Space Solar Power Gets
Serious Science Attention
The prestigious Science
Magazine this week published a paper by
18 authors who examined a wide range of options
for stablizing and eventually reducing CO2 buildup
in the atmosphere:
Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability:
Energy for a Greenhouse Planet - Science Magazine
- Nov.1.02 - (abstract available via free
reg. Full article requires paid reg.)
The paper looks at many different power production systems, especially
those that can provide large continuous baseline power with minimal
environmental impact. They include space
based solar power in their list of viable options. They
recommend initially launching powersats to LEO to demonstrate the
potential of the technology and then gradually adding more satellites
to build a constellation that would provide continuous power. Later,
GEO powersats could be developed.
Power System Needed to Solve Earth’s Energy
Woes - Space.com - Oct.31.02 for a longer
examination of the paper's views of space solar
Rocketry contest getting
popular - the Team
America Rocketry Challenge contest sponsored
Association of Rocketry & the AIA
seems to be having some success at attracting student
Camps - Recent reports
about the shutdown of the Florida Space Camp and
the earlier closing of a camp in California gave
some the impression of a drop in interest in space
among young people but that is a wrong impression.
Besides the fact that these two camps were never
marketed well (most kids in California and Florida
never knew about the camps), the closings actually
resulted from the big slowdown in travel after 911.
The primary camp in Huntsville, in fact, now has
strong attendance and seems to be recovering from
a string of financial
fiascos unrelated to attendance. It looks
increasingly likely, as well, that a new camp will
open near Washington D.C camp opens in three years
in South Korea:
Remote sensing volcanoes
- Check out the sharp satellite images
of the latest Mt. Etna eruption :
Satellite sees 200-mile ash, smoke plume from Mt.
Etna - Spaceflight Now - Oct.30.02 *
Space Station Crew Photographs Mt. Etna From Orbit
- NASA PR - Oct.30.02
The Martians have landed
- 3.5 Billion Years Ago - physicist and
author Paul Davies speculates that life started
first on Mars and then came to earth via meterorites:
true, men really are from Mars: And so are women,
thanks to an invasion by Red Planet microbes by
Paul Davies - Guardian - Oct.30.02
Darren Wright of Ozark
Propulsion Labs, which does amateur / experimental
rocketry, sent me the above photos that show a "54,000ns
motor lifting off ... It boosted a 400lb x 16in
[x 20ft tall] rocket [built by Neil McGilvray, shown
in top left photo,] to 6700ft (~2km) on October 19th,
officially making it the largest motor ever flown East
of the Mississippi. It also was the largest dual-stage
rocket successfully recovered East of the Mississippi."
movie of the launch.)
The launch took place in Price, Maryland
on the Eastern Shore during a rocket
meet of the Maryland
Delaware Rocketry Association (MDRA) .
light pollution isn't quite up there
with eliminating hunger and disease in the world but
it still merits an effort. Due to the background glow
in which they live, most young people growing up in
the cities and suburbs have never seen the amazing brilliance
of the stars in a dark sky. If we want to convince them
of the importance of science and of attaining some understanding
the natural world, it would help if they were not cut
off from the universe around them.
Gradually, though, the movement to reduce light pollution
is making progress. By emphasizing the modest changes
that are needed, such as, for example, shielding lamps
so they don't waste light by sending it upwards, municipalities
and individuals are started to respond.
A recent meeting of the International
Dark-Sky Association (IDA) involved not only astronomers
but many others concerned about the effects of constant
background light on humans and wildlife:
Terry Riley's Sun Rings, see
in the Music section, had its debut last Saturday in
a performance by the Kronos Quartet at the University of Iowa in
Iowa City. Sponsored by NASA, the work was inspired by space radio
signals converted to sound. - NASA
Music Out of this World - JPL News Release - Oct.24.02
The headline of the review at the Iowa
City Gazette reads :" 'Sun Rings' sends
positive signals - Kronos Quartet's world premiere
performance of "Sun Rings" Saturday night at Hancher
Auditorium was masterful, a multimedia presentation
that was both aurally and visually stunning." I
didn't want to pay for a subscription to read the whole
review but it sounds positive enough.
Human on Mars ? - add your input to this
survey on what people think about the questions of whether
the first human to set foot on Mars is alive today,
and, if so, from what nation, and male or female.
Your Message to a Star -
offers you the opportunity to send a message via laser
to a distant star. You can monitor the position of your
light pulse as it heads towards your target. Sponsored
by the H.R.
MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia,
the project, if nothing else, will help get across the
point that space is really, really big.
Space in Sweden
My wife and I certainly enjoyed our trip this
month to the Venice
of the North, as Stockholm
is sometimes called. It is a beautiful city located on part
of an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands. No
matter where you go in the city, you always will be close
to a lake or waterway. June and July, when the Sun never
quite disappears, would have been the ideal time but we
wanted our visit to coincide with friends who were returning
from an overseas assignment.
I worked for several years at the Royal
Institute of Technology on various projects that primarily
involved the study of artificial neural networks for pattern
recognition applications in
experimental particle physics. I was especially interested
in implementations of neural
networks in hardware.
I went to Sweden in 1993 and only intended
to work there for 2 years but I met my future wife and waited
around while she finished her degree in immunology at the
Karolinska Institute. (See my old
home page for more about myself and my wife.) We left
Sweden after she got a postdoc at the National Institute
of Health in Maryland.
After seeing the Mosaic browser in action
on an X terminal in a hallway during a visit in 1994 to
accelerator center (where the web
was invented), I decided to learn some hypertext programming
when I returned to Stockholm. (The silly flashing
text in my home page title has been there since the
day I did my very first web page.) I soon began building
up link lists, especially for sites related to space since
this had been an interest of mine ever since I was a kid.
The space list grew and grew. Among these
links I began to notice many sites involving activities
in which the non-specialist and even the general public
could participate. I had long pondered over the question
of why the public lost interest in "real" space
after the post Sputnik boom, while enthusiasm for space
in science fiction, such as in Star Trek and Star Wars,
As discussed in About
HobbySpace, I decided the problem was that people
did not see any way they could relate to or participate
in space activities. Building on my space links, HobbySpace
became the vehicle for my crusade to show everybody that
they can indeed participate in space exploration and development
in some way regardless of their background or training.
My colleague in Sweden, Prof.
Thomas Lindblad, also had a strong interest in space
at a young age and even worked as a teenager on a project
in which Nike rockets were launched to study high altitude
clouds. He got sidetracked into nuclear and particle physics
for a few decades but has recently returned to space projects.
These include a nano-satellite project called Viktoria in
collaboration with the Swedish
One of Thomas's friends who worked on the
Nike project was Sven Grahn, now a top manager at the Swedish
Space Corporation (Sweden's NASA). Sven is perhaps better
known around the world as a leader in amateur space radio.
He began scanning for Soviet satellite transmissions soon
after Sputnik 1 and his
web site holds lots of info about Soviet and Russian
tracking and scanning
of their satellites. [Sven is mentioned in this article
about Laika - Soviet
account of space dog disputed - CNN.com - Oct.29.02
Note that northern Sweden holds the Esrange
center used by ESA and other organizations for sounding
rocket flights, high altitude balloon launches, and other
space related tests. The Japanese, for example, will carry
out supersonic tests of their Phase
II space plane prototype in 2003 at Esrange.
The north is a great place to study the Aurora
Borealis. Unfortunately, at the time I visited the Swedish
Space Institute in Kiruna, the aurora was not visible.
Kiruna is also a popular place for ground stations since
polar orbiting satellites are visible for at least a short
period there during every orbit.
Finally, in my little survey of Swedish space,
I should mention that I know Christer
Fuglesang, Sweden's first and only astronaut. He had
studied particle physics in the same
group where I worked and he occasionally came back for
visits. Christer will finally get his chance to go to space
next summer. He will ride the Atlantis Space Shuttle on
to the ISS. I hope to go with Thomas to see the launch.
goes for an Orbital Space Plane...- RLV News
CRV becomes Slow CTV - RLV News
Recoverable Falcon - RLV News
:Sirius Satellite Gets
As mentioned here earlier,
the success or failure of satellite digital radio will make
a big impact for good or bad on the space industry. Things
recently looked towards the bad since both Sirius and XM
started later than expected and, despite good initial subscriber
signup rates, looming debt repayment deadlines threatened
Last week, however, Sirius made a big step
towards insuring its survival by working out an agreement
with bond and preferred share holders to convert their holdings
into common stock shares plus $200M in cash. The cash will
allow the company to run until at least the 2nd quarter
This significantly diluted the holding of current common
stock owners but looks to save the company and allow it
to grow and make back their investments. The deal values
the company at around $900M
"The funding 'has got to be validating
this industry,' Jimmy Schaeffler, president of research
firm The Carmel Group, told Reuters. 'They now are poised
to make other announcements and stop worrying about this.'
" - Reuters/Yahoo
I expect that XM Radio will soon swing a similar
p.s. Some shills for the broadcast radio industry
have been claiming that the announcement of a digital
standard for terrestrial radio is a death blow for satellite
digital since people can now get CD quality sound without
the satellite radio monthly fees. This is nonsense.
CD quality is great but the main advantages of satellite
radio are its big diversity of programming and its reception
regardless of location in the US. Cable TV, for example,
did not provide significantly better picture quality than
broadcast but provided a much bigger selection than obtained
with rabbit ears on the set.
Unlike analog radio's gradual degradation, digital radio
will either be in range or off. So at the borders of the
broadcast range the terrestrial digital signal will alternate
sound with long silent gaps, which will be quite annoying.
Furthermore, there will still be a cost of buying a new
digitial radio for the terrestrial digitial broadcasts.
If the take up rate is as rapid as that for digital broadcast
TV, sat radio won't even feel the competition.
Returns for the X Prize - RLV News
Rebel Rocketeers vs the Establishment - RLV News
Phase I Vehicle Flies - RLV News
X Prize Publicity - RLV News
the Reusable Anthem - RLV News
Prize: Two New Entries and a Test Launch - RLV News
Space Tourism Project? - RLV News
Stockholm is a bit cold (~6C or ~40F) but seeing
old friends brings great warmth and sunshine...
debuts its web site and holds a press conference at the World
Space Congress in Houston. See their page at Zero-G
Press Releases for their announcement, pictures, etc. An
article at Space.com goes into the background of the company
and their struggles with the FAA: Firm
Moves Closer To Commercial Zero-Gravity Flights - Space.com
Encounter also is in Houston this week to show off its solar
sail technology for the spacecraft that will launch on an Ariane
5 in 2004. The "Earthview Flight is to verify the design,
deployment scheme, and controllability of a 20m X 20m solar
sail in GTO". Then in 2005 a "larger (70m X 70m) solar
sail known as 'Humanity's First Starship' solar system escape
mission in 2005. That flight will carry a 3kg payload of messages
and DNA samples" from public subscribers who pay from $25
to $80 for the opportunity to send a token
of themselves to space. So far about 80,000 people have signed
First Starship and its Technology to be Previewed at World Space
Congress - SpaceRef - Oct.10.02.
Rocket with a View
As you probably know, the Atlantis shuttle launched
this week included a RocketCam attached
to its external tank that provided a great look-back view of the
inital part of the flight. The solid rocket booster separation blew
some debris onto the lens that smeared the remaining shots but it
was a great TV show up to that point. If you missed the live video,
see the SpaceCasts
section for links to archived ShuttleCam
on the first and second stages of the first Atlas V launched
in August provided spectacular views all the way till the final
stage entered transfer orbit.
today that RocketCams will provide extended views during
the Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART)
mission in 2004 when two unmanned spacecraft will rendezvous
in space under their own guidance and control systems.)
Something to consider when watching these launch
videos is that if you were taking a sub-orbital flight, you
would experience such views first hand. The SRB separation took
place around 45 km while the ET separation was around 120km.
The X Prize and proposed sub-orbital space tourism flights will
go to around 100km or so, as well.
The Futron survey mentioned
below noted that respondents highly valued a
good view from their seats:
"Of all the attractive features associated
with a flight into space, viewing the Earth from space rated
highest, with 63% of respondents indicating that the opportunity
to do so was very important as an aspect of suborbital flight."
Some in the small RLV industry, who have been
looking for a market ever since the telecom constellations
went bankrupt, are still skeptical that many people will
pay big bucks ($100k+) for sub-orbital flights but I'm becoming
more and more confident of their appeal. Combine such spectacular
views with the thrill of riding a rocket - the noise and
g's of the launch, weightlessness period for a few minutes
at apogee and then the wild fall back to earth - and you
get one heck of an experience.
(Rand Simberg also comments of aspects of
seeing a flight virtually or in the first person in I
Like To Watch for this week's Transterrestrial Musings.)
Fuel Cells and Asteroid Mining
One of the most exciting developments in technology
today is the boom in progress of fuel
cells. Nearly every day there are announcements
of significant advances in hardware or in the growth of
a hydrogen infrastructure to support fuel cells.
While some may say its just another overhyped
technology like solar power or battery driven electric cars
that will fail expectations, I don't see it that way. There
is a depth and breadth of fuel cell development that virtually
guarantees that there will be successes in at least some
areas. Fuel cells range from micro units for powering small
devices, to medium sized units for powering cars and houses,
to huge systems for powering buildings and small communities.
In the latter case, large stationary cells are already being
sold and installed in growing numbers
The insatiable demand for power for handheld
devices has led to a race
among small and large companies (such as Motorola) to be
the first to offer cells small enough to fit in cell phones,
PDAs and laptop computers. They will run off methanol cartridges,
which have just been declared
safe enough to allow on an airplane.
Meanwhile, the pressure to reduce pollution,
CO2 production, and dependence on oil, will relentlessly
push automobile manufacturers towards fuel cell powered
vehicles. The first small test fleets of fuel cell cars
will be on the roads within the year. (New
clean, quiet cars guzzle hydrogen - CNN.com - Oct.9.02
One drag on wide spread use of fuel cells,
however, is their high cost due to the platinum used in
the catalyst. The amount of platinum needed for a given
power has been reduced significantly, as it has with catalytic
converters for car exhausts, but in neither case reduced
to zero despite lots of research for many years.
A possible way to increase the supply of platinum
would involve mining it from Near Earth Asteroids, which
are believed to hold large quantities of precious metals.
Asteroids: Melting trapped ice could turn a profit for private
companies, with metal processing not far behind - IEEE Spectrum
- Aug.01 for a nice overview of the possibilities and
challenges of asteroid mining. See also Space
Hydrogen for fuel cells could come from many
sources including organic materials - Food
scraps could help power homes - New Scientist - Oct.10.02.
robots, rather than refilling at service stations, will
eat to power their fuel cells : Gastrobotics
at Univ. of South Florida. (I can easily imagine movies
showing Terminators with teeth chasing delectable people
you want to really shine at the next rave, check out Luminex,
which weaves scintillating optical fibers, developed for
particle physics experiments, into fabrics and lit up by
LEDs. Clothes made from the materials will debut in Paris
dress goes down the aisle - Optics.org - Oct.02
Gravity Corporation (the website is currently empty) announces
that in 2003 the company will offer rides on a Boeing 727-200
that will fly parabolic trajectories so that passengers will
experience brief periods of weightlessness:
To Offer Public 'Astronaut Training' Weightless Flights in
the United States - SpaceRef - Oct.9.02
The company includes Peter H. Diamandis, co-founder of the
University and of the X
Prize project, astronaut Dr. Byron
K. Lichtenberg, and former NASA official Alan
Great to see such micro-gravity
activities finally becoming available in the US.
Simberg, see his Interglobal
Space site, tried a few years ago to offer a similar commercial
parabolic flight service to the public but was blocked by the
So the only option until now involved going to Russia and riding
their parabolic cosmonaut training airplane via a tourist package
from a company like Incrediable
Adventures (affiliate commission link) or Space
Adventures.(NASA offered some student
opportunities to fly experiments on its plane.) Apparently,
ZERO-G managed to overcome the FAA objections.
Such a service will boost the development of the US space tourism
industry, if only because it reduces the "entry level"
cost for a space-like experience. Also, a package deal for a
sub-orbital rocket flight could include an astronaut training
experience lasting a few days or a week with a parabolic ride
as part of the preparation. This will help insure that the customers
feels that they got their money's worth ($100k+ ) since the
sub-orbital flight will actually be quite brief - half hour
to an hour depending on the system used.
concepts are becoming less sci-fi as new carbon nanotube
materials make them feasible, at least in materials terms. A
very nicely done article in Science News - Ribbon
to the Stars - Science News - Oct. 5.02 - gives an overview
of the progress made. Note that on October 9, 2002, 8-9pm PDT,
Show radio show (available over
the Internet as well) will feature Dr. Brad Edwards, co-founder
Systems, which is discussed in the article. Space
Russian Space Tourism:Perhaps
hoping to show Hollywood how to do space right, a Russian TV
program announces that it will sponsor a contest for a trip
to the ISS : Who
wants to be a space traveller? Russian TV launches contest -
Spacedaily/AFP - Oct.8.02.
** Late tonight,
Keith Cowing at NASA
Watch posted this message about Mark Burnett, the producer
of the Survivor hit TV show - Mark
Burnett to Announce Space Reality TV Series - SpaceRef - Oct.8.02.
The show [in collaboration with the Russian ORT TV station mentioned
above - 10.9.02] will be similar to Survivor in that the winner
of a competition will ride a Soyuz to space in November 2003.
Burnett had talked of a similar show a couple of years or so
ago called Destination
Space (originally Destination Mir while the Russian
space station was still in orbit), but it had appeared that
the plan had fallen through. Now it looks to be back in business.
TV Network Announces Space Tourism Contest - Space.com - Oct.9.02]
out the informative article on space art at Turner's
Mars by Stuart Atkinson - New Mars - Sept.9.02 ...
Another amateur makes a big contribution to science
explosion caught by amateurs - BBC - Oct.7.02 ...
Examine Iraqi secret sites at Tuwaitha
- Iraq Special Weapons Facilities - [ Space Imaging sat photos]
- GlobalSecurity.org - Sept.10.02.
Tourism Study Shows Strong Market
Futron has released a "comprehensive and
detailed survey about public space travel among affluent individual"
that includes "20-year forecasts for the orbital and suborbital
space tourism markets."
Releases New Space Tourism Publications - By 2021, Commercial
Space Travel Could Amount to an Industry Worth over US$1 Billion.
- Futron - Oct.7.02
Unfortunately, the full report costs $2750! At least the press
release summarizes the findings.
Preliminary results of the survey, which Futron hired Zogby
International to carry out, were discussed here back in June.
While there have been previous
market studies on space tourism, this one is significant
because it was done by a top survey firm and they dealt only
with wealthy households; that is, the people who can actually
afford the high ticket prices.
Space News reported that the survey found "only"
19% of the respondents interested in sub-orbital tourism. While
that may not sound significant to a typical aerospace reporter,
for the small companies trying to raise money to build sub-orbital
vehicles it was cause for great celebration.
They only need a 5 to 10 passengers per month at around $100k
per ticket to support a vehicle that will cost a few tens of
millions to develop. While there were some earlier indications
of a sub-orbital space market, there were many skeptics among
the startup rocket companies who doubted that many people would
pay for the brief rides. But now its clear that, in fact, there
are many who believe that riding a rocket into space, even for
a short time, would be the thrill of a lifetime.
The Futron study sees a market for sub-orbital tourism of around
15,000 people per year by 2021 generating total revenues of
around $700 million per year. A further $300 million would come
from 60 orbital space tourists per year. They also claim substantial
elasticity in these numbers, that is, they could be much bigger
if the ticket prices come down.
So even at the stiff cover price, I expect many of the startup
RLV companies will be snapping up this report to carry with
them to fund raising presentations.
- Key to Big Space Development?
After we manage to establish a few small permanent
outposts, many people will want to move to space and build settlements
and communities. These communities will need the development of
large structures and, whether in space or on the surfaces of the
Moon and Mars, this will involve construction under very difficult
Such projects will require that most everything
be done in space including the mining of raw materials, turning
them into building materials, and assembling them into structures.
The physicist Gerard O'Neill and his students showed
that no fundamental physics laws or the strengths of available
materials prevented the building of huge
space habitats. Anyone looking at the size of these structures,
though, inevitably wonders how any society could ever afford to
build something on that scale.
Yet you can look around and see human-made structures
of amazing size and complexity on earth, many of which were entirely
financed privately. Examples include gigantic ocean going oil rigs
and a tunnel under the English Channel. These show that structures
that previously seemed impossible became feasible as technology
advanced and construction productivity
To accomplish large scale space construction, I
will become the key tools. Working under human supervision, they
will work continuously in space and adapt themselves for particular
tasks. NASA, for example, already has its
Robonaut in development for working outside of the ISS.
However, for big projects we will need large numbers
of space "ants" busily working away for long periods.
For example, in his Mars
trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson assumed the availability
of swarms of reconfigurable and adaptable robots to build various
space structures in his stories such as space
elevators and to carry out terraforming tasks on Mars.
The field of robotics failed to deliver HAL on time
but it is nevertheless making progress. Today I came upon the
robotics program at
PARC (PARC is famous for originating many groundbreaking technologies
in computing such as graphical interfaces and the Ethernet). Their
modular robots are a big step in the direction towards the kind
of adaptable space-worker-ant I'm talking about that could, in
large numbers, carry out a wide range of construction and maintenance
Check out some of the the
PolyBot videos to get an idea of the potential of reconfigurable
robots. More details are available in these articles:
These robots will also need to work together and
carry out cooperative activities. Progress is also being made
in this area. See, for example, the MARS
- Multiple Autonomous Robots project at the University of
Pennsylvania. The MARS goals include the capability of hundreds
of robots to "learn and adapt to unstructured, dynamic environments
and new tasks" and to "allow a single human operator
to control an entire fleet of autonomous robots."
Sounds like perfect workers for my Acme Space Construction
company. (In their off hours they can play soccer.)
Robotics and SciTech:
Robotics for additional links.
finally made it."
Mars on line magazine is sponsoring the First
Words contest. Enter your choice for what the first person
to walk on Mars should say as his or her foot hits the Mars dust.
Contest runs between October 4th to midnight October 11th.
Read what some celebrities
Do We *Say* When We Get to Mars? Offer Your Ideas - Space.com
Aerospace Launches Rocket in Texas
When I turned on my radio to hear NPR news this
morning I never expected to hear a report about JP
Aerospace. (See article below about Space
Volunteers.) Apparently, NPR had come across an Associated
Press report concerning JPA's successful launch yesterday
of a 14 ft sounding rocket from the Pecos County/West Texas Spaceport.
The rocket flew to 20,000ft (6.1km) and was recovered
after safely parachuting to the ground. The launch was held to
inaugurate operations at the site. Because of winds, only one
of the high altitude balloons was launched rather than the three
that were planned.
There are still no details on the JPA website about
Force launch contract. I assume it is a sounding rocket and/or
high altitude balloon contract. Don't take seriously the item
in the MyWestTexas article that states:
"Saturday's launch was by the California-based
JP Aerospace, which is under a $20 million contract with the U.S.
Air Force to develop a geo-stationary-orbit satellite system for
reconnaissance and rocket-launched satellite surveillance of specific
targets. " - MyWestTexas.com
Launching geo-sats is just the misunderstanding
of an over-enthusastic reporter. However, development of techniques
for reconnaissance from sub-orbital rockets and high altitude
balloons, which JP has expertise in, is feasible for the small
company, which has around 4 paid staff and 50 volunteers.
Note that the launch carried hundreds of Pongsats
assembled by Texas students: PongSats
Ready For Spaceport Sendoff - Space.com - Oct.4.02
Congratulations to John Powell and his crew on their
I expect public involvement with space to grow steadily
as new activities and capabilities develop. The high public interest
and excitement raised by the space
tourist trips of Tito and Shuttleworth, and by just
the possibility of a celebrity like Lance Bass going into space,
show what can happen when a space event occurs that people actually
When the X
Prize vehicles begin test flights, probably in 2003, we can
expect another big boost in space interest, especially if several
teams manage to get their vehicles into the air and the contest
appears genuinely competitive.
Such sub-orbital vehicles could also provide impressive
displays at venues such as airshows,
state fairs, and theme parks. Rocket
racing contests would really rev up the excitement.
Along these lines, several
companies have sprung up to develop and coordinate
space events for entertainment, education, and product advertising.
For example, the company Takeoff
Technologies intends to help promote space events and projects,
especially those related to the Oklahoma Spaceport.
Their educational efforts include the OK
Spaceplanes project in which student built paper airplanes
are released from high altitude balloon platforms, and eventually
from high altitude rockets. An ID attached to each plane allows
recovery at great distances:
[Oct.7.02 - Joan Horvath,
president of Takeoff Technologies, thanked me for mentioning her
company but wants me to emphasize that "Global Space League
is not just an Oklahoma activity, however... we plan to take the
concept around the country"...."We'd like to encourage
your readership that is actually flying vehicles (or close to it)
to contact us to get involved in our flying-for-the-public activities.
We also will have some ability to loft small scientific or educational
payloads as we build up our flight schedule." ]
Checkout the other space
promotional companies, especially MoonFront's
snazzy Flash web site.
The failure of Bass to get a ride on the upcoming Soyuz had a great
deal to do with a failure of communication between a dull, stolid
space company and the flashy, touchy-feely world of entertainment
and advertising. Go-between companies like these space promoters,
who can talk to both worlds, are needed to facilitate such deals.
The space promoters will accelerate the growth of new space businesses
and help develop the infrastructure of a commercial public space
Musk's Launch Co. + Sooner Spaceport Conf. - RLV News
Prize Rocket How-to Guide - RLV News
into an Aviation Revolution - SciTech News
Northrop-Grumman concept for a quiet (minimal sonic boom)
supersonic aircraft. Developed for a DARPA
[I will occasionally include an entry on non-space technology &
science topics selected from the Science
& Technology section.]
During 2003, the 100th
anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight, we will hear a great
deal about the glorious and amazing history
of aviation. However, I expect to hear many commentators claiming
that the excitement of flight has long passed.
Until the 1960s the public adored aviation pioneers such as Charles
Lindbergh and Amelia
Earhart and they became celebrity superstars. New flying machines
and their daring pilots regularly set new aviation records to the
applause of the whole world. Aviation transportation speeds increased
steadily and, as airline ticket prices fell, flying became available
to more and more people.
But then around 1970 aviation development seemed to hit a plateau.
The business failure of the Concorde kept supersonic flight from
reaching the masses. And unlike the predictions of many, our city
skys do not buzz with helicopters and personal flying cars coming
and going from landing pads atop every building.
Instead, we fight the traffic to reach a huge airport far from
downtown. Then we pack into a lumbering, smelly bus with wings that
doesn't fly us directly to where we want to go but to some over-crowded
hub from where we eventually get to our final destination.
But the future of flight has not stopped. Most technologies that
attain great impact on our lives actually consist of many sub-technologies,
each of which needs to reach a certain level of development before
the whole system takes off. For example, the Internet has existed
for a couple of decades but to start booming in the late 1990s it
required cheap PCs, killer apps like web browsers, widespread networking
including high capacity fiber trunk-lines, etc.
Here I list a some of the advances in flight technologies that
will make a great impact on our aviation system in the coming years
- Air Taxis - instead of flying
from a handful of large central airports, you will go to a local
general aviation landing strip, jump into a small jet taxi and
fly straight to your destination, landing at a similiar small
- Supporting technologies:
- Low cost
jets such as the Eclipse.
This vehicle is priced at around $850,000, a fourth of
the cost of the currently cheapest business jet.
The new Eclipse 500 just made its maiden flight Eclipse
500 Jet Achieves First Flight - Eclipse PR - Aug.26.02
(streamed videos available).
The vehicle uses a number of technologies such as low
weight, high thrust engines developed for cruise missiles.
The operating costs are similarly much lower than current
jets. Over 2000 orders have already been placed for the
vehicle which should be FAA certified by early 2004.
Flight, based on GPS navigation and terrestrial
augmentation systems, allows planes to follow the straightest,
most fuel efficient flight paths to their destination.
See the NASA Small Aircraft
Transportation System (SATS).
- New Generation Gyroplanes
- Helicopters have a number of limitations including a low top
speed and complicated, fragile flight control systems. Gyroplanes,
which have a free spinning rotor (i.e. in autorotation) for lift
and a separate propeller for forward drive, have been around since
the 1930s. Like a helicopter they can provide short or zero distance
takeoffs (if the rotor is temporarily connected to the engine
and spun up) and landings but since the rotor is always in autorotation
it can still land safely if there is engine failure during any
phase of the flight.
New materials, control systems, and design enhancements have made
a new generation of vehicles, such as the Hawk 4 from Groen
Brothers, much more practical and capable and offer viable
alternatives to helicopters. (Gyroplanes can't hover, but most
helicopter tasks don't require hovering.)
A much more ambitious gyroplane is being developed by CarterCopters.
As with helicopters, maximum rotor tip speeds limit the top vehicle
speeds for conventional gyroplanes. The CarterCopter avoids this
by slowing the rotor rotation while in flight. This will allow
the vehicle to reach jet like velocities. The rotors, which contain
heavy depleted Uranium in the tips to provide high inertia, provide
lift at low speeds while the small wings provide efficient lift
with low drag at high speeds.
See the nice overview at The
Carter Copter - The Next Big Thing - SW Aviator - May.02
A prototype has been flying for several months and setting records
for rotor vehicle speeds. Designs of large
CarterCopter vehicles are in the works that could offer the
capabilities of tiltrotor vehicles like the Osprey V-22 but with
much higher margins of safety and reliability.
- Ducted Rotor Vertical Takeoff &
Landing (VTOL) Vehicles - while the CarterCopter is
a neat approach, the really cool ideal for VTOL is to hide the
rotor and offer a compact design that's more practical to use
for small landing sites. Such ducted fans require high thrust
to weight engines, low weight structures, and sophisticated controls.
A number of companies are making progress in such designs and
beginning to make test flights:
Skycar - Paul Moller has worked on a VTOL vehicles
since the 1960's. For the past decade or so he has often predicted
that his Skycar was just a year or two away from getting off
the ground. In the past few months, though, he has finally
flown the SkyCar, but hardly any notice has been paid,
perhaps due to his low credibility. (Perhaps also because
the company has not yet given out a formal press release or
had the press in to watch a flight. But videos
and pictures of test flights are available on his site.)
The successful low altitude tethered flights, nevertheless,
triggered the release of new funding and we can expect more
notice to be paid to the Skycar progress in the coming year.
Exoskelitor offers similar compact personal VTOL
transportation. A prototype, funded by DARPA, has succeeded
at short test flights and improved vehicles will be tested
in the coming year.
VTOL projects are multiplying and many look quite
promising. Powerful new engines and light weight materials
and computer design allow for approaches that were impractical
just a few years ago.
- Quiet Supersonic Vehicles
- the Concorde is often cited as proof that supersonic airliners
are impractical and uneconomic. But a single vehicle doesn't prove
anything. There were several airplanes that tried but failed to
achieve economical passenger transportation in the 1920s and 1930s
before the DC-3 finally offered all the right features and succeeded.
The Concorde was too small - holding only 100 passengers - to
serve the Atlantic market and its range was too short to serve
the Pacific market where the very long distances would best be
served by a supersonic transport.
And, of course, sonic booms restricted the Concorde from flying
supersonically over land. It was long thought that sonic booms
were totally unavoidable and would forever prevent supersonic
flight over populated areas. In fact ways are under development
to amelieorate the booms, perhaps to levels undetectable on the
ground, or at least to a non-disturbing level. These techniques
include making the vehicles long and thin (see the above image).
These low drag designs could also produce highly efficient flight
so that the fuel costs are not significantly higher than sub-sonic
A DARPA "Quiet Supersonic Aircraft" project recently
saw the announcement from Northrop Grumman of the first advanced
design - Northrop
Grumman Unveils Concept for Quiet Supersonic Aircraft - Northrop-Grumman
PR - Sept.26.02. See the article Supersonic
is Back (Quietly) - Popular Science - Feb.2002 for more about
sonic boom reduction.
So progress in aviation has not stopped but is in fact accelerating.
The next 100 years of flight may turn out to be just as exciting
as the past 100.
Bounties for Amateur Asteroid Hunters
Kudos and thanks to Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California
for sponsoring the successful passage of the Charles
`Pete' Conrad Astronomy Awards Act of 2002.
This bill establishes "an awards program in honor of Charles
"Pete" Conrad, astronaut and space scientist, for recognizing
the discoveries made by amateur astronomers of asteroids with near-Earth
The bill doesn't explicitly say what the award size should be but
the initial funding includes $10k per year for the next two years.
Minor Planet Center will administer the program and select the
There bill specifies 3 annual award categories:
- Prize goes to the amateur astronomer who discovers with his
own equipment the largest absolute magnitude new asteroid having
a near-Earth orbit for that year.
- Prize goes to an amateur astronomer for "pre-discovery
and recovery efforts" using professional equipment or results
from professional equipment, including old astronomical images
for asteroids that have been "lost".
- Prize goes to the amateur astronomer, or professional not funded
for optical astronomy, who provides the greatest service to update
the minor planet catalogue.
It's great that amateur astronomers are recognized at this level
for the contributions they make to science and that the country
will take advantage of their skills for such an important mission
- saving Earth from destruction!
Radio - Running Fast Enough?
I once heard that as you get older, you must exercise more and
more just to stay at the same weight. My thickening middle-aged
middle, despite running frequently and regularly for the first time
in my life, unfortunately confirms yet again that life is not fair.
and Sirius Radio,
digital radio companies, are also running faster and
faster but the big question is whether they are running fast enough
to reduce their bulging debts.
XM reported yesterday that over 200,000 subscribers now listen
to their broadcasts, slightly exceeding their goal for the third
Satellite jumps subscriber hurdle - CNET.com - Oct.1.02 ). Sirius,
is far behind XM in subscriber numbers but they did not begin broadcasting
nationwide until this summer, several months after XM.
These promising early numbers come even before the really big market
opens up - satellite radios pre-installed as standard features in
new cars (i.e. you will see AM/FM/XM or AM/FM/SIRUS on the selection
dial). Car companies only began this fall including the radios in
new models of luxury cars.
(A portable model will soon be available as well from XM - Boombox
satellite radio nears - CNET.com - Sept.30.02.)
Reviews of the satellite broadcasts have been almost uniformly
glowing and not just because of the sharp CD quality sound. Local
FM radio offers less and less variety as consolidation of ownership
of radio stations has resulted in mostly a canned, bland selection.
Both satellite companies offer a hundred or so channels with a wide
diversity of musical styles to satisfy almost any taste, as well
as lots of sports, news and talk stations.
However, after the expense of the satellites and the broadcast
studios, both companies find themselves deep in debt. In normal
times, say the mid-1990's, the success shown so far would result
in bankers lining up to lend them money.
As they grow, the companies will have what banks love most - increasing
cash flows. DirecTV and Echostar are considered huge successes,
despite seldom reporting quarterly profits, because their huge subscriber
bases (approaching 18 million) generate vast amounts of cash every
month. This cash goes to pay the interest on the loans from the
banks. (The cable TV industry also carries enormous debts but is
adored for its cash flow as well.)
However, the depression in the telecommunications industry, coupled
with the taint given to all space businesses by the Iridium and
Globalstar bankruptcies, has resulted in banks showing great reluctance
to refinance the companies. If they don't get money soon, both companies
will hit a severe cash crunch by spring or summer of 2003.
DirecTV had the advantage of a big company behind it (Hughes Electronics)
to get it through the tough early years as it added subscribers.
Both XM and Sirius, however, stand on their own. There is speculation
that GM, which is installing XM radios in its cars, will take a
majority ownership of XM in exchange for bailing it out.
It's possible, especially for Sirius, the companies may force a
refinancing by declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows a company
to continue operating without paying its debtors.
Probably we will hear by January how the companies plan to run
off all that debt flab.
Throws in the Towel
It began with great bang and a promise of 900 satellies in orbit,
ends with a whimper - Teledesic
Suspends Work Under Satellite Contract - Teledesic - Sept.30.02.
Citing the difficulty of financing new projects in the current gloomy
telecommunications environment, the company will not continue funding
even the two prototype satellites under construction by the Italian
satellite manufacturer Alenia Spazio.
Memories - RLV News for a reflection on how Teledesic
influenced the creation of startup RLV companies in the late 1990s.]
The main force behind the company, Craig
McCaw, has seen his investments in other telecom companies drop
precipitously and apparently can't maintain Teledesic out of his
not-so-deep pocket any longer.
As this news spreads around, we will hear all sorts of obituaries
given to LEO satellite constellations for broadband and other telecom
services. But it should be noted that the current constellations
are still quite alive and growing:
- Iridium is doing
well as a new privately owned company and is expanding its services
into aviation markets:
- Globalstar continues
running under Chapter 11 and recently lowered its phone rates
after it acquired local marketing rights from several cell phone
never really had a problem with demand for its tracking and messaging
service. It ran into early technical problems that delayed installation
of its units in trucks and other mobile platforms. Unfortunately,
both of its backers - Orbital Sciences and Teleglobe - had unrelated
severe financial difficulties of their own and could not support
Orbcomm during its rough early going. So it also went into bankruptcy
but re-emerged like Iridium as a new privately held company with
contracts with large international companies like Volvo Trucks
While these stories are not exactly glorious ones, LEO constellations
offer unique worldwide services and will not disappear. They now
have time out of the spotlight to develop their markets niches and
perhaps eventually surprise people with their growth.
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