has carried out successful tests on a revolutionary rocket engine for its Skylon vehicle. The space plane will be able to reach speeds of more than 19,000 miles an hour – which would cut the journey time from London to Australia to just four hours. Reaction Engines hopes to run cargo flights to space stations by 2022 and says the craft – which will take off and land from conventional runways – could later be adapted to take tourists towards the stars. They are targeting the first test flights in 2019.

10. Nextbigfuture argues that have to rewrite the economics of space as we go. Build things so that which follows is cheaper. Food, water, fuel, accommodations, etc… It should all be ready and waiting. We have spent about $3 trillion (in todays dollars on space, (50 years of NASA and Defense space budgets). Yet we do not have the interstate highway system for space after all of that money because we did not try to build things or put things up there to make what followed cheaper. Everything was one off. It is not just the economics of one asteroid. It is about leveraging for hundreds and tens of thousands of asteroids. A proper plan for $3 trillion of space development would have been to make fuel depots in low earth orbit and higher orbits and on the moon and to develop power generation and material processing systems. There should be oxygen, water, fuel, food and other materials available so that space missions that follow can be cheap and light weight. There should be solar system wide positioning system and communications network. Tether (skyhook) systems can be used to reduce the speed and cost needed to get to orbit. By halving the speed to get to orbit (intercept with a skyhook and get boosted to orbit instead of just going to orbit) you would lower fuel requirements by four times.

Internet companies and venture capitalists talk about scaling a business model. Space industrialization is about truly scaling. The biggest economic bootstrap ever. A smaller comparison is the investment to develop the missions and colonies in North and South America in the 1600s and 1700s.

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