Sunday, May 28, 2006


Buckethead at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy reports that Voyager 2 is about to leave the solar system. It seems it will leave the heliosphere early because it is approaching the edge sooner than expected, not to to speed but because the "edge of the solar system is closer where Voyager is. This seems to be causing considerable exitement as it proves that the heliosphere lumpy and shit and prolly our hosed.

Ahem....actually this is a pretty big discovery.

In other space news the Mark Wade's superb Encyclopedia Astronautica has just been updated in a BIG way, with lots of new image files and scads of historic space documents in PDF format. Mark Wades blog has been massively updated too!

Wade is pretty critical of the whole current space program, but he is too pessimistic in thinking that the CEV will be the last US Spacecraft. Commercial designs are likely to blossom to some extent and may even beat the CEV to the moon....(which would be a bit of a calamity as I'd then owe Buckethead dinner.)The CEV is growing in part because it is intended for a wide variety of mission profiles for LEO cislunar, lunar, NEO rendevouz and possibly even martian missions. Redundancy is a generally good thing and a perhaps not intentional side effect is that the CEV competition is occupying the big aerospace giants from stymiing the new X-Prize inspired start-ups.

I'm actually impressed with the way Mike Griffen has used the VSE to promote space entrepanuerism. The COTS, centenial-prizes and his rather visionary ideas for commercial propellant depots have considerable potential to aid rather than stiffle commercial development in space, this is a sea-change for NASA, and likely a very unwilling one for many of the beauraucrats there.

So I'm a bit optimistic about the current space program even when "cough! cough!" shuttle er.. derived vehicles turn out like George Washingtons axe.

(On this last, I'm begining to suspect that they are really building an virtual clone of the Saturn 5, but doing it on the sly for some reason, or perhaps it's just convergent engineering.)

Unlike some space advocates, I have no special hatred for heavy lift especially if the govt does it and frees the more comercially viable medium lift market to the private sector. An HLV might be useful for an outer planets mission or an asteroid mittigation endeavor or perhaps a big telescope or rescue mission, so I'm not upset by its existance as some are.

There was some vaguely bad engineering news recently, via Rand Simberg comes this story about a setback in carbon nanotubes, but even given that, it seems to be seems to be premature to say NEVER!!(keeping in mind, as always, my usual disclaimer.)

There is lots of other cool space stuff going on. This recent cleaned up view of the Huygens descent and the the big ,er, splash about Enceladus. Atlantis is looking like she's going to launch before the end of the summer!

Finally, there is this intriguing bit of news sent by Anonymous PHD. The development of an actual, working propellantless drive! This thind is practically an ether propeller! It is not a wonder drive and is comparable to weak ion engines in performance except that it needs no propellant. This means it can accelerate as long as it has power with NO FUEL WEIGHT PENALTY. This could be very useful in satellites which are useless after their reaction control thrusters die. It might have applications for deep space missions as a sustainer given that it would accelerate constantly with no propellant. This seems really big to me.

The future is here! :)

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