This is one of the Nextbigfuture article series reviewing developments in 2016 and looking ahead to developments over the next few years. Here we look at 2016 in space. Later articles will look at medicine, life extension, energy and other areas. Previously we reviewed computers and artificial intelligence
The biggest developments in space in 2016
* Spacex had several successful launches and landed several rocket stages but had an accident which has grounded Spacex. They hope to launching again in January 2017
* Spacex test fired the new Raptor engine
* Blue Origin made progress in 2016 and plans launch suborbital test pilots in 2017 and commercial passengers in 2018
* Research and work on Hypersonic missiles by China, USA, Russia, India and others is picking up
* Research and work on hypersonic planes and spaceplanes is ramping up
Reaction Engines UK is progressing to a full demonstrator hypersonic engine in 2020 and fully reusable spaceplanes and hypersonic fighter jets around 2030 Reaction engines finalized the UK Government’s £60 million commitment in November, 2016. In November 2015, BAE Systems invested £20.6 million in Reaction Engines to acquire 20 per cent of its share capital and agreed to provide industrial, technology development and project management expertise to support Reaction Engines during its development phase. Reaction Engines is also working with the US Air Force Research Lab. If the US air force decides to fund a hypersonic fighter jet with Reaction Engine technology then Reaction Engines will have billions and would be able to mature their technology and create a space plane.
In 2016, Jian Nong Wang and his colleagues made nanotubes with a process akin to glass blowing: Using a stream of nitrogen gas, they injected ethanol, with a small amount of ferrocene and thiophene added as catalysts, into a 50-mm-wide horizontal tube placed in furnace at 1,150–1,130 °C.
They packed the nanotubes even more densely by pressing the film repeatedly between two rollers.
The resulting films had an average strength of 9.6 gigapascals. By comparison, the strength of nanotube films made so far has been around 2 GPa, while that for Kevlar fibers and commercially used carbon fibers is around 3.7 and 7 GPa, respectively. The films are four times as pliable as conventional carbon fibers, and can elongate by 8% on average as opposed to 2% for carbon fibers.
This will mean rockets and spaceplanes that go at about Mach 8 will be able to rendezvous with rotovators. This will reduce the cost of putting things into orbit by about ten times.
Atomic metallic hydrogen, if metastable at ambient pressure and temperature could be used as the most powerful chemical rocket fuel, as the atoms recombine to form molecular hydrogen. This light-weight high-energy density material would revolutionize rocketry, allowing single-stage rockets to enter orbit and chemically fueled rockets to explore our solar system. To transform solid molecular hydrogen to metallic hydrogen requires extreme high pressures.
Nextbigfuture believes until metallic hydrogen becomes very, very cheap, it will be far more valuable for possible superconducting properties than for rocket fuel. Even very high performance rocket fuel. If metallic hydrogen is a room temperature superconductor that is metastable after releasing the pressure that created it, and the critical current is very high, then improvements to engines and high performance magnetic sails would be possible. This will be considered in future posts.
Elon Musk and Spacex revealed their Mars colonization plans, Mars mission plans and the Interplanetary Transport system, which would be able to launch 550 tons to low earth orbit which is nearly four times as much as the Saturn V.
The ITS spaceship will be nearly 50 meters tall and a maximum diameter of 17 meters.
Instead of leaving for Mars at 4.5km/s it will accelerate to 6 km per second. ITS uses six Raptor engines optimized for the vacuum of space. This will reduce the journey to Mars from six months to about 80 days in an optimal launch window. After launching and being fueled on orbit, the ITS could deliver 450 tons to the surface of Mars.
Starting as soon as 2018, Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly an unmanned spacecraft to Mars. The unmanned flights would continue about every two years, timed for when Earth and Mars are closest in orbit, and, if everything goes according to plan, build toward the first human mission to Mars with the goal of landing in 2025, Musk has said.
In mid-2016, the U.S. Government authorized Moon Express to travel beyond Earth’s orbit and land on the Moon in 2017. This breakthrough U.S. policy decision provides authorization to Moon Express for a maiden flight of its robotic spacecraft onto the Moon’s surface, beginning a new era of ongoing commercial lunar exploration and discovery, unlocking the immense potential of the Moon’s valuable resources. Moon Express received the green light for pursuing its 2017 lunar mission following in depth consultations with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies.
Moon Express founder Naveen Jain plans to be selling lunar flights for $10,000 per seat in 2026, a feat made possible by the increased affordability of space travel technology.
The first rocket Moon Express will use next year during their historic private mission to the lunar surface, the company’s MX-1 lander perched atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster, will cost about $5 million.
After that, however, Jain expects the price to drop dramatically with the same spacecraft budgeted to run $2 million within five years, and within a decade seats on lunar flights will be available for about $10,000.
Moon Express will compete for the Google Lunar XPrize with their 2017 lunar mission. The contest is a $20 million race to be the first team to put a robotic lander on the moon and drive 1,640 feet while beaming HD video back to Earth; second place is worth $5 million and another $5 million is awarded for achieving various goals.
Ground and space telescopes are advancing
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a planned space telescope for NASA’s Explorers program, designed to search for exoplanets using the transit method. It is planned for launch in December 2017. TESS is expected to catalog more than 3000 transiting exoplanet candidates, including a sample of ~500 Earth-sized and ‘Super Earth’ planets, with radii less than twice that of the Earth
* James Webb Space Telescope (2018)
* 24 meter ground based telescope, Giant Megallan (2022-2025)
* 39 meter ground based Extremely Large Telescope (2024-2027)
* 30 Meter Telescope (permit delays, around 2022-2025 if resolved)
In 2016, astronomers have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri. Proxima is a red dwarf. The planet is 1.3 Earth masses. It orbits at 0.05 AU. It lies squarely in the center of the classical habitable zone for Proxima.
Internet satellite network, space mining and more
Spacex Satellite net could start gigabit per second operation in 2020 with 800 to 1600 satellites covering the North America, Europe and Asia
Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space — plan to launch habitat modules to orbit in 2020, with the aim of making some money off Earth. If all goes according to plan, private space stations will eventually form the backbone of commercial facilities that replace the International Space Station (ISS), which is currently funded through 2024. Axiom Space hopes to keep building, launching and linking up modules, eventually creating an industrial “space city” of 100 or so people by the mid-2030.
Bigelow has something much bigger in mind — a module called the B330, which will offer 11,650 cubic feet of internal volume. (That’s 330 cubic meters, which explains the name.) For comparison, the internal pressurized volume of the entire 440-ton, $100 billion ISS is 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic m), according to NASA.
The company aims to build two B330s over the next four years
China launched a 25 ton capacity Long March 5 rocket China plans to use the Long March 5 to launch the core of a three-module, 60-tonne space station. The first space station launch by Long March 5 in 2018, and be completed in the early 2020s, including two experiment modules and a Hubble-class telescope that can dock for repairs.
Progress to Spiderfab
Positron Dynamics is working with a Sodium 22 isotope (which they get in liquid form) and it will produce positrons which will be moderated with semiconductor structures. Muon Catalyzed fusion from antimatter would multiply the energy production from the antimatter. Each muon catalyzing d-d muon-catalyzed fusion reactions in pure deuterium is only able to catalyze about one-tenth of the number of d-t muon-catalyzed fusion reactions that each muon is able to catalyze in a mixture of equal amounts of deuterium and tritium, and each d-d fusion only yields about one-fifth of the yield of each d-t fusion, thereby making the prospects for useful energy release from d-d muon-catalyzed fusion at least 50 times worse than the already dim prospects for useful energy release from d-t muon-catalyzed fusion.
However, Positron Dynamics is looking at the fusion for propulsion and not energy production
* Positron Dynamics plans to luanch a 6U cubesat that they will use to test the propulsion in space will be generating 100s of watts
* the propulsion will have delta V of 1 to 10 km/second
* Later systems will have more delta V and enable cubesats and small satellites to stay in orbit for years instead of days
Laser Propulsion funded for $100 million
Two initiatives have been announced so far. The first, Breakthrough Listen, will invest $100 million over 10 years in the most comprehensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth.
Yuri Milner, the Russian tech billionaire, joined Stephen Hawking atop Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, where the pair will announced Starshot, a $100 million dollar research program, the latest of Milner’s “Breakthrough Initiatives.” (Mark Zuckerberg will serve on Starshot’s board, alongside Milner and Hawking.) With the money, Milner hopes to prove that a probe could make the journey to Alpha Centauri in only 20 years.
Milner wants his $100 million to fund research that will culminate in a prototype of a probe that can beam images back to Earth. He told me the images would arrive less than 5 years after the probe reached the star.
Milner wants to launch a small “mothership,” filled with hundreds of these thin, disc-like probes. (He thinks each probe can eventually be manufactured at roughly the cost of an iPhone.) Once the mothership reaches orbit, it would release one probe per day. The probe would exit the larger spacecraft, and use its photon thrusters to position itself in the path of a ground-based laser beam.
UCSB has looked closely at issues for what Milner is proposing and have produced a roadmap for interstellar beam propulsion.
1 gram 24% of lightspeed
10 grams 14% of lightspeed
100 grams 7.8% of lightspeed
1 kg 4.3% of lightspeed
10kg 2.4% of lightspeed
100kg 1.4% of lightspeed
1000kg 0.77% of lightspeed
10 tons 0.43% of lightspeed
100 tons 0.24% of lightspeed
Milner is probably looking at less than 10 grams and about 2-4 GW ground based laser array.
UCSB Operational Maturation and Steps from their laser pushed sail roadmap:
Step 1 – Ground based – Small phased array, beam targeting and stability tests – 10 kw
Step II – Ground based – Target levitation and lab scale beam line acceleration tests – 10 kw
Step III – Ground based – Beam formation at large array spacing –
Step IV – Ground based – Scale to 100 kW with arrays sizes in the 1-3 m size –
Step V – Ground based – Scale to 1 MW with 10 m optics –
Step VI – Orbital testing with small 1-3 class arrays and 10-100kw power – ISS possibility
Step VII – Orbital array assembly tests in 10 m class array
Step VIII – Orbital assembly with sparse array at 100 m level –
Step IX – Orbital filled 100 m array
Step X – Orbital sparse 1km array
Step XI – Orbital filled 1 km array
Step XII – Orbital sparse 10 km array
Step XIII – Orbital filled 10 km array
Milner appears like he wants to go to step 5 or 6 with $100 million and then work out the design issues up to step 11 or 12 on the UCSB laser pushed sail roadmap.
Emdrive and Cannae drive
Cannae is not using an EmDrive thruster in their upcoming launch. Cannae is using it’s own proprietary thruster technology which requires no on-board propellant to generate thrust. In addition, this project is being done as a private venture. Cannae is only working with our private commercial partners on the upcoming mission.
Theseus Space is going to be launching a demo cubesat (probably in 2017) which will use Cannae thruster technology to maintain an orbit below a 150 mile altitude. This cubesat will maintain its extreme LEO altitude for a minimum duration of 6 months. The primary mission objective is to demonstrate our thruster technology on orbit. Secondary objectives for this mission include orbital altitude and inclination changes performed by the Cannae-thruster technology.
Cannae’s thruster technology is capable of generating thrust from a few uN up through several newton thrust levels and higher levels. The Cannae thruster technology is particularly useful for small satellite missions due to low power, mass and volume requirements. Our thruster configuration for the cubesat mission with Theseus is anticipated to require less than 1.5 U volume and will use less than 10 watts of power to perform station keeping thrusting.
Once demonstrated on orbit, Theseus will offer their thruster platforms to the satellite marketplace
Cannae is commercializing proprietary propulsion technology requiring no on-board propellant to generate thrust.
The core of their technology uses the Lorentz Force imbalances created by their thrusters to create propulsion. Cannae has demonstrated 2 separate prototypes of a superconducting thruster which requires no dielectric material to generate thrust.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.