Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tech Entrepreneurs Take On Space Frontier

How many of you are (or have been) fans of the Doom and Quake series? Or how many like to shop on, and how many have used Paypal? All of these products are very popular tech products. Doom and Quake practically defined (and redefined) the 3D First Person Shooter (FPS) genre. is the most popular online store for purchasing media (books, music, movies, software, etc.). Paypal is one of the most popular systems used for paying online. The people behind these are leaders in the tech industry. John Carmack is the legendary programmer of the Doom and Quake series. Elon Musk is the head of Paypal. Jeff Bezos is the founder of Paul Allen, who financed the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne is co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates. All of these individuals have made millions (and billions?) in the software industry.

Most people have wondered what would happen if these rich "gazillionaires" had decided to spend some or much of their fortune on developing the space frontier. What if they funded the upcoming rocket companies? What if they decided to build their own rockets into space? This is exactly what those individuals mentioned above are trying to accomplish. Jeff Bezos is the founder of Blue Origin, and has just unveiled his plans to build a space center and to build sub-orbital rockets. Elon Musk has founded SpaceX, and plans on building rockets to space. The Armadillo Aerospace founder John Carmack is the "fearless leader" who "will lead us to space."

NPR has recently done a nice story on these tech-turned-space entrepreneurs. With their deep pockets, the space frontier may finally be opened to normal people. Godspeed to all for their efforts.

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's Time to Redefine Solar System Objects

(disclaimer: This does not reflect the views of the LUF, but my own personal views. That means if you dsagree, then direct your flames at me, not at anyone else)

As Michael Martin-Smith has written, the solar system has tripled in size within the past ten years. With the recent findings of Kuiper Belt objects -- one of which is now confirmed to be larger than Pluto -- our solar system is a much different place than before. The fact that Pluto is not alone, and belongs to a new asteroid/comet belt, has raised questions as to whether or not Pluto should be classified as a planet, or not.
...our own solar system has been enlarged at least 3 fold, with the discovery of large planetoids up to three times further from us that Pluto; indeed Pluto is now regarded as the "ambassador" of a whole new class of objects -neither typical planets nor yet asteroids or comets -from which our system was probably assembled in its first 50-100 million years.

As if this were not enough, we find comets that behave like asteroids, from exhaustion of their surface ices, and asteroids in elliptical comet-like orbits beyond their normal habitat between Mars and Jupiter- out to the reaches of Saturn and Uranus. Asteroids that regularly cross the orbit of Earth have been found while comets have been seen to break up and shift their orbits in a historical instant.
This coming September, the IAU will hold a meeting to decide how to define a planet. I've believed that the way that we classify solar system objects is obsolete. As I've read somewhere else, our current classification scheme leaves the impression that there are 9 important bodies in the solar system, while the others are non-important. This scheme works for Earth-based observation through a telescope, but for people actually settling space, this scheme falls short. I believe that Luna and Mercury should have a similar classification because they are similarly "dead" rocky bodies with a negligible atmosphere, very cratered, and of a similar size. For people wanting to use (read: settle, study, or doing some sort of economic or recreational activity) these bodies, such a classification system would work very well.

The Jovian planets are easy to categorize, and there are only four bodies of this type in the solar system. Any body large enough to be round should be considered a planet. Earth would be classified with Mars, Venus, and the Saturnian satellite Titan. Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto would have their own classifications because it is believed that they have subsurface water oceans. has articles on sub-surface oceans on Ganymede and Callisto. Triton, Pluto, the "Tenth Planet" and the large Kuiper Belt objects would also have their own classifications. Io would have its own category.

If any body is too small to be circular, then it should be classified as a planetoid. One class of planetoids would be the metal asteroids. Another would be the stony asteroids. Those made primarily of Carbon (and some volatiles) would be the Carbonaceous planetoids. Then there would be further classifications as the percentage of volatiles increase, depending on how much of each volatile is on the object.

Such a scheme for classification would significantly aid in the economic development and settlement of space.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Save Our Planet: Space Advocates See the Bigger Picture -- Save Our Planet: Space Advocates See the Bigger Picture
Space advocates at this year's International Space Development Conference, put on by the National Space Society (NSS), said they believe they can help save the world. If they are united on any single philosophical point, it is this: space exploration can and will make life better on Earth.

From Bill Nye to Virgin Galactic's Wil Whitehorn, space advocates voiced their concerns for Earth and hopes that space may provide solutions to some of our most pressing problems. Space could provide new sources of energy, natural resources, knowledge, educational incentives, etc.

None of this is new to us, of course, but it is good to see that mainstream Spacers share some of our visions for the future.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Explore Mars in your Spare Time

Google Mars is a Google Labs feature that allows you to explore the surface of Mars. It uses the same map browsing technology as Google Maps, so you can quicky zoom and pan across the surface. Links and search allows you to find features, missions, and articles that relate to Mars and their locations on the surface. It also allows you to choose between elevation, visible light, and infrared views.

The main limiting factor is the resolution. For major features like Olympus Mons or Valles Marineris, it works beautifully. However, the infamous 'face' looks like a tiny hill with no visible features.

Overall, however, it's good stuff! Anyone planning a Mars mission?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

OTEC on a roll

The renewable power system called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), which was suggested in The Millennial Project as part of our future renewable energy systems, may have rediscovered the traction in the mind and market which it lost in the mid 80s. According to several recent news articles contracts for OTEC plants have been signed to be built in Hawaii (1.2 MW gross/800 kW net), Grand Cayman (10 MW?) and for the U.S. military (13 MW gross), possibly located at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The 13-megawatt military plant will produce a net of 8.2 megawatts plus 1.25 million gallons of fresh water a day.

Beyond this, authorities in Saipan, Taiwan, Mauritius, India, Antigua & Barbuda and Japan are all looking to OTEC for some of their future renewable energy. To find out more check out OTECnews.