Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Death by 1000 cuts: Rocket Launches May Need Regulation

I may be a little bit on the paranoid side here, however this article in Science Daily to me is a prime example of how to destroy progress and innovation. Slowly starve it of it's support and financial base. Over reaction? Perhaps, but the article reports on a paper just released that suggests that to preserve our ozone layer rocket launches will need to be curtailed in the future.

In the article, according to:
  • Professor Darin Toohey of CU-Boulder's atmospheric and oceanic sciences department. "If left unregulated, rocket launches by the year 2050 could result in more ozone destruction than was ever realized by CFCs."
As right as this sounds....it's completely wrong headed. We have found it impossible to do with cars and trucks. In the end, it was and will be more efficient engines and less polluting fuel sources.

You want to confine Humans to one small rock, then cut down on ways to get off the planet and research on how to live somewhere else. We need more and bigger rockets, cheaper, more efficient...not fewer.

Read the article. In my mind, there is damn little science here to base such a conclusion on...

Building a Silicone Brain

Technology Review has a great article about the ongoing efforts to simulate a human brain in a chip. previous efforts have been in software. The major advantage is that a hard-wired version runs much much faster and requires less computing power.

From the article:
  • The silicon chip is designed to function like a human brain. With 200,000 neurons linked up by 50 million synaptic connections, the chip is able to mimic the brain's ability to learn more closely than any other machine.
Of course this is no where near the scope of a real human brain, but the tech is designed to be scaled up. All of this in hopes of understanding how to develop massively parallel computers.

The one thing that really struck me about this article was the statement:
  • ...the current prototype can operate about 100,000 times faster than a real human brain. "We can simulate a day in a second,"
Think about what would happen should the science fiction kick in and its scaled to the point that it becomes self aware. But at 100,000 times normal a year happens in 6 minutes and a century in what 10 hours? So if this were you and you just woke up 100,000 times faster than anything else...well that means for all intents everything is frozen and you spend a century in 10 hours say and a milenium in something like 41 days. So they run you non stop for a month and a thousand years goes by....imagine....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How Best To Avoid Asteroid Apocalypse

Here is an novel approach to avoiding Earth getting spanked by a dino killer. This clever solution came to my attention in an article on the IO9 blog. It comes from David Dearborn, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Dearborn's proposal has all the making of a really good Willis movie. You know....multi-megaton bombs.... but with a teny tiny difference you see. The first is that David's plan takes place 30 years before impact. In astrological distances it's right freakin on top of us, but for the movies, 30 years....well that's like another century right?!

Anyway, here is how it works, and its brilliant in its simplicity! Instead of blowin it up, or throwin things at it, or putting rocket engines on it, or tractors....we speed it up! Oh I hear the howls "what you want it to get here quicker!!!!??" But that is exactly what Dearborn wants. If it gets here sooner, we won't be here yet! You take a 100 kiloton bomb and explode it about 3 or 4 football fields behind the impactor. This isn't enough to blow it up, matter of fact - simulations have only 1% of the asteroid dislodged. But it is enough to speed the asteroid up. How much? About 6.3mm/s or about 1.25 feet per minute. Not much huh? But over a 30 year period the Earth won't even be close!

But it's an honest and workable idea. Read the IO9 article

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

RIP: John Kennedy

SFscope is reporting that author John Kennedy died March 18 2009 at the age of 63. Kennedy had stories published in Galaxy, Galileo, and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

He was an active member of Science FIction and Fantasy Writers of America and Northern Colorado Writers Workshop.

John wrote his first science fiction story at the age of 17. His second story wasn't started for 12 more years. That story, "Toward the Fullness of Fate," appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction in July 1976. He went on to write another story about every 5 years. They appeared in Chapbooks, Galileo Magazine and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

His long time friend Ed Bryant writes:

  • .....in his wallet, John kept not only three different eras of Science Fiction Writers of America membership cards, he also had a slip of paper tucked away with the formulae for calculating both escape velocity and the event horizon. It's not unlikely he's using them now.

AntipodeanSF issue 130 is online

Editor Ion of Antipodean SF writes to tell me that even though it is a little late, AntipodeanSF online magazine issue 130 is now available - here.

This month's collection of flash fiction are:
Weapons  By S. A. Harris

Outside my room, from along the passageway, came the sounds of my parents watching the Spectravision — making loud comments that disturbed my poetical concentration. On the desk in front of me lay the poem, "Weapons" by the little-known turn-of-the-century poet S. A. Harris.

They Called Her Larry By Steve Duffy

They called her Larry, they always had. It was the only name she'd ever known. But somewhere, deep down, she knew it didn't belong to her. It belonged to someone else, someone not her. She knew, in that same deep down place, that she had another name, must have another name.

Terminal Illness By Alan Baxter

Mary sat at her son's bedside, hands clasped in desperation, eyes dark. She stared — trying to cure him by willpower alone.

Jack Austin - Xeno Hunter By Jamie Richter

"So what happened to your last cameraman, Jack?" the bespectacled technician queried, hammering the seventh and final backpack-sized transmitter into the black, alkaline soil of Marius-2. "And don't spare any detail."

The Buck Stops - At Woop Woop By Shaun A. Saunders

Life made sense, mostly, until the following email arrived: "Hello, I hurry writing you this message cos i don't,have much time on the pc here,so i have to brief

Ménage à Trois By Mark Farrugia

Through a tear-bubbled eye, and drug-induced comfort, Sandy stares up at me as though it's in my power to save her. Hell, I wish it was.

Snayk By Felicity Dowker

Lucas was dreaming, and the dream was bad. Something alien and savage crept into his brain and put down roots there. It grew, spreading its loathsome way down his spine and into his belly, where it writhed through his intestines in slimy abandon.

Pirate Music By Alan Richard

Ah crap, I'm in trouble this time. Jowal whined something well above my hearing range.

Blood By David Such

There are two theories about how to win an argument with a woman. Neither one works. Sam Blood considered his next statement carefully: "You don't think we should go through the front?" "Do I look like an idiot?"

Field of Dreams By Dr. Brendan D. Carson

"You ready?" said Nightshayde. Sebastyan nodded. He had smears of black hair-dye on his face, because he hadn't been able to find boot-polish. "Once we're over the wire, we have to be quick."

Those stories and other features in this month's issue.


Monday, March 23, 2009

What has Sci-Fi got in mind after BattleStar Galactica?

So just what is it that the Sci Fi ummm SyFy channel have in mind since Galactica took the big dive into Sol? Well according to James Hibbert's The Live Feed blog, some pretty interesting stuff.

From the blog:
  • ...SyFy has greenlighted a trio of miniseries fantasy projects, including two that will serve as potential series pilots, and two of which are based on well-known classic titles.
  • a retelling of "Alice in Wonderland"
  • a fresh take on the comic-book hero "The Phantom"
  • and "Riverworld," from a series of fantasy books by Philip Jose Farmer
Well that grouping sounds "interesting" if not a bit uneasy.

Alice is from the same person who did Sci Fi's highly rated "Wizard of Oz" revamp "Tin Man - Nick Willing, who will be writting and directing the four hour epic.

Phantom will be aimed at fans who apreciate a super hero without super powers - more in the grounded vein of Iron Man and Batman. "It's not a guy in purple tights," says Sci Fi Channel's executive vp of original programming, Mark Stern.

The one that worries me the most though is one of my all time favorite series - Riverworld by Philip Jose Farmer. For those of you not familiar with the series - Riverworld is bisected by a huge river. Bounding that river is unscaleable mountains. On the banks are all whoever lived on Earth. Everyone has been resurrected on Riverworld, seemingly never die as they are resurrected after death again somewhere else on the river. Everyone is fed by mysterious mushroom shaped edifices along the river which dispenses food daily and there is no hint as to why or how everyone came to be in this world, or what is expected of them.

How SyFy plans to bring Riverworld to light in just 4 hours is beyond me, let along develop a plot. Though some of Farmer's sub plots like Sam Clemens riverboat is an amazing plotline all to itself. Maybe that is where they will start much as Farmer did.

All of these have the potential of being a series....the only one with scale enough would be Riverworld, maybe Phantom, Alice would be my guess for 4 and out. I mean, we know pretty much how that plays out, much as we did with Tin Man... Should be interesting.

Read James Hibbert's article by clicking on the article title.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 Hugo Award Nominees Announced

Here are the nominees for this year's Hugo award

Best Novel

  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
  • Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Best Novella

  • “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress
  • “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay
  • “The Tear” by Ian McDonald
  • “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow
  • “Truth” by Robert Reed

Best Novelette

  • “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick
  • “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel
  • “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner
  • “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear

Best Short Story

  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson
  • “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick
  • “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang
  • “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick

Thanks to Science Fiction Award Watch for the heads up!

Sheep Powered LED display!

Science fiction? nope, but damn clever melding of old and new tech. I won't ruin it, the short is one laugh after another. Great fun!

Thanks Gizmodo!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shuttle/Bat dies glorious death!

Got to give this one to Gizmodo, I wasn't going to mention it, but they put a neat spin on the whole affair. I was watching the latest Shuttle launch on NASA tv when, with scant minutes remaining, I heard chatter pertaining to a bat that was spotted clinging to the ET. The decision was to leave it along for risk of delaying the launch further. The rest of the story was "Wildlife experts deduced that he had injured his wing and shoulder, leaving him with little chance of survival. He remained on the tank until launch."

On the Gizmodo site and NASA you can see where the bat's location put it in harms way shortly after the SRBs ignited. What a way to go huh?

2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award short list

Here is the short list for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best UK novel printed in 2008

  • Song of Time - Ian R. MacLeod
  • The Quiet War - Paul McAuley
  • House of Suns - Alastair Reynolds
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson
  • The Margarets - Sheri S. Tepper
  • Martin Martin's on the Other Side - Mark Wernham
The award will be presented on 29 April 2009

Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card at JosephDevon.com

Now here is something REALLY different! Over at JosephDevon.com - is a way to win some serious Amazon script! It's called "Pick Your Favorite Character Contest".

Here is what their message had to say:
  • To celebrate the launch of the new Joseph Devon website, and because giving stuff away is fun, we're starting up another contest for the end of March.
  • This one couldn't be simpler. Just come on over to the site and visit the Contest Page for March, then leave a quick comment there picking your favorite character from Probability Angels. If that link doesn't work go ahead and cut and paste the following into your browser: http://josephdevon.com/contest/march-pick-your-favorite-character/
  • That's it. At the end of the month one lucky entry will be chosen at random and will win a $50 Amazon Gift Card.
What is Probability Angels? It's one of author Joseph Devon's offerings. Believe me it ain't about angels! It's a fast paced gripping tale of people or beings exsisting just a half step out of phase with our own, who have tasked themselves with guiding humans that they have chosen to be "more" than they can be. But not everything is as it seems and some don't agree on just what humanity's role should be.

Even that short review is way understated. I reviewed Probability Angels on an earlier program. Here is the review I wrote for this novel

But really, go check out the new site and the contest. It certainly could be worth your while....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Abandoned Towers revamps Online Site

Abandoned Towers head honcho Crystalwizard writes that there has been a total redesign of the website. The reason for the redesign were that a lot of the areas were not being visited. So, as Crystalwizard puts it:
  • I revamped the home page, making it easier to find all the comic strips we publish, as well as all the various content areas.
Abandoned Towers' content is constantly being updated with a wide range of interesting material. Everything from classic and public domain material to brand new stuff. One of the items that Crystalwizard is most happy about is their on-going serials, which really are worth checking out. And of course the very cool review column Odd reviews by Oddcube.

The new home page is really chock full of links and interesting material. Well worth taking a trip over and checking out the wares.

Abandoned Towers

Imperial March on a Tesla Coil

Totally insane! I could think of easier ways to play the Star Wars Imperial March than on Tesla Coil. What's insane about that? Well this guy makes himself part of the circuit!

Thanks to Topless Robot for the post

Walking Talking Robot Fashion Model

I have been hearing about this thing for a couple of days and really didn't give it that much attention. I had seen the earlier versions of some of the Japanese demos and fairly static "hosts" kind of thing. But then I saw the utube short of the newest incarnation and frankly it's pretty spooky to see this think in operation.

5'2" and 95 lbs. it cuts a pretty mean figure. But in this preview it looks more like it's ready for an EVA. Just seeing it totally self contained is quite an eye opener.

Right now there are no real plans to have the robot do catwalks, the gait is still way too stiff to compete with their human counter-part and the knees are constantly bent because it still lacks the truly sensitive balance that humans possess, instead the unit will be a big crowd draw. Developers say the robot may be used in amusement parks or to perform simulations of human movement, as an exercise instructor, for instance.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ellison sues Paramount

"It ain't about the principals man, it's about the money! Pay me!" Those words are from Harlan Ellison who is again back in court suing Paramount over unpaid merchandising royalties.

This all stems from Ellison's long standing feud concerning his Star Trek story, considered by most to be one of the best Star Trek episodes, "City on the Edge of Forever". Harlan is quoted as saying "“If they play ... acknowledge where the material came from and pay me a trailer-truck full of cash, I will not sue them in Federal District Court…”

Ellison has been at odds with the Star Trek franchise since his original script was rewritten by then executive producer Gene Roddenberry before it aired in 1967.

Airlock Alpha article and Trekmovie.com story

Sci-Fi becomes Syfy

The SCI-Fi channel has changed its' name to SyFy which sounds the same as the old name but now allows the network to have a copyrightable trademark. Part of the reasoning for the change being as the network put it, give them a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainment including fantasy, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure, as well as science fiction to choose from. (uhuh....wraslin is in what catogory? oh and mark my word....this translates to Now we can have more wraslin!)

Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch article

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Giant Sand Worms found in England!

Holy Frank Herbert Batman huh? Not too often I can get that sensational but it would appear that this is true if you take into account how long ago.

Proof that giant worms, which grew up to 3ft long and 6in wide, which lived 260 million years ago, were found in Torbay, Devon. These animals lived underground before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Scientists have found evidence of large burrow holes that are said to have been made by the creatures as they traveled beneath the surface - but as yet haven't found any evidence of the animals which made them. The large holes were found across an area of sediment at the bottom of what was a desert valley or dry river bed that only contains water during times of heavy rain.

Get Live Images of Mars - From Google?!

Google has updated it's Google Mars service to show more details of present day Mars. Users can access the latest images from the Themis camera on the Mars Odyssey. Users will also be able to do virtual fly-bys.

You can start your experience by going to google.com/mars/ and maneuvering from there. Also if you use Google Earth you can view the terain in 3D. Initial maps available are a color coded elevation map, Visible light map and infrared.

Users can select different Martian regions, like mountains, canyons or craters or you can explore the areas where man made space craft have landed.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Close Call on the ISS

The Associated Press via Boing Boing puts what happened recently on the international Space Station in perspective. As you probably heard already the ISS had a very close call with space borne debris that forced all the occupants into the safty capsule until the danger had passed. How close did the junk get? Hard to say - more than likely a couple of miles, but it is possible that it may have been tens of feet.

I have mentioned this repeatedly that there is a astounding amount of material in low Earth orbit. thousands and thousands of trackable and untrackable parts and pieces just waiting to do damage. Just last month we had one satellite destroyed by a defunct Russian satellite (yes, read defunct as junk) making hundreds more pieces to track. Now the ISS has a close call. It should become brutally obvious that this problem is not going to go away but only get worse. Our habit of just throwing things away when they are useless has come back to bite us in a big way.

As it was, the crew of the ISS only had a few hours notice that they were in danger and were fully prepared to abandon the station should the need arise.

Here is how it breaks down - From the article:
  • The U.S. Space Command tracks 13,943 orbiting objects 4 inches or larger. Only about 900 of those are working satellites. The rest is litter. There are thousands more smaller pieces of junk that can't be tracked as easily.
Size is really not the issue here. Even a grain of sand going 5+ miles a second (yes that's 20,000 miles an hour) is going to do deadly damage. Last month's satellite collision may just have been the final deal breaker for the Hubble which sadly is close to the same orbital position as the debris cloud.

Safety lately has usually had tragedy attached...one would hope that we don't have to loose another space craft full of astronauts to motivate people to space as an environment every bit as important as those on Earth.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Canadian astronaut wannabes winnowed down to 17

The race is drawing to an end. Within weeks, the names of the Canadian Space Agency's next 2 astronauts will be released. The candidates have faced a battery of tests, from emergency management and first aid, to damage control, problem solving, endurance and much more. CSA photo

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Undesirable evolution can be reversed, scientists show

But it takes repeated near exterminations, based on changed climate or by the genocidally minded, to do it.
In what almost seems like a triumph of neo-Lamarckism, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Professor David O. Conover has figured out how to reverse evolution in an animal species.
The Secret: want a smaller animal? Kill the largest 90% of that species, let the small survivors breed, then kill the largest 90% of their generation; repeat that through 4 generations and you'll find you have a new subspecies that grows to that size or configuration only. Want a larger animal? Kill off the smallest 90% of them for 4 succeeding generations.
Conover used the tiny fast breeding Atlantic Silverside as his evolution species. The fish travels the shorelines of the Gulf of Maine in large schools, devouring zooplankton and other small items, and themselves being consumed by striped bass, codfish and other fishes and seabirds in season. in addition to being a "forage species" for marine wildlife, it is also subject to heavy commercial exploitation as feedstock for marine aquarium fish food products.

Intensive selective harvesting of the Silversides by commercial netters, leaving the smaller fish behind, seems to have unintentionally genetically reprogrammed they and many other species to grow smaller, said lead author Conover, who subjected successive generations of the fish to the aforedescribed controlled decimations.

"We show that adaptive genetic variation in many traits is finely tuned to natural variation in climate. Much of this variation is caused by a gradient in size-selective winter mortality and involves two- to threefold changes in physiological traits that influence population productivity". ..the pool of genotypes that code for life history traits is a highly dynamic property of populations."
So, if the worst fears of the survivalist types prove true and the global trade industrial transportation system breaks down tomorrow followed by mass disease and starvation, it'll only take until the year 2088 to arrive at the new human subspecies, Homo sapiens minimis , that will be compact, agile and quick maturing. The Minis will be well suited to scavenging the apocalyptic wastelands, and like Verne's Morlocks prey on their bigger genetic relatives.

LexCorp asks for a government bailout!

Ok, I know, lots of videos this week Paul....but they are funny and they all came out at once! So here is Lex Luthor of LexCorp like any responsible (sic) CEO asking the government to bail him out. Though for slightly skewed reasons........

Two stories added to the Nebula Final list

I know I am a little behind on this but I as usual got major confused when I started asking Alan Gardner if I could read The Ray Gun. I knew it was a nominated story but I could not find it on my list so I started to look for newer lists. Seems some didn't make the original list that SHOULD have and here is the two additions. Mars is in the short story category and The ray gun in the novelette

"The Ray Gun: A Love Story" - Gardner, James Alan "Mars: A Traveler's Guide" - Nestvold, Ruth

Here is the updated list

Monday, March 09, 2009

Why Terminators Transport Naked

Haven't you ever wondered? Well maybe you shouldn't have:

Night of the Living Dead Pixels

Here is a very funny and extremely surreal short film from Jussi Saarelma Jere Virta and Peter Schulman that was awarded best short film at the 2007 Suzanne Awards that recognize excellence in creating with Blender which is an open source software platform for 3D design and animation.

Here is a link
to the make article that has a great deal of back story on this really creative film

Jupiter ate its early moons

This rather unpleasant view of our jovian neighbor comes from a recent article in New Scientist. Yes, it would appear that the present four moons orbiting Jupiter are the last survivors of at least 5 generations of moons that once circled the gas giant.

At one point there may have been as many as 25 moons orbiting Jupiter and it seems that in the early stages of the formation of the solar system Jupiter devoured 20 or more. The missing moons conjecture comes from estimates of Jupiter's debris cloud during the solar system's formation. This cloud is estimated to have been roughly 30 to 40 percent of the mass of the parent planet. The discrepancy comes from the combined mass of the planets now circling Jupiter which is a paltry 2 percent.

Scientists think that there may have been 5 different sets of moons which spiraled into Jupiter leaving the present 4 which formed when material from the planetary disk stopped flowing into the Jupiter system.

What's even more interesting is that the very same process may have taken place on Saturn.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Banned On Vulcan by Voltaire

Or the USS We Just Make S*** Up

This is funny as all get out but if your easily offended....

Thanks Courtney for bringing this to my attention!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Close Encounters of the Asteroid Kind

This week proved to be "interesting times" Because this week we had a VERY close pass of an asteroid somewhere around 100 feet across. To put that size in perspective, the Tunguska event was thought to be the same size and it leveled hundreds of square miles of forest land.

Just how close is close? The asteroid passed about 60 thousand miles above the Earth. The Moon is 384.4 thousand miles away. Yep, 6 times closer than the moon - only twice the distance of communications satellites and traveling at at very smart pace of 8.82 km/s.

Gizmodo article

Hirsute a short strange film

From SF Signal I found a really strange short film. It is somewhat disturbing...not exactly sure why. Here is what SF Signal said about the film:
  • In Hirsute, a bizarre short film written and directed by A.J. Bond, a young time traveler is confronted by an arrogant and hairless future version of himself. Hirsute won an audience favorite award at the Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival put on by the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle.

Hirsute from A.J. Bond on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Trivia! Good Stuff about the HST

I was reading an absolutely fascinating op-ed piece about what was once called the biggest waste of money NASA had ever omitted. TechRepublic's Jay Garmon was writing about the Hubble Space Telescope and some really good back story. As we are all aware, the Hubble was launched with a significant flaw in it's primary mirror. This error crippled Hubble to near uselessness. Lots of bad words were thrown around but for the most part the fault has to fall at the feet of the manufacturer of the mirror assembly, Perkin-Elmer. The original mirror was checked for accuracy by a device called a null corrector. The problem was that Perkin-Elmer's corrector was faulty. To compound the problem, they used another null corrector to check the mirror at the end of production and THAT device caught the error. Perkin-Elmer chose however to believe the defective corrector's readings and therefor pass the ill fated mirror. You want to know how big the error was that crippled a multi-million dollar telescope? 2.3 microns. 1/3 the width of a human blood cell or 1/50th the width of a human hair. Unbelievable huh? Did you know that there were in fact 3 mirrors ground for NASA? Yep, the last 2 were perfectly ground....imagine!
Obviously they would not ever be used on the Hubble so they were "recycled". One is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and since these mirrors are among the finest ground mirrors in existence, as Jay puts points out, it would be a shame not to build a telescope around it. From the article:
  • The second backup to the Hubble’s primary mirror is now the central optic of the 2.4 meter SINGLE Telescope at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico.
  • The SINGLE went online Sept. 1, 2008 and is currently under contract with NASA to track Low Earth Orbit (LEO) objects and to support the operations and observations of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Of course what makes all this ironic is why NASA had 3 mirrors made - you ready? NASA wanted to guard against a problem in the manufacturing process.

Want more irony? Kodak and Itek put in a bid to make the mirror. They would each build one and then check each other's work. Perkin-Elmer was touting a computer controlled manufacturing process that was guaranteed to produce highly accurate mirrors. But NASA required Perkin to sub contract for conventionally ground backup mirror. Guess who they sub contracted with....oh yeah...Kodak / Itek. The final irony is that the sub contracted mirrors were perfect and it was the flawed computer controlled ground mirror that flew.

And that is why I like trivia!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Air Breathing Rocket: The Future of Space Travel?

Air breathing rockets? Don't you mean jet engines? Not quite, close but different. Ramjet or maybe a Scramjet. Closer But still not quite. The new engine blurs the boundaries of conventional jet engines and that of true rockets.

It's no mystery that it takes several thousand dollars a pound, just to boost it into orbit. The cost comes from the hordes of people that it takes to prepare the vehicle for launch. Plus the cost of boosting all the fuel it needs for the flight as well. Most of the weight penalty comes from the oxidizer which in truth is most of the weight of a launch.

The European Space Agency has awarded the UK firm Reaction Engines 1 million Euro to research the feasibility of a rocket engine that draws the oxidizer it needs from the atmosphere.

Up to this point, researchers have worked with two engine types, the ramjet and scramjet. The problem is that the ramjet is only good at speeds below mach 5, above mach 5 and the air is too hot for combustion. Above mach 5 and the scramjet can be used by mixing fuel with the ultra hot air. So you need 2 types of engines while in the atmosphere and another while in space. Very ineficient.

Reaction Engines wants to develop an engine which draws in air for the oxidizer to fuel a standard rocket engine. This way a space craft or plane could use just one engine. Drawing in air to burn all the way to space and then switching over to ab onboard supply of oxygen.

(pictured is Reaction Engines concept Skylon space plane)

NewScientist article