Monday, June 1, 2015

Spacing out

Here are some interesting space-exploration items I've been accumulating ...

Let's get it off the drawing boards
Getting the downers out of the way first: "NASA says new heavy-lift rocket debut not likely until 2018." And wouldn't it be nice if NASA knew what it wanted to do with its ever-delayed launcher? (On that latter point, it's not only me who wonders. From the Washington Post, see, "NASA has a spaceship, but where will it go?") Creeping toward a mission choice -- for 2025 -- we read "For Asteroid-Capture Mission, NASA Picks 'Option B' for Boulder."

If NASA's manned spaceflight is all but inert, the agency does continue to do interesting science: "NASA launches 4 spacecraft to solve magnetic mystery." The mystery: the nature of interactions between Earth's and Sun's magnetic fields. Particularly interesting is the sometimes rapid changes that occur at the dynamic interface between fields:
Magnetic reconnection is what happens when magnetic fields like those around Earth and the sun come together, break apart, then come together again, releasing vast energy. This repeated process drives the aurora, as well as solar storms that can disrupt communications and power on Earth. Data from this two-year mission should help scientists better understand so-called space weather.

To continue learning how the universe works, from time to time we need such new missions. As though reminding us, a long-term, up-close study of Mercury just completed: "Fiery end for MESSENGER mission." MESSENGER taught us a lot. For example, pre-MESSENGER who would have guessed that a planet's magnetic field could be off-center?

Happily, space is less and less a government-only domain. Bigelow Aerospace -- the nascent space-hotel company -- will soon have sort-of tenants. See "Private Inflatable Room Launching to Space Station Next Year." (That's an old article. The launch is expected to be this year.)

Over the past few years, one of the bright spots in American space exploration has been the rapid progress of privately held SpaceX. And SpaceX just notched another victory: "U.S. Air Force certifies SpaceX for national security launches." It'll be nice not to hafta rely on, ya know, recycled Russian launchers for US national-security purposes.

Is space mining (a premise of my first novel, Probe, way back in 1991) real? Not yet, but here's a sign it's getting closer. "The House just passed a bill about space mining. The future is here." (The article also talks about legal protections sought by Bigelow Aerospace for a possible lunar resort.")

An asteroid-mining concept

You've likely read that low-Earth orbit (LEO) is becoming somewhat more dangerous from all the accumulated orbiting space junk. (Don't get me started on the extent to which that threat was exaggerated in the 2013 movie Gravity.) It makes sense to clean up the LEO neighborhood -- to the extent such clean-up is practical -- especially as commercial manned spaceflight is about to begin. Alas, we see in IEEE Spectrum that "Averting Space Doom: Solving the Orbital Junk Problem: Sadly, space lasers and orbital tugboats are unlikely fixes."

Where's Delos D. Harriman when we need him? Perhaps that name was code for Elon Musk :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding the heavy-lift rocket not being 'purpose built,' I suppose it's better to have it in hand. Crises and opportunities can be unpredictable. I can think of several projects—particularly when robotics gets to the point that it paves the way and prepares sites for humans.

Privatization is a great step too. I'd like us to get to the point where some political party can't hold space exploration hostage for budget approval.