Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mars Rover Travel Video

I love this video - it's full of long, lingering gazes across the dunes and deserts of Mars. The place looks a lot like the Western Desert of Egypt, or parts of the Sinai, where I briefly visited when a student. The differences, though, are huge :- no breathable atmosphere, no wells or Bedouin tents, nothing growing. But still, it's a big chunk of territory waiting to be properly explored by people like you or me.

Whatever else you can say about NASA as an administration, I have to admire their scientists and engineers for Curiosity and for releasing so much data and images from its epic trek.

[edit... oops... I just noticed that the images are actually from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, commemorating 9 years of their missions.]

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Rockoon... or ... Balloons to Orbit for real!

Some time ago I posted about JP Aerospace, a company with a great vision to construct massive airships that could reach the stratosphere and beyond, lifting spacecraft past most of the atmosphere fairly gently. The spacecraft would still have to accelerate to orbital velocity.

Well here's a company that appears to be much closer to having a workable business model and a road map of how to get it done. The only thing they need now is a more sensible name:-

Taken from the Bloostar introductory video at

Seriously, I think they have put a lot of great engineering into their designs. It looks like a three-stage craft, built in a torus shape. This shape, they explain, is efficient because it doesn't have to force its way up through the thickest part of the atmosphere, and on the way down it will be a simple way of shedding speed - the drag of a blunt body. 

They're aiming to launch from a ship, and eventually to reuse as much of the rockoon as possible. Yes, that's a real word - apparently there was some thought given to combining balloons and rockets in the late '40s until the '50s, before the military-industrial complex took over the Space Race in the '60s. Look up the all too brief Wikipedia article on Rockoons here. The paragraph about Van Allen's Rockoons, as reported in TIME magazine in 1959, is delightful.

But it's style, don't you think? Floating upwards to space is the way to go.

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Have a look at this design for a 3-D printable house for Mars colonists. It won first prize in a NASA-supported competition among thousands of entrants.

 If you're not impressed by the innovation, there's no hope for you!
Click on the photo to see the webpage

This left me gobsmacked - a British colloquial expression meaning, I suppose, speechless. Very impressed, full of wonder. But instead of silence, this project gave me a lot to think about and talk about. The frozen-beehive look of the thing is utterly different from almost every other concept of how we could live on Mars. 

The winners of this competition are 'SEArch (Space Exploration Architecture) and Clouds AO (Clouds Architecture Office)' based in New York. They sound like intelligent people, with a name like that!

But also it's a clever design because:

- Water - and ice - is available on Mars, so the Marstronauts won't have to carry it with them. That's called In-Situ Resource Utilisation, in the jargon.
- The 3-D printer robot makes its own rail tracks up the walls, so it can keep adding more ice to the top until it finishes.
- 3-D printing ice! I never thought of that. They use an advanced form of the technique for making clear ice cubes - by studying the phase change of water to ice crystals in different conditions. A quote from their site: " ... an understanding of the physics of phase change and the temperature and pressure conditions of the Martian environment, as well as an understanding of the physical deposition techniques required ..."
- Molecules of humble 20 are excellent barricades against the radiation which bombards the surface of Mars. Earth has a strong magnetic field which deflects most of the charged particles of the solar wind, but the magnetic field of Mars is too feeble to have much effect. A thick enough mantle of water can be an effective shield. See this research paper (if you have trouble getting to sleep at night!) Seriously, it's very informative if you can wade through it.

I'm off now to read the rest of it. Maybe the Red Planet Cafe could have an annex made of ice. It would be like a conservatory, but I'm not sure I could grow rubber plants there. I could store the cold drinks in it, at least, and the frozen chicken.