Plans for alien contact found wanting

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Enormous satellite dishes make up the search party for extraterrestrial life, but in the event of success, should a welcome party follow? Astronomers and biologists involved in the search for life on other planets are worried about a lack of regulatory and ethical policies to guide them.

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Space cannon to shoot payloads into orbit

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John Hunter, from the company Quicklaunch, which was set up by himself and two other scientists, bases its plans on previous work they carried out at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. In 1992 Hunter and his colleagues fired a 130 m (425 ft) cannon built to test launch hypersonic engines. Its piston, driven by methane, compressed  that expanded up the barrel of the over-sized gun to shoot the .

Source: PhysOrg.

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ESA: Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction

Science Fiction (SF) literature, artwork and films are works of imagination, but often contain some elements of plausibility, with the story revolving around some known facts as well as inventions and possibilities that are to all intents and purposes beyond our current technologies. Although Science Fiction is not about predicting the future, several SF authors have taken modern technology and concepts (of their own time) and anticipated with some accuracy how new technologies would change our lives, well before these technologies were actually possible.

Source: ESA.

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Water on the Moon: Permanent Human Habitat Next

Nasa’s experiment last month to find water on the Moon was a major success, US scientists have announced.

The space agency smashed a rocket and probe into a large crater at the lunar south pole, hoping to kick up ice.

Scientists who have studied the data now say instruments trained on the impact plume saw copious quantities of water vapour.

One researcher described this as the equivalent of “a dozen two-gallon buckets” of water.

The 1.6km-high plume of debris was kicked up by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) last month when it crashed into Cabeus crater.

“We’re unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbour and, by extension, the Solar System,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at Nasa’s headquarters in Washington DC.

“The Moon harbours many secrets, and LCROSS has added a new layer to our understanding.”

The identification of water-ice in the impact plume is important for purely scientific reasons, but also because a supply of water on the Moon would be a vital resource for future human exploration.

Finally some useful research from NASA, BBC reports. Now let’s get that space-elevator hooked up to a permanent base.

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Moving the Earth: a planetary survival guide

 Elementary physics tells us that we actually can move the planets. Launching a rocket into space pushes the Earth a bit in the opposite direction, like the recoil from a gun.

Science-fiction author and trained physicist Stanley Schmidt exploited this fact in his novel The Sins of the Fathers, in which aliens built giant rocket engines at the South Pole to move the Earth. (Read about other sci-fi novels and films that have tackled the problem of moving worlds.)

In real life, however, the Earth is so massive that a rocket would have little effect on its motion. Launching a billion 10-tonne rockets in exactly the same direction would change the Earth’s velocity by just 20 nanometres per second – peanuts compared to the planet’s current speed of 30 kilometres per second.

A few astronomers have tackled the problem of moving planets, but not for dealing with emergencies on human time scales. They’re actually devising thought experiments to understand the dynamics of planetary systems, says Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz. So processes that occur on geologic time scales work perfectly well.

Read more about moving the planet on New Scientist.

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Boeing Joins Lockheed Martin On Blackswift

Boeing and ATK have joined the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works team bidding to build the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Blackswift hypersonic technology demonstrator.

Northrop Grumman is understood not to have bid, making it likely a contract will be awarded to Lockheed by September. The unmanned, reusable turbojet/scramjet-powered Blackswift is planned to fly in 2012.

Under DARPA’s Falcon program, Lockheed has completed conceptual design of a demonstrator, the HTV-3X, that forms the basis for the Blackswift. The goal of the demonstration is to take-off conventionally, accelerate to beyond Mach 6, maneuver and return to a runway landing.

Skunk Works also is performing subscale tests of the combined-cycle propulsion system, which comprises a high-Mach turbojet and dual-mode ram/scramjet. The turbine is used for take-off and landing, and to accelerate the vehicle to Mach 4, where the ramjet takes over.

Source: Aviation Week.

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Messy battlefields: Space war would cause massive space junk problem


Given the amount of debris a single ASAT weapon can create,
as this illustration of last year’s Chinese ASAT test shows,
imagine the debris created by the deliberate use of ASATs. (credit: CelesTrak)

As space technology spreads, the incentives for small and medium-sized states to seek space warfare capability increases. A dictator who does not want to end the way Saddam Hussein did may seek way to hurt US warfighting capability in such a way as to impose major costs and casualties on the US early on. The destruction of a major US satellite would be both a substantive and a symbolic victory over the US. Hitting a number of satellites would increase the effect.

Such an attack would result in a major increase in the amount of debris orbiting the Earth. This would be the equivalent of a “scorched earth” policy if enough deadly debris were created. One possibility that has not been publicly examined might be to build highly- or ultra-destructive ASAT weapons that would literally pulverize the target and leave nothing behind but bits of dust. Even small particles can do some damage, but paint flakes like those that sometimes hit space shuttles have not managed to destroy an orbiter.

Source: Space Review.

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Mankind’s secrets kept in lunar ark

IF civilisation is wiped out on Earth, salvation may come from space. Plans are being drawn up for a “Doomsday ark” on the moon containing the essentials of life and civilisation, to be activated in the event of earth being devastated by a giant asteroid or nuclear war.

Construction of a lunar information bank, discussed at a conference in Strasbourg last month, would provide survivors on Earth with a remote-access toolkit to rebuild the human race.

A basic version of the ark would contain hard discs holding information such as DNA sequences and instructions for metal smelting or planting crops. It would be buried in a vault just under the lunar surface and transmitters would send the data to heavily protected receivers on earth. If no receivers survived, the ark would continue transmitting the information until new ones could be built.

The vault could later be extended to include natural material including microbes, animal embryos and plant seeds and even cultural relics such as surplus items from museum stores.

As a first step to discovering whether living organisms could survive, European Space Agency scientists are hoping to experiment with growing tulips on the moon within the next decade.

According to Bernard Foing, chief scientist at the agency’s research department, the first flowers – tulips or arabidopsis, a plant widely used in research – could be grown in 2012 or 2015.

“Eventually, it will be necessary to have a kind of Noah’s ark there, a diversity of species from the biosphere,” said Foing.

Tulips are ideal because they can be frozen, transported long distances and grown with little nourishment. Combined with algae, an enclosed artificial atmosphere and chemically enhanced lunar soil, they could form the basis of an ecosystem.

Read the entire article at Times Online. See also “‘Lunar Ark’ Proposed in Case of Deadly Impact on Earth” on National Geographic.

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Missile-ready China warns U.S. against plan to destroy spy satellite

In response to a U.S. plan to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite, China has warned against threats to security in outer space, without mentioning its own successful anti-satellite missile test last year. The Chinese government also stopped short of linking the planned U.S. strike with Beijing’s repeated calls for a complete ban on space weapons.Security analysts have suggested that Beijing could use the planned U.S. interception to justify the Chinese military’s unannounced destruction of a defunct weather satellite in January 2007. That interception drew criticism from senior U.S. military officials, who complained that it had left a cloud of debris that was dangerous to other space traffic. Chinese experts in turn have questioned the Pentagon’s explanation that it wanted to down the spy satellite to avoid contamination from hazardous fuel on board.

Source: International Herald Tribune.

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